All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.Tove JaNsson, Moominland Midwinter
Katarzyna Kowalska: We started the year expecting to find our way in a post-pandemic world. With a growing awareness that things would no longer be the same as before, but nevertheless with the hope of a reality with new rules and points of reference established. The future is, however, very uncertain.
Janusz Prendota: Indeed, the chaos caused by Covid-19 is far from being over. Instead, new problems have emerged, including increased economic and political tensions, given that all the things that had worried us before the pandemic have not magically disappeared either. It is worth noting that the phenomena we have to deal with are even difficult to interpret unequivocally, because everywhere we hear contradictory voices – the very same vaccines save humanity and are a medical experiment, the same economic situation is a miracle and leads to a disaster. The complexity of the world and the pace of change occurring in it make it unrealistic to expect that the turbulence will be followed by a situation that, at least for a while, is clear, stable and safe. At ICAS, we see our role among others in building up an understanding of the situation: yes – vaccines do help, yes – the effort to reorganise the company does make sense. In conversations with our clients, we make a joint attempt to grasp what is happening.
KK: A good crisis recovery requires transformation – before we move on, we need to say goodbye to the previous state of affairs, reflect, modify our vision of the future and acquire new skills. We are, to some extent, used to and adapted to such action in cycles. But what if the crisis becomes chronic?
JP: Then the transformation must also be of a continuous nature. And this, in turn, consumes our time and energy resources in a permanent way. Dealing constructively with ongoing uncertainty requires transitioning into a different mode of functioning and a much greater commitment to processing the situation! When we are tired of adversities, we often feel like taking a breather and not dealing with them any more. We don’t want to look at what these difficulties tell about ourselves, the world and life in general, we refuse to delve into doubts and inner conflicts. This is understandable, because the root cause here is the fear of seeing the weakness of structures that we considered solid – the state, the company or the family; the fear of assuming that our intentions will not be fulfilled or that we have bet on the wrong values, projects or people, that we have not tapped the opportunities properly, that we have not turned out as we would like to see ourselves. In short, we are accompanied by the fear of discovering unpleasant truths. Sometimes the fear that we can no longer stand it is justified and there are good reasons behind the desire to ‘block it out’. I do not want to condemn this – only point out that an employee, and certainly a manager, who removes a large part of the incoming information from their scope of attention is not able to properly grasp what is crucial in a given situation.
KK: Are we afraid of the conclusions our own reflections may lead us to? That they will further confuse us and turn our lives around?
JP: Yes, psychophobia is precisely the fear of one’s own mind and the effects of its work. It is the recognition that it is better not to think, because the effects of this process may turn out to be lamentable. Because as a manager I may discover something not very pleasant about myself or about my work, relations in the company or about the company in general. Or as a husband and father – I may discover how I destroy the relationships by taking the work-related tensions home. However, it is simply impossible to move past such difficult events we experience. And the more we push the unwanted thoughts away, the stronger they will push back to resound and make themselves known in unexpected, distorted and, unfortunately, destructive ways. This applies both to individuals and to whole groups.
KK: Some would say: ‘why bother thinking about it, you have to move forward’. So let us emphasise that it is not about not moving on or wallowing in negative states, but about dealing with them in a constructive manner, because they will not disappear just because we decide so.
JP: What is hidden is still working its ways – this is one of the paradoxical findings of psychoanalysis, though not only. What is more, it works even harder when it is hidden. The only way to weaken this influence is to notice, to name, to bring it into conversation. This theme appears in many accounts. There is a beautiful Finnish fairy tale about dwarves living by the bay and Nixie, a monster from deep waters, who pulls unwary rafters far out to sea. And it is only when the words ‘Nixie, stop’ are spoken out loud that the monster loses its strength.
KK: When I suggest such confrontations with their own monsters of deep waters to my clients, I often hear ‘but it’s so hard’. And I agree, it is, but keeping them hidden is even harder. So all in all it’s worth it, because more peace of mind is at stake.
JP: The peace of mind that we work out for ourselves. John Stuart Mill often referred to the ‘reflective person’ who placed reflection on the life they were living at its centre. It seems that the present times increasingly demand such an attitude. And again – I would stress that not only does it pertain to individuals, but also to groups. Talking about monsters from the depths – these are also found in families, companies and communities.
KK: I can spot a particularly big one. Most of us have been affected by the pandemic. Many people have lost their health and loved ones. But I also think of relationships that fell apart, businesses that had to be shut down, lay-offs that had to happen or meetings that didn’t happen. Those losses are irrecoverable.
JP: And we carry that burden as there’s no way their subconscious influence on us could be avoided. COVID-19 has already claimed more lives than many of the events we commemorate as national disasters. Every day, we say goodbye to as many people as would fit on several aeroplanes, and it could be presumed that as a community we are increasingly overlooking this. Similarly, reports of thousands of bankruptcies or incidents at the national border evoke less and less reaction, if any at all. But incomplete grief has the effect of undermining our resilience to further difficulties, destroying our relationships, sense of connection and community. This effect can be seen in the attempts to escape from grieving, in actions that could be called collective mania – such as the spread of conspiracy theories or the sudden increase in the number of xenophobic slogans among certain groups. There’s no better way to drown out sad feelings than a collective march, singing – it is a kind of a group method to prevent reflection from emerging in us and growing. Hostility, finding a scapegoat – all these things always result in more loneliness in the end. These are ineffective substitute measures.
KK: A wave of calls to psychologists means people are not coping very well on their own?
JP: It means they are trying to cope. It’s good that they are seeking help, it’s definitely better than trying to ignore, wait it out or drown out the problems by throwing oneself into various activities. I hope that soon consulting a psychologist will be considered as making use of the resources available, opening up to them – as a sign of coping, indeed! In any case, there is more and more awareness that difficulties cannot be swept under the rug. I am particularly pleased that companies have started to notice this because the atmosphere that prevails there is of great importance for employees and their families, but also for market success. The repulsion towards so-called ‘psychologising’ is clearly diminishing. A lot of managers seem to recognise that this attitude is rather a testimony of resistance to trying to understand!
KK: Companies have been making use of more and more methods to take care of the emotional dimension. Not so long ago, providing employees with access to psychological support was a novelty; now, the approach is becoming even more comprehensive.
JP: Certainly so. In the past year, we considerably broadened our offer and now it allows for creating a full programme of individual and group impact. We deal with specific issues of individuals, but we also help to change relationships within a company by providing consultations for managers or working with groups. We advise on shaping organisational culture. As part of our educational activities, we equip people with new skills, while at the same time offering them the opportunity and space to stop, reflect, and exchange.
KK: So management based on demands and accountability is doomed to become a thing of the past, because dealing with emotions means opening up to diversity. But I don’t think anyone will miss it…
JP: Some certainly will, but either way the trend is apparent. Psychophobia leads to authoritarian methods, rigid hierarchical structures, the only one, binding stance. There are proponents of this approach, only it neither works in the long term nor is beneficial to the majority of people involved. In psychological terms, it is giving way to solutions based on anger, a sense of injustice, revenge, fear – of what has been pushed away and isolated. Who would want to go to work for such a company every morning? Don’t get me wrong – it’s not ‘everything is allowed’ and ‘no demands’ from now on. It’s still about doing one’s job well, completing projects efficiently – but in a much more human context.
KK: But even an open-minded manager can be reluctant to see the need to pause and reflect when results must be demonstrated ‘yesterday’.
JP: Flexibility is key everywhere. Of course, sometimes you have to ‘deliver’ something urgently and there is no space for discussion. It’s a natural reaction that managers become rigid in a crisis. The same goes for employees. The point is that this should not be the only and permanent way of functioning – but rather be based on building a sensible consensus most of the time. Apart from short periods of operational plans, flexibility and openness are a much better guarantee of coming out of difficulties successfully. We know companies which – paradoxically – used the crisis to build a new, great, and creative strategy. And this was the best possible response to said crisis. This diversified approach is possible when managers and employees understand their own internal dynamics and what is happening between them. In other words, when they have insight, are able to see what is missing, the sparks that may ignite, all the points where things are not running smoothly or get jammed, and are able to address such topics. A manager delegates tasks to his team members, so perhaps it would be good for him to consider what his employees are delegating back to him?
KK: One couldn’t help but notice that similar mechanisms work for ourselves, our family, team, company or community. And it would be very reassuring indeed – to be able to count on both ourselves and the groups we are part of to openly face difficulties, fears and uncertainties.
JP: The personal unconscious of each individual makes up the collective subconscious from the Jung’s theory. We are rooted in it and it affects us, but we also affect it. It is all interconnected. Of course, the most work we can do on ourselves. The world is not a source of stability and security and will be less and less so. Therefore, we must look inside ourselves for the answer. Or to be more precise: to focus on the ability to clearly see what is going on outside, to tap into our intuition, and to maintain a constant exchange between these two aspects of mind. When I am able to maintain a movement between these spheres, to travel between them – the right concepts, verifiable plans, sensible management decisions will be born.
KK: I started with a quote from the Moomins, which at first seems to make no sense. How can one feel reassured when everything is uncertain? And yet, once we know without any doubt that this is what is going to happen, we can stop looking outside and find our own peace of mind.
JP: Yes, without knowing what will befall us, we can have confidence that whatever it is, we will accept it and deal with it. But for that to happen, there needs to be a great deal of trust in ourselves, which we gain by being able to find in our identification the answers to the questions: who am I, who were my father and mother, where did I come from, what is my family? We may use the time of Holiday reflection to this end. The gathering at the table can undoubtedly give us some answers. And even difficult ones can lead to building our inner strength. To restore balance. And this is exactly what we wish our clients and all our readers.
KK: Wishing you peace of mind in times of uncertainty.