“What we resist, persists” is an often cited quote by Carl Jung.
And neuroscience backs him up: When we resist something, we remain stuck in the unconscious fight, flight, or freeze response. We cannot seem to stop complaining about our job, our boss, our pointless task.
To those around us, we sound like a broken record.
They can clearly see us feeding our negative feelings, trapped in thinking that we cannot do anything to change our situation or relationships. We’re the only ones who cannot see that, and because our listeners don’t want to argue, they just let us rant and tune out.
In coaching, when a client comes to us ranting, we ask them open questions about what’s going on for them.
We do this to get them out of unconscious reaction and into reflection and creativity. How? We take them into their experience by inviting them to become more precise about the emotions and beliefs underneath their ranting. Whilst they process what’s going on for them, the magic unfolds: By stepping into the curious and judgment-free observer of their own thought lives and emotions, our clients shift out of stuckness and create forward movement.
Because the opposite of Jung’s quote is also true: What we look at, dissappears.
What’s important about this for a leader?
Observing ourselves raises awareness of underlying emotions and thoughts that guide our perceptions, behaviour, and actions.
It also builds capacity for empathy and compassion for how others’ process their experiences.
And it grows a leader’s muscle of self-awareness and agency, that enables her to grow her employees, instead of merely reacting to them.
A great leader will see his employees with empathy and compassion, and help them step out of complaining and into taking responsibility for the reality they are co-creating.
When leaders are not in touch with their own, they are more likely to shy away from others’ emotions. So what?
When employees sense that their emotions are out of place at work, they spend half their energy on putting up “professional” faces and playing games.
This is energy they could spend for purposeful, productive work. Which is what great leaders empower their teams and organisations to do.