• Ariana Friedlander

The most deadly fear reaction within teams might surprise you

Tanner was stressed out. His team hadn’t followed their SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and an entire batch of products was ruined. Now there was no way they were going to be able to ship the product on time and he worried this was going to cause unrepairable damage with the client.


He did what anyone in his position would - sent an email and called a meeting.


“This isn’t acceptable,” he told his staff. “We spent a lot of time fine tuning the SOP’s so we wouldn’t keep making costly mistakes like this...Can everyone agree to follow them from here on out?”


Tanner was met with a chorus of yes's. He left the meeting feeling quite proud of himself. He handled the situation without losing his cool and his team all agreed to follow the SOPs.


It was a triumphant win. Until a month later when there was another costly mistake because the SOPs weren't being followed.


At this point, Tanner reached out to me. “I don’t know what to do. Everyone agreed to follow the SOPs but they aren’t and we can’t afford to keep operating like this. Something has to change. I've tried everything I can think of but none of it's working and it's stressing me out. I feel like I can never take a vacation. And I can't keep going like this. I need to be able to step back from the day-to-day operations.”


We processed the situation together. As our conversation progressed Tanner began to see things from a different perspective.


He realized his team had been in a fear response. While he strove to talk calmly to them, they were all triggered by the stress he exuded (despite his best efforts not to freak out). So when he asked for agreement they all appeased him by saying “yes” even though they didn’t mean it.


Appeasing is one of the four patterned threat responses - fight, flight, freeze and appease.


When someone goes into an appease threat response, they will offer agreement in an effort to maintain their sense of belonging. This pattern is enmeshed in past experiences and plays on how we, as humans, are hardwired for connection and belonging.


I had one client who entered appease mode when interacting with authority figures because that's what she was taught as a kid, "You have to show authority respect and do as they say!" Her father constantly chided her. So when she was an adult wanting to drive innovation within her company she struggled to find her voice in executive meetings until she actively worked to rewrite the pattern.


The challenge in dealing with someone in appease mode is that it can be trickier to spot than a fight, flight or freeze response. When someone appeases, you leave a conversation or meeting with the impression you're on the same page about a project or task only to find out later that was not at all the case.


I call it the problem of people saying one thing and doing another! We've all encountered those situations where someone says one thing to your face and does something entirely different.


Saying one thing and doing another is not typically something people do intentionally. There isn't some maniacal laughter in the back of their head. When most people are in appease mode they might not even recognize the disconnect in their own thinking because it's an unconscious habit.


That was the case with Tanner's team. They weren't trying to sabotage things, they were just in the habit of being team players AKA agreeable.


Aware of the pattern they were stuck in, Tanner decided to shake things up by bringing me into facilitate a session with the entire team. Using the Co-Creating Retreat Experience process, we worked together to get the team talking in new and different ways about the SOP's.


Instead of seeking agreement first, we sought to more deeply understand barriers and opportunities for growth. It turned out there were some easy to fix reasons team members struggled to follow the SOP's. They also had some ideas for making improvements that streamlined operations that they had never shared before.


Once the team saw that Tanner genuinely wanted to hear and incorporate their ideas into the operations of the business, they willingly offered their perspective. And what's more, because they played a part in shaping the solution to the problem, they remained committed in following through.


In the last two years, Tanner has taken more time off from work then all the years combined before. His team is rocking production and he's able to focus on the most important things to him family and taking the business to the next level. All of this was possible because he got his team out of appease mode so they could co-create solutions together.


Are people saying one thing and doing another at your work? It might be time to get people talking (and acting) differently. We are now booking retreats for 2023, schedule a call with Ariana to see if Co-Creating Retreat Experiences will fit your needs.

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