I want to share the story of Tracy. Tracy landed her dream job working for a start up company. She was to be part of a team to launch a new and exciting product. Although apprehensive, Tracey couldn’t wait to start. She was the most junior in the team of five but she specialized in an area in which the others were limited. Life was looking good.
Almost as soon as she started, Tracy felt intimidated by the others in the group. They were all experienced and talented. Sensibly, Tracy made a conscious decision to just put her head down and work to the best of her ability.
However, almost from the start, she had trouble accepting feedback and guidance from her team leader. Even the smallest piece of advice or direction made her feel angry and insecure. In fact, she had a number of quite emotional altercations with her team leader. Not so sensibly, after each one, she sent an email to another team member complaining about the team leader.
Now the team leader was highly emotionally intelligent and tried to support and reassure Tracy. This went on for some time but Tracy’s attitude and behaviour didn’t change. It wasn’t long before the team dynamic became tense and Tracy started to regularly call in sick.
Tracey fights herself
What was clearly happening was that Tracy, without reason, was afraid her ability did not match the other members of her team. Her fear manifested as aggression and reluctance to work within the group. Every time some one asked her to do something, she took it as a challenge or criticism about her work. She reacted emotionally because her amygdala (irrationally) perceived a threat.
This is what I call The Almond Effect®. The brain’s amygdala (greek for almond) is preparing the body for battle, for fight or flight as if it is in a life-threatening situation. Tracy was not sufficiently self-aware to understand that the team leader’s comments were not life-threatening, psychologically threatening yes but not a threat to her physical survival. So she didn’t give her neo-cortex (thinking brain) time to tell the amygdala to ‘stand down’! The aggression, and ironically the defensiveness, got worse.
Tracy had no one to fight but herself. Not surprisingly, after several months of irrational emotional behaviour, nasty emails and not showing up for work, Tracy was asked to leave.
Catch your ‘almonds’ before they get scorched!
When Tracy was hired, it was for her unique abilities and there was no competition with the other members of the team. But her fear and insecurities were based on emotional memories long forgotten by her conscious mind. It could have been events from school, in the family, or at a previous job. Whatever history was stored in Tracy’s limbic system, it caused her to throw away her dream job.
Had she being thinking clearly she would have seen that her team mates were not out to get her. Tracy’s reaction could have been different if she had a better awareness of her own emotions and developed reaction management skills.
When it has hold of us, we don’t always realise that The Almond Effect is happening. It is easy to rationalise when you are not in the midst of an emotional reaction but during the neural storm, your brain is working against you. Neural static prevents your rational and highly developed neo-cortex from intervening.
Understanding the neurochemical implications of The Almond Effect makes a significant difference to the way we work, live and play. Catching ourselves experiencing irrational fears and developing strategies to cope ensures we don’t continue to self-sabotage the way Tracy did.
What can you do about insecurities at work?
Does Tracy’s story resonate with you? Do you feel insecure when there is no need to? Are you afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of? Does any member of your team act like Tracy does?
If so, check out if the fears are justified. If they are, what are you going to do about it? If your fears are irrational, how are you going recognise when the fears kick in and then change your behaviour and attitude from insecure to confident? If you don’t tackle this head on then, like Tracy, our fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.