Part 2: Dismantling a Lock-In in the Boardroom: An Emotionally Focused Approach to Board Effectiveness

The EmC Strategy is a structured approach that is based on the new science of emotional connection that provides us with a clear map of how board directors can nurture a relationship of trust and connection.
This happens through expanding their emotional responsiveness which helps them move forward. If not addressed, the board gets stuck in absorbing emotional states that cause rigid interactions and leads the board to a lock-in – inability to move the company forward.

Using EmC, board members are able to tune into their emotions and send clear emotional signals to each other which helps them to create a new interactional pattern that dismantles their lock-in.

This transcript demonstrates how the EmC consultant helps the board to identify the steps in the pattern and the underlying emotion that was driving each person into being angry or shut down.  The transcription is with permission and names have been changed to preserve the confidentiality.

In Part 1, the board shared their progress with the process, being able to identify steps in the process that start their negative cycle. To read the details of the transcript, click here.

This is Part 2 of the amazing work that this board has done.

Consultant:        For you, John, it must be like falling off the cliff, right?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        When you hear Tom say, ‘I don’t need this. I am out of here.’ You’d hear,  my goodness, he can just walk away. So, there is a sort of a record that is playing that naturally goes on and starts to play in your mind. There are all kinds of fears that come up which might be better now, but really, it is telling you to be careful, be careful, be ready, be ready, because Tom does not really care, right? He could walk out any time.

John (CEO):        Right.

Consultant:        I hear you. So, as we are going through the process of identifying the pattern and the fears that come up, the fact that you have been able to talk about it, I hope you know that that is an amazing thing that you are doing. There are lots of CEOs who have been feeling the same tension and are stuck in the same kind of a rigid pattern that you have been caught in for a long time who may not actually get to the place where they would be willing to talk about it. I hope you know the incredible amount of strength you are showing here. As we continue to understand your pattern, if I may ask you, what would you do then, after that record starts playing?

John (CEO):        Well, I wouldn’t talk about it. I’d feel angry. Really, resentful and angry. But I wouldn’t talk about it.

Consultant:        Would you go silent?

John (CEO):        No, I would keep myself busy. I turn myself into a workaholic, I guess.

Consultant:        So, something would happen, these fears would come up and some part of you would say, ‘I’ve got to escape, I’ve got to escape.’ And you go into tasks and not talk about it. So, you would distract yourself with all kinds of tasks but inside you’d feel angry.

John (CEO):        Yes. And resentful.

Consultant:        And then what would happen?

John (CEO):        Well, eventually, it would come out, a day or two days later. Like, if Tom would do something that would be annoying to me, I would just snap at him. I mean, I would not go totally off the cliff, but just snap at him.

Consultant:        It’s hard to keep those feelings down.

John (CEO):        Yes, I would say something aggressive toward him or something that he did.

Consultant:        So, help me here. Something would trigger you at which point you make yourself busy and push your feelings down, thinking that Tom does not care about you. Then you watch and find something to snap at and then what?
[I start here to outlining the negative pattern of interactions. Looking for specific steps that each person takes in the pattern of disconnection. I want to create a coherent image, a story of each person’s steps in the pattern and ways of dealing with their emotions.]

Tom (CFO):        Well, then it triggers me. I am trying to be nice, I am trying to be a good CFO and a good person. I think I am doing fine and then out of nowhere, from a left field, he would snap in a very angry, kind of caustic way. But what ends up happening for me is an awful sense of betrayal. The person that I supposed to be safe with, work together and trust is turning on me. I feel betrayed and really angry. Like, ‘how dare you turn on me? Well, I am going to come at you, like a ton of bricks now. Instead of repaying all of my loyalty and kindness, you are actually ambushing me and betraying me?’

Consultant:        Ambushing you.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Then I get really vengeful.

Consultant:        So, for you, it would be like it came out of the blue.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. But I had no idea that John was getting panicked and resentful.

Consultant:        Well, Tom, I have to say that I am really struck by what you said. You are trying to be a good CFO and trying to be good.

Tom (CFO):        Well, yes. I am.

Consultant:        So, you’d feel ambushed, you start getting in to the cycle, saying things like, “How dare you?” And then what? You turn and protect yourself by attacking?

Tom (CFO):        Well, then I get verbal. I use all kinds of colorful language.

Consultant:        So then, you’d bring out the weapons and you call him all kinds of names and you’d get mean. But what you are actually trying to say to him, ‘How dare you, how dare you? When I’ve been trying so hard and being so loyal to you. How dare you suddenly turn on me. I am going to show you.’ Is that right?

Tom (CFO):        Yes. ‘I am going to teach you that lesson.’ Unfortunately, that “lesson” never gets to be actualized.

Consultant:        What I am hearing you say, you help me if I am wrong, is, ‘I won’t be as powerless and helpless and hurt as I was before. I’ll show you. This time, I am going to stand up and I am going to threaten you. I’ll show you, I am not defenseless. I’ll show you.’ Is that right?

Tom (CFO):        Yes.

Consultant:        It is by showing that you are not helpless, you are basically saying to him, ‘How dare you. I’ve been working so hard. I am going to show you. In fact, I am not helpless, I can even walk away.’ And for you, John, the worst thing ever, is that Tom could walk away. And that is just what this dreadful voice has been saying to you all along. So, what would you do then?

John (CEO):        Then, I would shut up. I would withdraw. I would just clam up and be really withdrawn. But I wouldn’t engage. I would put on kind of a shell to protect myself.

Dan (LD):            I would then jump in and try to repair their relationship by telling John all the things that Tom does well and how wonderful he is.

John (CEO):        I am trying to hide in my cocoon and Dan, here, is trying to convince me how wonderful Tom is. At times, it just drives me crazy.

Consultant:        So, here you are overwhelmed with all these emotions as if you are swimming in the middle of the ocean and then you shut down. So, it is almost like you are no longer attacking Tom or arguing with Dan, you are sort of gone.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Dan (LD):            Well, John sort of abandons us. And all along, I am trying to convince him to talk to Tom here and apologize. I am actually giving him scripts of what to say.

Consultant:        You are trying to help him out by giving him a scripts?

Dan (LD):            Yes.

Consultant:        Dan, that is very brilliant of you. When you are in the middle of this cycle, there is a part of your brain that is busy formulating a few things that could help the situation, does it?

John (CEO):        But it doesn’t work because no matter what I say to Tom, it wouldn’t come out right.

Consultant:        So, these things would go on. All of you must get very exhausted.

John (CEO):        Yes. We sure do. It has almost ruined every one of our meetings in the past.

Consultant:        So, the meetings, rather than being the time for you to collaborate and work together would turn out to be a battle ground or a place where you would just shut down, move away and then Dan trying to patch it by teaching you how to talk to Tom.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        That sounds really hard. But somehow, through all this, you found a way to stay together and still work on your relationship. You have an amazing map here of a pattern that you get caught in and now, you are at the point where you can talk about your pattern openly. You start to understand some of the feelings that go on in this pattern and you can actually sort of stand back when it starts to take you over and see that this pattern is happening and you can step out of it, right?
[Here, I validate their strengths.]

Tom (CFO):        Yes. We can.

Consultant:        What does that look like? What happens?

Tom (CFO):        Well, I remember one incident that the argument was getting really heated in one meeting. I could slow down and say to John, ‘Look, I don’t want this to be happening. Can we just not do this?’

John (CEO):        Yes, that’s all it takes. It’s really not that hard.

Consultant:        So, Tom, you were able to reach for him and turn the whole thing around.

John (CEO):        At first, I get angry, but when Tom says these things to me, I start to think maybe I am not that angry because he is here and wants to help me, I guess.

Consultant:        Mmm. Understanding that there is a moment of anger but that is not the main show in town, right?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Slowing it down so that you can understand that the second before you get that angry response, there is something else that is happening that is kind of bigger and deeper.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Absolutely. [PAUSE]

John (CEO):        I can sort of catch it and realize that the anger is superficial.

Consultant:        Mmm. You don’t just stay in it or clam up. The two alternatives are not just to get angry and snap or to shut down, there is a third one in the middle, which is something to do with, you can actually can reflect on what is happening and say, ‘Wait a minute, what is happening here?’

John (CEO):        Yes, I can almost sit back and push the anger to the side a little bit and feel the fear that I couldn’t feel before.

Consultant:        Can you?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        And what does that fear feel like?

John (CEO):        It’s pretty bad. It feels bad. But I let it out, I feel a little bit, I don’t know, maybe it makes me more compassionate, I just feel it.

Consultant:        So, John, can you help me? I’d like to understand that fear that comes up for you because it is so important. These incredibly strong feelings that you all are learning to look at and have so much courage to be able to talk about. I mean these feelings are pretty important because they are kind of what makes up your pattern that you get caught in. And what we are doing here is helping you step out of this pattern and then we are going to help you create a pattern that has a whole lot of trust and connection in it.

John (CEO):        Ok.

Consultant:        But I want to go back for a minute. What does that fear feel like for you? What you are saying to me, if I am hearing you right, you are saying, ‘I am starting to understand how this fear comes in and grabs me by the throat and the way I deal with it is I snap which starts a whole dreadful pattern or shut down, which is also not only scary for Tom but creates a sort of reaction and panic for Dan and Bill because they kind of lose you. I am really starting to understand how powerful this fear is.’ But what does it feel like? Where do you feel it in your body?

John (CEO):        In the heat of the moment, I don’t know if I go to that level but it’s always kind of in my heart and in my stomach.

Consultant:        So, it’s in your heart and in your stomach and what does it feel like?

John (CEO):        Well, I can kind of touch it and I can now feel it.

Consultant:        You can feel it in your body.

John (CEO):        Yes. And then, what happens is nothing. I really don’t do anything because getting angry was something I could do; withdrawing was something I could do. But when the fear is there, I guess…

Consultant:        You don’t quite know what to do now.

John (CEO):        I guess, there is really nothing I need to do. It kind of letting me be. I am not sure what happens, but all the tools that I used to have, all of sudden seem meaningless.

Consultant:        Ok. What I am hearing you say is, ‘I can actually feel that now. I can actually get a felt sense of that so it is not just an abstract idea, right? And, now, I can actually pause and not go off into snapping and defending myself or shutting down. I can actually pause and I can actually feel it underneath.’

John (CEO):        Yes. It’s kind of weird.

Consultant:        Well, when you feel it in your heart or in your stomach, is it an ache or is it tight, what does it feel like?

John (CEO):        It’s tight. It’s almost like when you are hungry or it’s like when you are watching a horror movie and you get really scared. It’s like fight or flight moment.
[Now, we have useful images on what that fear looks and feels like for John so that we can distill it for him to manage it better.]

Consultant:        You know that it is fear, it is sort of like panic, is it?

John (CEO):       Yes.

Consultant:        It is saying, ‘Stand up and fight or get the hell out of here. This is dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.’

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        And that panic has a voice. What does it say to you? Does it say to you some of the other things that you’ve mentioned? What does it say to you in the worst part of that panic when it is really happening?

John (CEO):        I don’t know.

Consultant:        Let me see if I can help you. Usually, what happens is your body registers a feeling and there is automatic set of thoughts that helps us to make sense of that feeling. These thoughts, often sound to our regular everyday reality kind of silly and kind of bizarre but they are not if we think of what is happening inside of us. You gave me one thought. In the beginning, you said, ‘I say to myself, Tom just doesn’t care. I say to myself, he could leave anytime.’ Is that what comes up for you?

John (CEO):        Yes. I guess I think about being left all alone.

Consultant:        Do you?

John (CEO):        I think about financial hardship. And loneliness.

Consultant:        Loneliness. So the voice says, ‘That’s it, you are going to be alone.’

John (CEO):        Yes. Sooner or later, I am going to be alone. I am going to lose everything I have worked so hard for.

Consultant:        So, this is it. I knew that this is going to happen. I am going to be all alone. Tom is suddenly going to disappear on me. I am going to be alone. I am going to lose him. This is going to be awful. There is not going to be any way out of this.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Right. You know that lonely, lonely place. You know how really painful that is to feel when there is no one there for you and no one cares. You know that place.

John (CEO):        Yes, I had tough adolescence.

Consultant:        There was no safe place for you.

John (CEO):        Yes. There was really no one for me. I became a good cook.

Consultant:        So, you coped with it but some part of you says, ‘Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, here it comes again. Here comes this dreadful, dreadful feeling, and the person I depend on could just suddenly disappear.’

John (CEO):        Yes, if I’d lose Tom, I would be at ground zero.

Consultant:        So, there is that sense of catastrophe. When you get that feeling in your stomach, that is where you go. Here comes all this loneliness like a huge wave that is taking me over, right?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        That is very scary.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        That is terrifying, yes?

John (CEO):        At times.

Consultant:        You are really, really aware of how much you need Tom and how much you depend on him.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        You are really scared of that.

John (CEO):        Not scared but it crosses my mind on a weekly basis.

Consultant:        Have you actually sat down with Tom and told him what that fear looks like? How you struggle with that. Not just in those moments when you get caught in this pattern but it seems like you often struggle with this sort of dark shadow of maybe losing Tom, maybe him not being for you and how alone you would be and how much you count on him. Have you ever really talked to him about that?

John (CEO):        No. I guess, I never really figured it out. I guess, I never really realized that.

Consultant:        Yes, it’s hard to feel and it’s hard to talk about it. It takes a lot of courage.

John (CEO):        Well, I don’t want to feel it. And most of the time, it is too much to think about. I have better things to do. I’ll find something else to do, to escape.

Consultant:        Can you help Tom right now? Can you turn to Tom right now and help him understand a little bit of that huge fear that you struggle with? And what I am hearing is it just peaks in these dreadful moments where you get caught in this pattern but, actually, it’s kind of waiting in the shadows, all the time for you, right?

John (CEO):        Yes. Yes.

Consultant:        I don’t feel safe talking to him about it. It feels like a weakness.

Consultant:        Does it?

John (CEO):        I think the “man” code is keeping me from talking about it. It does. I kind of feel embarrassed.

Consultant:        Yes. I hear you.

John (CEO):        But I’ll do it.

Consultant:        Well, hold on a minute. I am going to slow you down for a minute, okay?

John (CEO):        Okay.

Consultant:        Let’s just get really clear about that one. You are right, there is a “man” code. Actually, women feel that way too and you have the right to that feeling because we systematically taught people that they shouldn’t have these vulnerable feelings. But that just the silliness, isn’t it? because we all do have those vulnerable feelings. I have them. Tom has them. All the people who are work at this company have them. We all have them. They are wired in into our brains. We have choices of what to do with them. I hear you and I agree with you because of what I just said, often it makes it very uncomfortable to talk about them and it’s hard to talk about them. Maybe, what you are telling Tom is ‘I do live with this fear all the time and it has been hard for me to put it together, and it is so hard for me to even imagine telling you because somehow I feel like I shouldn’t even feel this way.’  Can you tell him that?

John (CEO):        I don’t want you to think that I am a wimp.

Tom (CFO):        I don’t.

John (CEO):        I appreciate you telling me that but it is hard for me to believe that.

Consultant:        What you are telling him is, ‘It is really hard for me to imagine telling you about this fear.’

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        ‘I am so scared that you’ll see me as weak and you’ll somehow decide that there is something wrong with me that I have these fears and that I am a wimp.’

Tom (CFO):        Honestly, I feel more compassion.

John (CEO):        Well, you know.

Consultant:        Hang on here. Did you hear what Tom just said? I want to know, what happens for you? You just took a huge risk here. You put your fear together, talked about it, owned it, said its scary to even talking about this, you told Tom that it’s scary,  and he responded to you by telling  you that it makes him feel more compassionate. What happens to you as he says that? Can you take that in?
[I bring emotion into the present now. It is in the present where we can reshape emotion and interaction].

John (CEO):        A little bit. But there is a part of me that says, ‘I had a lot of experience in the corporate world, and people like tough guys, they like CEOs who are bad boys, they like the CEOs who are strong.’ I sort of can’t 100 percent believe it but I appreciate you saying that. I am just a little nervous, that’s all.

Consultant:        You are saying, it helps a little bit, but I always believed that people want these big strong CEOs.

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Except for the big, strong CEOs hide their emotions and keep everyone at a distance.

Tom (CFO):        Don’t you think it takes a really strong person to admit this?

John (CEO):        Yes, I do, intellectually, I do.

Tom (CFO):        Well, I am not going to be able to convince you but I am just sharing it.

John (CEO):        Ok. It helps. It really helps to just hear it from you.

Consultant:        Tom, when John takes such risks, you appreciate it. And you feel really good about him reaching out and trusting you with that softer part of himself and you respond to that. It has you feel closer to him.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. I admire you and impressed that you are able to express it. I am not saying that because I am supposed to be saying that. I really think that it is strong.

John (CEO):        This is helpful.

Tom (CFO):        To me, more than money and success, I want to have a good relationship with my people that I work with and when you can share that with me, it is that kind of connection that I strive for.

Consultant:        You feel like he is really letting you in.

Tom (CFO):        And it makes me let me feel like I want to support you more.

Consultant:        Can you hear that? Can you let that in?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Does that help? Yes?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        So, what I am hearing Tom say is that that is all he wants is to be able to work closely together.

Consultant:        You are starting to do something that is incredibly strong here. Something that requires all kinds of strength. But lots and lots of people struggle their whole life with and never do. You are starting to be able to rather than flip into anger or shut down and move away and numb out, you are starting to be able to stand up in the middle of all that and in all of those flood waters, stand up to find yourself and say, ‘You know, what I am feeling is panic. What I am feeling is lonely and scared. And this is pretty overwhelming and you know, Tom, it is pretty hard to actually even tell you that because I am so scared that you’ll see me as weak. But here I am, I am opening the door and I am starting to tell you about it’. That takes a huge amount of strength.

[Here, I consolidate and integrate the steps that they have taken to create a new pattern based on their strengths.]

The steps in the pattern can be summarized as follows:

To help John and Tom understand their underlying feelings, the EmC Consultant used reflection, reframing, and empathy.

This helps to relate to their experience so each person does not feel like they are alone. Sharing feelings empowers people to overcome their fears and pull each other closer.

In Part 3, the final transcript, the EmC consultant creates bonding moments to help board members reconnect and create new steps toward a positive pattern of interaction. 

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