Changing personal perceptions about workplace hierarchy :
“They’re only a pack of cards!”
“A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. Alice thought this a very curious thing…”
As Alice ventured through the Queen’s Croquet Ground, she came across gardeners, soldiers, the guests, Kings and Queens. The King and Queen of HEARTS were the last at to arrive as part of the grand procession.
Regular “Off with their heads!” orders by the Queen of Hearts made everyone feel anxious and fearful. Alice began to feel uneasy, puzzled and wanted to get away.
We often feel like Alice when faced with an environment that is unknown to us, especially when dealing with individuals who are considered to have hierarchical power. These individuals can come across as intimidating as we fear that we’re next in line to hear “Off with their heads!”.
I vividly remember a meeting with four leaders, all of whom were at least 20 years my senior. The social conditioning and hierarchical pressures left me spending more time thinking about how I am going to ‘effectively play the game of Croquet according to the Queen’s desires’, rather than focusing on being true to myself, or even on the specialist content I was delivering.
What will I wear to seem professional? How and when will I speak? How do I balance coming across confident, yet relaxed? Where do I sit and how much space do I take up?
Like the soldiers who had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet to make the arches, l navigated the social expectations and played the game …
It was only after we all fell down the Rabbit Hole into Wonderland, where remote working was the norm, that I had an insightful realisation. You see, in Wonderland the rules are different, and not everything that makes sense should… and not everything that doesn’t makes sense, shouldn’t.
Feeing lost yet?
In a world of remote working and virtual meetings, with no fancy offices or strict suits, I found my interactions with senior leaders to be more relaxed, natural and significantly more effective. This made me question things…. Is it me who didn’t understand the game or played it wrong? Is it them being more relaxed and welcoming because they are working from home? A combination of both?
Just like Alice, I realised “Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!”
The Queen of Hearts was shaped just like the three gardeners, oblong and flat, with their hands and feet at the corners. The people with hierarchical power in our lives are no different to the human gardeners, they are no different to you or me… they’re only human, after all.
This is a very interesting and powerful reminder. More importantly, how can I utilise this realisation to help me better and more confidently interact with senior leaders in the future?
Having experienced both positive and negatives states, I was ready to explore how I can condition my behaviour to enhance my performance.
I turned to the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) anchoring technique for help. Anchoring refers to a process of associating an internal response with some external or internal trigger so that the response may be quickly re-accessed.
As my anchor, I associated the phrase “They’re only a pack of cards!” (said in a playful Alice voice) with my feelings and thoughts recalled from when I experienced comfortable, confident and productive interactions with senior leaders.
Just like Alice was no longer afraid of the Queen of Hearts I now feel more confident in my high-stake conversations, as I’m continuously reminding myself that “They’re only a pack of cards!”. I will continue to use the anchor until this desired response becomes a habit, an unconscious response, regardless of whether the interactions occur in person or remotely.
It is fascinating how we can train our brains to respond differently, both physically and psychologically, when we observe our responses and consciously put in effort to change our thoughts or behaviours.
Can you identify a situation where you might want to change your response/behaviour?
What triggers can you spot to help you?
What powerful (or completely bonkers) personal statement can you remember to say to yourself?
In Wonderland, where nothing makes sense and our previous approaches are no longer suitable, let us all open up to the adventures and opportunities ahead.
Free Your Inner Alice… be fearless, be curious and never stop learning!
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