Workplace culture experts like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek make it clear that everyone is supposed to “bring their whole selves” to work. Anything less is dehumanizing for the person and, according to relatively new research, limiting people’s expression and wholeness actually hampers a team’s creativity, adaptability, and sustainability.
But whole people are messy and emotional. They have hidden histories and sometimes chaotic lives. How can you, as a leader, welcome your full, complete team members to work without getting sucked into drama, wasting time, or straying from the mission? Or worse, what if a whole person arrives at work in distress, and you do something wrong and cause more problems. You are not a trained counselor, how are you supposed to handle “whole people?”
The key is making sure you bring your full self to work and that you employ some simple “whole-person-friendly” procedures with your team.
I had the great honor of leading a small nonprofit organization serving local youth. We recruited 100’s of volunteer mentors and had a core administrative/program team of eight people. Our mission involved helping teen boys develop resilience and relationship-building skills so they could rise above their trauma and their life challenges. Of course, we had to ask those boys to bring their full selves to the program. Which meant that the adult volunteers had to be trained and supported so they could bring their full selves to those crucial interactions. That, of course, required that our core team be full, complete people in the workplace, as well. Anything else would have been a betrayal of the values we were teaching the boys.
The techniques and practices that we used at the nonprofit to support “full selves” are accessible and applicable in any team.
Want to build a strong team of complete individuals? Try adopting “check-ins” as a core practice. In our nonprofit team we started every meeting with a check-in, which is just a simple go-round where each individual states their name and what he/she/they is feeling at the moment. We held this “ritual” everytime we met with a cohort of teen clients or a gathering of volunteers, at the beginning of every staff meeting, and even at the start of a board meeting. This regular recurrence helped create and support an organization-wide culture of emotional literacy, vulnerability, safety, and support.
Some tips for using Check-ins
But what if a team member reports in a check-in a “difficult” emotion like anger or sadness?
Say “Thank you.”
Seriously… expressing simple gratitude is the best response. Saying “thank you” acknowledges your teammate makes several important points clear, all at once.
Resist the temptation to FRAP
FRAP stands for Fix, Rescue, Advise, or Project. It is 100% natural that we want to reach out and help someone who expresses sadness, anger, or anxiety. But FRAPing moves the focus of the person with the emotion, off their own resources, and onto the advice-giver or rescuer. When we trust each other enough to sit with challenging emotion, we actually all grow more capable.
It’s really OK to “just” sit there, in your full humanity, witnessing the other in their full humanity.
Consider If or How to Follow Up
As a team leader, you may want to follow up with your team member if they seem in distress. Resist the temptation to dig in during the check-in; let everyone check-in before shifting gears. Know that you have some options.
Call to Action
Ideally, after reading this post, you feel more confident about welcoming emotions and whole people into your team. Consider implementing check-ins with your core team as soon as possible.
A Deeper Dive:
Charles Matheus grew up in an old mining town in Arizona. He managed to graduate from an Ivy League University and knows that you won't hold that against him.