Vital Instincts

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

In my podcast series last year, I interviewed some very interesting people.  Judith Glaser was one of them.  Judith is an executive and organizational coach.  She has worked with many fortune 500 companies…names you all know:  Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, Clairol, IBM, Citibank, Pepsico, Verizon, among others.  Judith is the best-selling author of Creating We, one of Fortune Magazines forty best business books in 2005. 

She and I discussed Creating We and the thinking behind it in some detail.  Here’s an excerpt from that conversation.  I particularly liked what Judith had to say about our “vital instincts”.

Bud:  The whole idea of creating we, which I think is very, very, an interesting concept, this notion of  a we culture, as opposed to an I culture and how did this concept come to be, the focus of your work, where did this come from?

Judith:  As I start to work with clients, I found that a lot of things that clients expected me to come in and help with were relating to teams.  In the early ‘80s, people were focusing on teams a lot more, still in the ‘90s they were doing that, but as I worked with these companies I realized that team-based solutions were not solving the problems for what these clients were working on.  They were working on enterprise issues, and they were working on culture issues.  You could spend a lot of time and money focusing on a small team, but then when teams integrate with other teams or teams integrate with management committee, or teams integrate with anything the same challenge continues to face you.  People think in silos and just fixing one isn’t even the right word to use, that seemed to be like old language.  We had to find another language to use to talk about enabling everybody to become part of a thriving enterprise and so that’s what really launched me into this journey which has been the last two and a half decades with my clients and the last nine to ten years in writing.

Bud:  Nine to ten years writing?

Judith:  Yep.

Bud:  So what you’re saying is teams are kind of last-century and what we need to focus on here is not just improving how small groups of people who work together most of the time do well together, we need to focus more broadly to the whole organization, or I guess the word you’re using there is focus on the enterprise.

Judith:  Yes.  It’s definitely about focusing on the enterprise.  However, I’m finding so much in the work I do everyday with all of my clients is that we first have to understand how two people create a bond.  If you focus on the team level and the individual units aren’t learning how to bond, then we’ve missed what creates the ongoing energy and momentum from making something happen.

Bud:  When you say individual units, you’re talking about the…

Judith:  People

Bud:  The people who make up an organization, whether it’s 20 person organization, or a 20,000 person organization?

Judith:  Yes.

Bud:  You talk about vital instincts in your book, and can you talk a little bit about that?

Judith:  I had a most amazing “ah-ha” that came to me somewhere in the beginning or middle of the first year when I was trying to articulate what this was all about.  The backdrop to this is that I wrote a business dictionary in 1986 so I had to come up with 3,500 new business terms that weren’t in the mainstream dictionary.  That’s how I actually got my name Benchmark for Benchmark Communications.  In the process, words became a fascination for me, and I said “what if there was no word yet that existed to explain what it was that was driving human beings to be together and to be successful together?”  In that pursuit, I came up with the term vital instincts.  I asked myself “what if it is it’s not about territorial instincts that cause the problem in companies, or in the world for that matter?”  What Darwin said about survival of the fittest is only half of the story.  I decided that human beings have vital instincts that are alive all the time when we feel trust and when we are in a good relationship with someone.  When this trust is broken, and we become a fearful and distrusting person there is a loss, or the cutting of those vital instincts.  This interruption of communication with someone is actually what causes people to fight and want to survive or focus only on their own self interest.

Bud:  So if I get this right, we all have a need to trust other people and we sort of a bonding need, to be in a relationship with people?

Judith:  Yes.

Bud:  And when we struggle — whether it’s in relationships like marriages or friendships or at work, it usually has to do with something that somehow severed that trust, or at least created the impression that the trust was severed.

Judith:  Exactly, when people feel that trust has been severed, they will go to someone else to build a new bond or to secure the bond that they have for safety and being in a relationship and being in a healthy communication.  So let’s say you and I have a fight and all of a sudden our bond is broken and so I have to re-secure that bond with somebody so I turn to someone else and I say, “you know that Bud guy, can you believe what he just did to me?”  And then all of a sudden I have a new friend who’s now helping me.  If you watch animals, it’s licking wounds.  It’s what people do with each other.  With that in mind I started to realize that a lot of the silo building and a lot of the arguing and fighting that goes on in companies is when the bond is broken and people go to find other people coalesce them around their cause to build a new camp, to build a new team, to get back that feeling that they had but lost with some other relationship.

Bud:  So vital instincts, at their core, really is the bond.  We all seek to have relationships with other human beings.  Sometimes we develop relationships that don’t work so well and can be harmful to an organization because the bonding results from you and your other person talking about how bad I am, to use your example.

Judith:  Exactly.  And that’s what we say when an organization is dysfunctional – that’s what we’re talking about.  And by the way vital instincts are so powerful and so important that if we don’t have them, if we take children and leave them in the forest for example without human contact they do not grow beyond, they’re called feral, they don’t grow beyond being animals.  And so this instinct for bonding is also what leads to the ability for human beings to grow and develop parts of their brain that enables them to socialize and enable them to innovate and enable them to contribute.

Bud:  Let’s talk about conventional wisdom.  Just how do we get along – what do we need to do to work well together and build strong relationships?

Judith:  I’ve come to believe that creating we, is not just getting along and working with each other. I really focus on getting down to the basics.  If two human beings can sit down with each other, and they can talk about what a 10 relationship would look like and then they can talk about what they need to give each other to create that; then they can talk about what they’re going to do if they fall out of it so that they can continually get back into it.  Then we have something that talks about how people can stay in that “we” and in that bonding relationship. 

Bud:  So it’s dealing with people in a straight-forward, open manner.  And I do think that a lot of what you’re saying, and I think a lot of people who are listening to you are saying “what she’s saying makes sense” and it really does. 

Judith: Thank you.

Judith Glaser’s ideas about vital instincts are important for anyone who aspires to be an interpersonally competent person.  Interpersonally competent people have the ability to build strong bonds with the people in their lives – and the ability to repair and strengthen those bonds when they are threatened.  Pick up a copy of Creating We.  I think you’ll find it to be interesting and stimulating reading.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


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