We interact energetically with others. We either move towards (and with) others, or we move against them. When we believe others are our adversaries, we move against them. Action – reaction, tit-for-tat, can transform them into adversaries.
Anthropologists and biologists believe we have a tit-for-tat instinct hardwired into our DNA. In fact, this instinct is evolutionary and is found in all mammals. When someone comes at us 'mammals' in anger, this action fires fear signals in our Amygdala – a tiny organ found in the lower part of our Limbic Brain – and we move into our protection mode.
As soon as we see and feel the signals that someone is on the attack, we respond instinctively to protect ourselves. Some people fight back and match anger with anger, and a fight may ensue. Others may flee if they feel the anger and aggression will lead to danger, and they run away so they will not 'be eaten alive'. Others will freeze, and hope we change our minds and move on to more enticing prey.
This dance of engagement drives all of human behavior. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown gave an incredible presentation that puts these interaction dynamics in context for us. Brown describes a meeting between an enormous 1,200-pound male Polar Bear and a female Husky. The scene is the moment of contact between the two — the Polar Bear and Husky — on the Hudson Bay, North of Churchill, Manitoba.
In October and November, there is no ice on the bay, and the polar bear is in pursuit of food. On the other side of the polar bear's predatory gaze is the female Husky starring back.
This interaction was just as much part of nature as the usual battle to the death. All because of the way the Husky acted.
What trumps what in nature? We assume power-over others gets us our way. What is our way anyway? The dance in nature we witnessed in the story of the Husky and Polar Bear is a perfect example of how human beings and all other animals communicate. We send energetic signals all the time. We test each other – as the Husky did the Bear, and we see what comes back. Our signals work like radio signals saying: "where are you" and "what do you want?"
Our signaling system – what we send, and what we receive – alerts us to the nature of our relationship with others. We are either 'moving with others, moving against others or move away from others. Each signal generates a reaction that is hardwired in nature as the fight-or-flight syndrome.
In our brains, we are translating these signals into labels about our power relationship to others. We are either in a power-over or a power-with other's mode of interaction. The Husky's signals to play – power-with – trumped the Polar Bear's signals to dominate – power-over – a trump that is one of nature's big surprises.
The antidote to power-over behaviors at work is not to give back power. Rather than demanding others to step into a power-fight, instead we can request that others move into a power-with dance with us.
Reflections & Actions to Experiment With:
- Remember you have the ability to trump an adversarial offer. You can be the game changer.
- Make requests not demands.
- By moving towards and with others, with the intention of creating something wonderful – our adult form of play – we do create something wonderful! Try it!
- Our beliefs drive our intentions, our intentions drive our actions, and our actions drive the results that we achieve with others.
Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:
Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization – winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; and the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose