Animal Instincts and Primitive Brains



A change is announced at work: a merger, an acquisition, or employee cuts for efficiencies or cost-saving. At first, although shocked (maybe), you deal with it and feel OK. Then the jungle drums start thudding and you notice panic setting in. Behaviours change, gossip starts and you too start to change the way you feel about the change and about your ability.

Ordinarily, you know you are good at your job and you hope you will be OK. You’ll wait and see what happens and if you do have to leave, you can do so with some money in your pocket and find a new job, start your own business or take the opportunity to learn some new skills and start a new career path. You are still feeling quite calm.

And then it starts.

People around you are starting to belittle each other, ‘I’m better than you'. In meetings or during work people are stamping all over each other, shouting loudly, ‘pick me, pick me; you need me, you know you do’. You then begin to wonder why you would want to stay working with people that would do this to each other and ask, ‘is this a culture I want to stay in any longer?’

So why is all of this happening?

When we become fearful of a situation we tend to work from the primitive part of our brains and repeat primitive behaviours and patterns. Typically male colleagues jump into ‘protector mode’, having to feed and hunt and gather. They start to display behaviour that puts them in the alpha male spot. And all of a sudden we are surrounded by peacocks, lions, and wolves.

There can only be one male in the pack and so the fight begins. The peacocks start fanning their feathers to show who has the brightest display and the wolves start to break up the pack. The office becomes filled with howling, roaring, and feathers, as the males in the group try to display their inner alpha male, eager to survive the change and fearful of what people will think of them if they don’t survive the change.

As women, we see the displays, the roaring, and the howling and think to ourselves, ‘I don’t like that behavior’ and we let them fight it out, hoping that our credibility and integrity will be enough to get us through the change. We become insular, avoiding as much as possible the testosterone around us. Then we start to doubt ourselves, our skills, and our future and wonder what we will do next if we don’t survive the process.

By and large, because we don’t like the atmosphere that has been created at work, we start to see ourselves in different jobs, maybe starting our own business, although we think, ‘that seems quite scary and I don’t know if I could do that’ because our confidence is now at an all-time low.

We love the job and until recently loved the company, but think, ‘I can’t stay in this environment, but can I really afford to leave?’. So we sit and wait, hoping that everything will work out well and we don’t really need to make a decision because it will be made for us. ‘If I get a job in the new structure, then great and if not, I’ll find something’.

We become the shoulder for our colleagues to lean on because we are so quiet and composed and everyone wants to know, ‘how are you staying so calm?’, but they continue to make digs at you during the conversation to demonstrate that they ‘really’ are better than you in the hope that you too will start to crumble. You smile nicely, carry on working and wait until you are home with a glass of wine before letting out all of your emotions. You are now in your primitive brain and blending into the background like a peahen.

Top Tips

  • Believe in yourself – Create a ‘change’ affirmation that reminds you of your greatness

  • The animals will self select – Focus on yourself

  • If you must step into the lion’s den, claim your spot as the alpha in an authentic, credible, and nice way-No no need for claws or feathers.

Kelly

Kelly is an Executive Coach for Core-Led Professional Women at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew.

She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.

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