Part 3 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 BDP, board members can 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 BDP 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 confidentiality.

In Part 1 and 2, 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 3 of the amazing work that this board has done.

Consultant:       Can you tell Tom what that panic feels like?

John (CEO):        It’s pretty bad. It’s like you wake up in the morning and the sun is not shining every day. It’s like a depression for me. It’s like wherever you go, people are busy with other things. You are basically on your own. It’s hard to describe.

Consultant:        It is overwhelming, is what I am hearing.

John (CEO):        What do you mean?

Consultant:        It’s almost like you always checking out that awful feeling of loneliness, like it is going to take you over again. It is a sort of present danger in your world.

John (CEO):        Well, it’s like you come to the office and it is dark, nobody is there, the phone doesn’t ring. If I would go out, people would be busy with themselves. That’s how my life would be.

Consultant:        Right, the office is dark. And that’s the dreadful feeling that comes up in you that has you either flipping into a rage or snapping or shutting down. It’s this fear that the office would be silent because you really count on Tom.

John (CEO):        For some reason it’s painful. I can’t put a finger on why that hurts but it hurts.

Consultant:        Oh yes. What you described is dark and silent and alone. Listen, that’s scary for everyone. We are all terrified of that, yes?

John (CEO):        Yes. Okay. (Laughing)

Consultant:        Can you hear him?

Tom (CFO):        Yes.

John (CEO):        I wouldn’t even know who to call. I kind of set myself in a difficult spot. Maybe I need to make sure that there are people that I can call.

Consultant:        Right here, right now, what you are saying to Tom is, “Listen, I become aware of these moments on how much I depend on you and how some part of me goes into this place where the world would be totally dark and that loneliness gets really, really scary, and just on the edge waiting to take me over all the time. And when we have a fight and suddenly we get disconnected, that is when all these feelings come up and I don’t know how to deal with them. Yes?

John (CEO):        Nodding.

Consultant:        But right here and right now you are dealing with them differently. How are you doing right now? Are you okay?

John (CEO):        Yes. This is really good. Once we even leave the session, I will continue to process. I feel like we did a lot of work and feel maxed.

Consultant:        Yes, you sure did. But I want you to notice that you did something huge. We talked about your pattern. Both of you talked about your fears. But you went into that fear, had a look at it. And was very honest about it, had it linked back into the pattern and then you turned and took some risks with Tom. And Tom, here, really felt appreciated and you let that in.

Tom (CFO):        It kind of impacted me. I feel like it is helping us both. If we have a strong connection, I feel like we have so much more energy to do more together.

John (CEO):        Yes, just having this gone through will relieve a lot of those fears.

Consultant:        Did you know, Tom, that John counts on you?

Tom (CFO):        No, I did not. I was not interpreting any of this, at all.

John (CEO):        Because I shut down. It’s kind of strange but understandable.

Consultant:        It’s a funny message, isn’t it?

John (CEO):        Yes.

Consultant:        You shut down because you need Tom because you get scared that you are going to lose him. But he sees you shutting down and sees you as dangerous.

Tom (CFO):        I was actually thinking that he is sick of me and will be glad that I would be gone. You know, I can’t imagine being so important to somebody. With all the kids that we had in the house, I did not think that I was that important.

Consultant:        You felt expendable.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. I felt like I was not important to anybody. To hear that I am so important to John, it feels good.

Consultant:        That kind of new territory for you.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Because the way I was raised is that you have a bunch of people but you are not important to anyone.

Consultant:        And you don’t depend on anyone because that’s dangerous.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Definitely, not my parents. They gave me the message, ‘Give me a break. I don’t have time for your “needs” I have seven other kids.’

Consultant:        So, I want to slow down here.

Tom (CFO):        Sure.

Consultant:        So, what is it like to hear from John that you are so important to him? When he is tossing around in this huge sea of loneliness and this dark place starts to come for him, you are his safety, which is ironic, why he gets so irritable and why he shuts down. You are a light in his world. He gets so panicked about not having you there. That’s huge, isn’t it? That’s sort of new. That’s a new perspective.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. We’ve worked together for 13 years and I never thought of that way, at all. Unfortunately, I put a very negative spin on why he does the things he does. Not from this positive perspective. So, this is cognitively overwhelming a bit.

Consultant:        Well, let’s not go there cognitively. Let’s stay with the feelings.

Tom (CFO):        Okay.


Tom (CFO):        Well, I feel kind of scared.

Consultant:        Do you?

Tom (CFO):        Yes. I don’t know. Maybe, I learned not to get my hopes up too much about anyone being there for me or feeling important, so, ah.. it’s a little bit scary for me to, I don’t know, to believe that I am really that important. It is a lot easier to believe negative things like, ‘Oh, he is trying to control me or no, he doesn’t really care about me.’ Those are easier to believe because I have believed those things all my life. And so, the things he is telling me, it is a little bit scary to believe it.

Consultant:        It’s scary to even let yourself hope. You help me, because deep inside there are kinds of longings that have been there for a long time. The way you dealt with it is to put those longings away, right?

Tom (CFO):        Right. I mean, as we are talking, it reminds me of some of the excuses I keep making.

Consultant:        But in fact, when we go past the excuses, you know the loneliness that John feels.

Tom (CFO):        I do.

Consultant:        Because you felt it too and when he turns and tells you how important you are, some part of you amazed that you could matter that much and feels this promise of, ‘Oh my goodness, at last, that longing that I matter to somebody is coming out.’ And another part of you says, ‘ Ah…don’t! Don’t let yourself hope for that.’

Tom (CFO):        That’s what it is. The other part says that. That’s so dangerous, you know that that is not going to work.

Consultant:        That’s so dangerous. You know that that is not going to work. You are just getting to get more hurt if you really don’t just let yourself listen and feel that you are going to feel important and that you matter.

Tom (CFO):        Yes.

Consultant:        So, it’s kind of scary for you when he tells you how important you are.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Part of me says, ‘What if I am tricked into thinking that and then I will look like an idiot. And then the person will turn away.’

Consultant:        I would be hurt even more?

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Maybe, that feeling just reminds me of being like when I was young.

Consultant:        I hear you. I hear you. When we touch that longing, we don’t have a defense system, right? We just let ourselves long. So, can you turn and share that with John that you always longed to matter to someone like that but that part is actually scary to hear. Can you tell him?

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Well, I am really touched by hearing how important I am to you. At the same time, it is scary because I have really never experienced that really before.

John (CEO):        Is that because you think you will let me down?

Tom (CFO):        No. I am afraid that if I start trusting you and let you come closer, you’ll say, ‘You know, I changed my mind. You know what, you are really not that important to me and I don’t have time for you. So, go away.’ So, I think I am afraid that I will be hurt. But that is not the only feeling I have. I also feel relieved that I am so important to you and it makes me want to support and work together more, really make the most of it, support each other. So, there are happy feelings there are too. So, I appreciate it.

Consultant:        But it is scary because the doors are opening now and you have always wanted to matter and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I matter, I can let all that longing out.’ Some part of you says, ‘Be careful, be careful, be careful. Suppose you let yourself feel safe and all that longing comes out and then John says, ‘Oh, sorry, I cannot be there for you. I am really busy,’ am I getting it?

Tom (CFO):        Yes.

Consultant:        And some part of you saying that I am going to be so hurt. You must never be hurt like that again.

Tom (CFO):        Yes. Keep the relationship on the surface because it is just going to hurt you even more.

Consultant:        Right. So, it’s scary to open up and create these levels of new trust and talk about these basic needs and fears, yes?

Tom (CFO):        Yes.

Consultant:        Hey guys, this is session eight. And you are doing it now with someone that you’ve known just a few months. That’s pretty wild. So, what I am getting is that even though it is scary, you are doing it. And even though, it is scary for John to feel these feelings inside and to turn and talk to Tom about them, he does it. When all I do is to create some safety and give you some clarity, you guys do it. What it tells me is that underneath all this, you have this incredible connection and you want to be there for each other. And in a way, you are both struggling with the same thing. You are both struggling with loneliness and the fear that the other person is going to turn away or judge you or see you as weak. That’s something we all struggle with, but you are in here. You are struggling and fighting for your relationship. That’s pretty amazing.

What stands out for me in using this approach is how willing the CEO and the CFO were able to share their underlying feelings once they felt safe and had some help in making sense of their emotions.

I was really moved and touched by the work that this board has done, going through struggles and be open and articulate their feelings. I also appreciated the risks that they were able to take. It really demonstrates where this process can go.

With a little bit of help, John moved from anger and getting snappy or totally shutting down, to where he was able to walk into this middle ground and expose his feelings. By dealing with those feelings and not worrying about breaking the “man code”, he was able to turn and talk to Tom. The experience was powerful because it really moved Tom and John in a way that they could feel more connected with each other.

By first outlining their negative pattern in concrete, specific terms, then moving into the unpacking John’s panic we were able to make progress. We learned about the motivation for his moves in the pattern with his CFO and the board. He snaps or shut down. When he was asked to share his emerging realities, he confronted his fear and shared his vulnerabilities that he will be seen as a wimp.

I find that sense of shame over-attachment needs and fears is very common and must be actively addressed by the EmC consultant. It is a typical EmC technique to titrate the risk involved in sharing such vulnerabilities by first asking the person to share how hard it is to even begin to talk about these matters. We then can go a little deeper and confide a little more to make his experience concrete and coherent.

We then process how John’s new messages impact his board members. Tom, in turn, shares how scared he felt to let himself hope and perhaps be heard even more than before. Each person’s range of emotions begins to expand here and both take significant risks revealing new aspects of self to the other.

Nobody has really shown board directors and CEOs that this type of connection is possible.

When they can talk about their negative cycle and how awful it is and then be able to turn to each other and show that support and affirmation are incredible and transformational.

Often times, when people have been hurt, abandoned, or rejected, it is not easy to trust the relationship, but when you create enough safety, board members want to take the risk because they long for connection, it is wired into our brain. Lots of board members, if they can’t grasp that and they end up fleeing back into the negative cycle. They try to talk themselves into going back to their fights because it feels safer than being closer.

Throughout the process, each person’s sense of the other expands. When board directors are able to go into these areas, they recognize how connected they are and how they get caught in negative cycles. The new science of emotional connection shows us that you don’t have to get angry or withdraw, there is a whole space in the middle which is about being able to deal with your feelings, reach for each other to create a connection.

To learn more about using EmC, an emotionally focused approach to board effectiveness, please contact us.

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