Today’s interview is on emotional awareness at work. Do you identify with and accept the entire range of emotions that you experience? Do you feel that you can bring your whole self to work because it is an environment that supports and honors all emotions, or do you feel that you have to hide your emotions? I’m privileged to be joined by Karla McLaren, an award winning author, social science researcher, and pioneering educator whose empathic approach to emotions revalues, even the most negative emotions and opens startling new pathways into self awareness, effective communication and healthy empathy.
In this podcast, we will explore different ways to name our emotions with the vocabulary of an embodied experience so that we can grow our self awareness, develop greater self regulation, navigate triggers with skill and have more relationship mastery. We also discuss how to design for empathy and emotional intelligence at work with different questions, strategies and tips. Together Karla and I speak to the powerful practice of developing social contracts that empower trust, psychological safety so that people can really speak the truth even if it destabilizes processes or structures that frankly, should just be let go. There’s so much good stuff in this interview. Thank you for joining us!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
The Imperfect Shownotes
Carley Hauck 0:01
Hi, thank you for joining the SHINE podcast. I’m your host Carley Hauck. This podcast is the beginning of season five. And it is all about the intersection of three things: conscious, inclusive leadership, the recipe for high performing teams and awareness practices. If you are just joining the SHINE podcast, please go to your favorite podcast application and hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss any fantastic episodes.
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Today’s interview is on emotional awareness at work. And I have the privilege to have this incredible conversation with a mentor and a teacher that has been in my life for over 10 years, Karla McLaren.
And before I go into a little bit about Karla, I wanted to introduce the interview. And in this podcast today, we are going to be talking about different ways to name our emotions with vocabulary with embodied experience so that we can grow our self awareness, develop greater self regulation, navigate triggers with skill and have more relationship mastery. We’re also going to talk about how do we design for empathy and emotional intelligence at work with different questions and strategies and tips will also speak to powerful practice of developing social contracts that empower trust, psychological safety so that people can really speak the truth even if it destabilizes processes or structures that frankly, should just be let go. There’s so much good stuff in this interview.
Karla McLaren is an award winning author, social science researcher, and pioneering educator whose empathic approach to emotions revalues, even the most negative emotions and open startling new pathways into self awareness, effective communication and healthy empathy. She is the author of four books, and I believe a workbook and I’m not going to read all of the books aloud but you can definitely go to her website and check them all out. She is an amazing resource that I’m so excited to introduce you to. The Art of Empathy, A Complete Guide to Life‘s Most Essential Skill that came out in 2013, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You came out in 2010. That was my first introduction to Karla and her latest book, The Power of Emotions at Work: Accessing the Vital Intelligence in Your Workplace. Karla has also developed the groundbreaking six essential aspects of empathy model that highlights all the processes in healthy empathy, and makes them easily understandable, accessible and attainable.
Karla is so wonderful to have you on the SHINE podcast, I discovered your work and the book the language of emotions. About 10-12 years ago, I was attending these community Enneagram panels in Marin County. And I was often one of the youngest people in the room.
And in those days, I tend to be attracted to wisdom. And so I’ve always found myself among elders. And someone talked about this book. And I think it had only come out maybe a year or two before and I knew that I was a very emotional being and didn’t quite know how to navigate those emotions and didn’t really have language for it. So I went and got your book.
And it had a huge positive impact on me. Because I started to really turn towards my emotions, really notice what was happening in my physical body and began to ask myself questions and my emotions questions. And it really enabled me to develop better boundaries, to understand my own empathy skills and emotional sensitivities. And that has really evolved in my work and in my personal life. And I bring a lot of that exploration into my own book, Shine.
And that is a big part of chapter two of my book, which is the inner game of emotional intelligence. And so your new book, The Power of Emotions at Work, has come out a couple months ago, and we have the same publisher, Sounds True. And you have I believe, published four books with Sounds True. And I listened to your recent interview with Tammy Simon, the founder of Sounds True on your new book, on the popular podcast Insights From the Edge where Tammy is typically interviewing Sounds True authors and their new books. And I loved this interview of yours. And I was so excited to support you in this next book, and to have you on the podcast. So thank you, for your deep contribution, your genius really around the realms of emotion and empathy, for shining your light in the way that you are. I am grateful and delighted to have you here.
Karla McLaren 6:30
Thank you. Thanks.
Carley Hauck 6:33
So this podcast is on the intersection of three things: conscious, inclusive leadership, the recipe for high performing teams and awareness practices. And so one of the questions that I love asking my guests is What does conscious inclusive leadership mean to you?
Karla McLaren 6:51
In my own work as a leader, for me, it is make maintaining an emotionally well regulated social structure around me because as leaders find out, leadership will challenge every part of you, every terrible way that your family taught you how to do emotions, every ridiculous idea you have about your own success, every every piece of you, that is not right on track, leadership will kick you right in that thing.
If you do not have an emotionally well regulated social structure around you, then it is very easy to become kind of a rigid and concrete excuse for all of your personal failures. And if you have an emotionally well regulated social structure, then there is going to be the room for you to say, oh my gosh, I suck. I suck so hard right now. So let me dial this back and figure out what I’m doing. And I apologize and Lord, that was bad. Right?
To for me, leadership means leading with people, never never been over people. So I’m very, very anti capitalist, very anti hierarchy. Because both of those things tend to treat people as things and as puzzle pieces or as tools, rather than as living breathing souls. So for me, there is no, you know, work life schism. My work is my life, and my life is my work. And so I don’t want to be in any situation where there is a danger of me becoming less of a whole being and more of a leader. And I’m going to put finger quotes around leader.
Carley Hauck 8:52
Wonderful, thank you. Well, I loved some of the things that you said, you know, leading with not leaving over and what you were talking about is bringing, bringing your whole self you know, to your life and there’s no compartmentalizing that at work, or in your regular life. And I also feel very aligned with that, and, and we can’t, you know, not bring our whole selves with us, it comes up no matter what. And so, thank you for that.
One of the perspectives that I really loved when I was listening to the interview that you did with Tammy on the Insights From the Edge podcast, where she’s, you know, promoting her new authors and books or old authors, and in this case, not that you’re old, but you’ve you’ve had a couple books with Sounds True. A lot with them. Yeah. You, you. I just felt like that interview was so fiery and you went into places that I feel most people don’t have the courage to speak to and so because I know but you’re comfortable on the deep waters, I thought I might just go there, are you with that?
Karla McLaren 10:05
Let’s do it.
Carley Hauck 10:06
Okay! So you shared in that interview that you’ve been thinking a lot about the so-called negative emotions and positive emotions. And you’ve shared that the so-called negative emotions are typically dismissed or we push them away, because they shake up the status quo. And the so called positive emotions go along, and then you went into the deep waters a bit and said, and a capitalist, sexist, racist, ableist, transphobic, homophobic world, these negative emotions would stand up and say, this is some shit, and we need to change it. And we need to change it every day. It’s not okay. It’s not okay. It’s not okay.
And when I heard you say that, Karla, I got goosebumps. And I was just so standing up in my seat saying hallelujah! Yeah, 100%. So I’m gonna let you take it from there.
Karla McLaren 11:10
There’s so many, there’s so many avenues to go down. But I think one of the most important ways to begin to access your emotions in a functional way, is to understand that there is no such thing as a negative emotion. And there is no such thing as a positive emotion. Because if you believe that, you’re going to avoid the so-called negative ones, and you’re going to overuse and even abuse the so-called positive ones.
In the workplace. This is really important, because almost every workplace book that talks about, you know, how to work with emotions in the workplace, is basically how do we make everybody feel happy, happy, happy, happy. And happiness is being used as a kind of a drug.
And, oh, I’m remembering what book was it? What book was it Brave New World, Soma, there’s a drug called Soma that makes everybody happy. And it’s a way for a pretty evil cabal to take over because everyone is asleep in their happiness, right? So they can’t feel their anger, which would tell them that their boundaries have been crossed, they can’t feel their fear, which is their instincts and intuition. You can’t feel their jealousy, which tells them about love and loyalty, they can’t feel their envy, and on and on and on.
If people want us just to feel the happiness emotions, I have now realized that we are looking at social control. And so now I’ve like, okay, social control is definitely occurring here. Now, what is the purpose of this social control? Right? So it means that I pretty much can’t go anywhere, with any. Like, Carly, you can’t come to this party, this party is about happiness.
Carley Hauck 13:00
Right? Well, and, and what’s been so interesting, in my own experience, being someone that feels deeply and always has there been times in my life, when I definitely suppress that and push that away, because, for example, my mother and father expressed so much emotion in our house, that there really wasn’t room for me or my sister to express ours. And so I would just kind of put it to the side or hide it. And then eventually, I couldn’t do that anymore when I became a teenager, and my hormones really, you know, kicked in, and I felt my rage, and I felt my sadness and, and I expressed it, but I’ve noticed in my own life, that if people don’t feel comfortable, and we’ll, we’ll go here in this conversation, really turning towards all their emotions, all of them, you know, not compartmentalizing them into negative or positive that it’s very challenging for them to be with the emotions of others, and maybe some of the more we call them, or label them as society does more difficult emotions. What do you think about that?
Karla McLaren 14:15
Yes, I agree. And also because empathy is first and foremost, an emotional skill, if people don’t develop a full range of emotional skills and awareness, then their empathy will always be sort of a half assed empathy, if that.
There are three positive emotions. There are 14 so-called negative ones. So you end up working with about 17.6% of emotions and if you remember being graded in school, 50% is an F. So if we believe in positive and negative emotions, for getting an F, in emotions and an empathy.
Carley Hauck 15:00
Can you share what those three positive ones are for the audience?
Karla McLaren 15:05
The poor, beleaguered, abused so-called positive emotions, are happiness, which looks to the future and tells you when something is fun or hopeful. The second is contentment, which is an emotion that turns toward you, when you’ve done something that meets with your own approval, and joy, which is an emotion that opens you up and sort of drops your boundaries, and helps you kind of, I guess, upload an experience of bliss.
And there’s a lot of danger in joy, but people don’t really talk about it. They think joy is the only emotion to feel. And so these three emotions are very specific jobs, they come up for very specific reasons. And they should never be trapped or laid over the top of other emotions, but they almost always are in our, in our positive and negative emotion culture.
Carley Hauck 16:10
And it was so interesting to watch, you know, last year with the murders of George Floyd and so many other black and brown brothers and sisters of ours, and the uprising of rage that came through and the protests. And again, I was in celebration of that, because I feel like if we were more in touch with our rage, our grief, or fear, we would be making the changes to the structures and systems that are causing hurt and harm in our workplaces, in our worlds.
Karla McLaren 16:50
Yeah, and notice the backlash that happened against those expressions of honest emotion, honest and necessary emotion. Right? It was sort of, you know, you shouldn’t be so angry, you shouldn’t be full of rage, you should, you know, wait until the system changes. Like that’s not how systems change.
Carley Hauck 17:16
Your very suffering then causes the systems to break or be hospiced.
Well, and before the call in the recording started, you and I were talking about climate change, because you were saying, I’m grateful that there’s rain today, and that we don’t have a big fire. And I lived in Northern California for a very long time, too. And, you know, I feel like that’s the next wave that’s coming of people really understanding the gravity of our survival. And, and what the science is clearly saying, and we don’t have a leader in the office anymore, who’s denying this science. And there is some action and there is some change in structure.
But I don’t think that most people have really felt the grief and the rage and the fear around this. I know I have. I know I’m still feeling it. I know, there’s layers of it. But I’m hopeful and inspired that the more we can turn towards those feelings, we will create the systems and changes to support this hot future that we are inheriting and that we have caused. What are your thoughts on that?
Karla McLaren 18:40
I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m in a pretty philosophical place about the human race right now.
The last four years made me go hmm, is this a species that deserves to survive? It’s a question I’ve had for quite a while. I’m not exactly a misanthrope. But I’m just feeling that without access to our emotional functioning, we are sort of like toddlers with a handgun, in many cases, in terms of our capacity to understand and respond to the troubles that we cause.
Carley Hauck 19:25
Thank you. Yeah. Well, one of the things I’m gonna move it a little bit. I could totally stay in this part of our conversation for a while, but I want to bring it into how we can encourage and inspire folks to access more of their emotions and their emotional intelligence and empathy at work. And I’ve been conducting trainings and bringing, you know, skills for empathy and emotional intelligence into all the work that I’ve been doing in the workplace for the last decade, and when I ask folks, What emotions do you not show at work and why? Most often I hear that they’re grouped around what’s acceptable for our gender norms, and what’s not acceptable.
And so for example, men, historically and our culture, and in many world cultures do not feel permission to feel fear, or, or sadness, they’re, they’re being, you know, labeled more as the weaker emotions, the more feminine emotions.
And for, for women, it’s anger. And we can see that when we push those emotions away, that that erupts into other actions. And so I believe that the Me Too movement, the huge domestic violence against women, against non binary folks, against other minorities from them, is coming, because they, they’ve had to suppress those parts of them. And it’s coming out in actions, and women are hiding anger, and it’s turning more into sadness. And that’s because they don’t want the backlash of being coined, a witch or a bitch or aggressive, and I feel curious, what do you hear about what emotions people hide? And why?
And also open to any perspective, or, you know, via those gender measures?
Karla McLaren 21:43
Yeah, the gender emotions are really interesting, because they cause so much trouble between the genders. And of course, I think agender people, they are not outside of this binary, that they are not outside of this binary, if they want to present as one gender or the other or neither.
They are still sort of, sort of, well, I don’t want to say trapped. But, but, you know, there’s ways that by forbidding men to feel sadness and grief and forbidding them to show fear, we turn them into sort of, we turn them into rigid bodies, and by refusing to let women show or feel anger, we turn them into unnaturally softened bodies.
So with men, we have unnaturally rigid bodies, and when we have unnaturally softened ones, and when these two bodies come together, there is usually conflict, because the unnaturally softened, one might look at the rigidity and say, you know, that is the wrong way to be, that is the wrong way, you can’t be that way and then you know, the opposite would happen. So I think this, this gendering of emotion is one of the things that helps the the gender divide, maintain itself, so strongly so if a woman or you know, a female presenting person learns how to work with anger, she or they are, are, they are breaking their breaking through the violence of gender.
And if a male presenting person learns to work with sadness, and fear and grief, then they’re also in their own body, challenging the gender binary and the gender violence that occurs. And I think this is, you know, that’s something you can do, you cannot fix, you know, however many centuries of, of the gender binary and the violence that goes with it, but you can fix it in your own emotional life. And in so doing free yourself and free anybody who is around you, right? It can free the people around you by going into the shadow of what, you know, a person with your gender expression is supposed to feel or not feel. And I like that because that’s where my freedom is. You can tell me anything about emotions about what I’m not supposed to be doing.
And on the outside, I can go Sure, sure, I wouldn’t do that emotion on the inside I have all freedom in the world. Right? I feel what I feel regardless of what other people want me to feel.
Carley Hauck 24:42
Thank you for that, in in the research that I was doing with my book, I really felt that a large role of consciousness inclusive leadership was enrolling men men identifying to be allies, to women to to marginalized communities to people of color, and I had lots and lots of conversations with men, and was really able to hear how hard it is to be a man at times in our culture. And you know, what they’ve been reinforced and the end the man box, so to speak, of what is acceptable to be a man and what is not. And it was really beautiful to hear their vulnerability and their fear and their sadness. And I am a really big proponent of people in general, again, just embracing all parts of themselves expressing and I, I feel hopeful, the transformation that’s happening, and especially that’s happening in the workplace, there are a lot more programs being developed and initiated for male allyship, Intel has a very large program, and I’ve developed a closer relationship with one of the champions and ambassadors of that program. Intel has 100,000 team members, you know, it’s massive. So I, I share this because I feel inspired at the microcosm of change that can happen in the workplace that can then transcend into our greater world.
Going into some of the wisdom that you have really developed and understood around emotions, could you share what the deeper wisdom behind rage, fear and grief are and I’m, I’m honing in on those three, because I feel that in this time of the pandemic, most people that maybe never had access those probably have, and I’d love to just normalize them a bit with your support.
Karla McLaren 27:00
Each of these emotions is really necessary at all times. But also in times of trouble, I would like to see these three emotions out playing in times of trouble.
Rage is an intensified form of anger. And probably there’s a bit of panic in it. Panic is the emotion that helps us fight, flee, freeze or flock to safety. And so when you see anger that has fight in it, there’s usually panic there and panic comes forward when we are endangered. So there’s danger, please panic come and help us right. So rage is anger with a kind of a panic chaser. And it comes forward when, certainly when your boundaries have been crossed.
Anger is about setting boundaries and identifying what you value. And protecting and restoring what you value. The power that comes with anger is very, very misunderstood. It comes forward to help you be vulnerable. Like to be vulnerable is a very empowering thing. But people don’t sort of see it that way. They see it as a weakness. So anger comes to bring you the power and the strength you need to be vulnerable.
When there’s rage. Often, people are raging, not just on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of systemic inequalities and injustice. So there’s that need to sort of step it up a bit. It is very difficult though, when panic is there for people to be able to be vulnerable within their rage. This is kind of next level, emotional skill, to feel that intensity of emotion, and to be able to speak clearly, without doing undue harm to others.
We’ve mostly learned to use our anger as a weapon, which is what it never should have been and never should be. There are some times when you need to weaponize yourself, you need to tear into somebody you need to fight, but not as often as we do. So I’m not I’m not throwing violence into the shadows. There are times when you need to fight. But there are more times when you need to be vulnerable. And that’s what anger brings to you.
So welcome anger. Let me see if I can be strong enough to be vulnerable right now. That’s kind of the work without emotion. Fear is our instincts and intuition. A lot of people mistake fear with anxiety and panic. But there are three different but connected emotions. Fear is about the present moment. It’s your instincts and your intuition. It’s your focus and your clarity. It’s your ability to key into what’s going on right now and it helps you identify change and novelty.
If there’s any danger, then panic needs to come because that’s the life saving emotion. That’s panic’s job. But a lot of people when they say no fear, or the only thing to fear is fear itself. There’s a lot of really nasty messaging around fear. But what people are talking about is panic. And they shouldn’t say that about panic either. But they do.
So the work for fear is to simply become aware of it. That’s what it comes to help you do. So you just become aware of the present moment check in. Is there any change? Is there any novelty? Is there anything I need to pay attention to? And that’s it. That’s the work of fear. If you’re good with fear, if you’re, if you’re very fear-resourced, you will be instinctual and intuitive. And you will be aware of your surroundings. That is a sign of being good with fear.
Carley Hauck 31:00
And one of the questions I often ask fear, and I encourage other people to ask, and I don’t know if I was influenced by you in this questions, I’m just going to own that. But it’s super helpful for me to ask what’s the worst thing that could happen? Because if I look at that squarely in the face, because sometimes the worst thing does happen. But most of the time, it doesn’t. If I can face that, if I can turn towards everything that arises in the worst thing that can happen, then I can move into the next step, which is inspired action, which is like, what do I have control of right now? How do I respond?
Karla McLaren 31:43
That would be more of an anxiety question, because it looks to the future. That fears about the present moment, if there’s anything feeling like it’s coming at you, or there’s any kind of dread or danger out in the future panic will be there, but anxiety will too because its job is to prepare you for the future. So that’s like a really good anxiety. question is what’s the worst that could happen? And then you prepare for the possible worst, right?
Carley Hauck 32:14
Yeah, yeah. So then for fear, would you ask, What are you scared of right now?
Karla McLaren 32:18
No, because scared implies danger. And that would be panic. So fear is you simply pay attention in the present moment, the question that I have for fears, what action should be taken? And sometimes the answer is nothing. Everything’s fine.
Carley Hauck 32:41
Thank you. I’d like to take a moment to give you a practice around emotional awareness.
We’re gonna take just a few minutes, and then we’ll come back to the second part of this fantastic interview. So bring your attention inside.
By closing your eyes by shifting your gaze downward. Don’t do this while you’re driving.
And slow down. Feel your feet, your hands simply by wiggling your fingers, your toes.
start to notice the rhythm of your breath as you breathe in and out.
Breathing in through the belly. Noticing the rise and fall on the inhale on the exhale. Take some deep breaths, make some sounds as you breathe in. As you breathe out. Do any movement that would help you come more fully into this experience into this moment into your body.
See if you can imagine that the energy from your head is starting to move down into your belly into your pelvis are moving more and more into our bodies and out of the thinking, doing and rather being aspect of ourselves.
Doing a scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Simply notice where your body is feeling the most energy. is it in the head? Is it in the hands? Is it in the chest? Is it in the belly? For me there’s a lot of energy in my head. Been very much in work and thinking mode today. And I’ve had a little bit too much caffeine to power through.
That’s what I’m noticing right now. What are you noticing in the body? Where is your body holding the most energy? And what does that energy? Feel like? What are the qualities? Is it restless? Is it heavy? Is it soft? Is it agitated, everything is welcome.
The more that we can turn towards our bodies in our experience, our bodies can settle and have a different experience. Because all of our emotions are held in our physical body.
Now notice, if there are any feelings present. It could be one of a dominant feelings. There could be many feelings. What are you noticing in this one part of the body that we’re focusing on because it has more sensation, more dominance than maybe other parts of your physical body?
We’re just being curious what’s here?
For me, I noticed there’s some sadness. What is present for you?
And just staying with the body, staying with the feelings, not needing to create a story or change it or fix it. Just being here. And then asking this part of the body? How can I support you best right now? How can I support you best. And really listening to that wisdom.
Maybe it’s a kind word, an action that you can give towards yourself, maybe it’s a placing of a loving touch on that part of the body. So for myself right now I’m placing my right hand on my forehead and just offering some care.
Now moving into my heart and noticing that self care that self love. Seeing what would feel most comforting and supportive to you.
And then bringing your awareness back to your breath back to your body. Just noticing how you feel right now. This is a very small exercise that we can do to grow our inner game of emotional intelligence. You’re becoming self aware of emotions, physical sensations, you’re regulating your nervous system by slowing down your heart rate, your blood pressure, your breathing.
You’re investigating your needs because every feeling has a need. Just imagining what it would be like if you gave yourself more time throughout the day to do this practice, how might it benefit you?
So, if you’re interested in growing this inner game of emotional awareness, empathy and intelligence, which I would highly recommend, it will support you to be a conscious inclusive leader at work. It will allow you to excel in your personal relationships with deeper intimacy and connection, I have a few resources to support you in this. There are 15 free meditations on my resources page of my website. The link will be in the show notes that you can listen to.
similar to this meditation but tailored to different emotions and different experiences.
You can also get my new book Shine: Ignite Your Inner Game to Lead Consciously at Work and in the World. It’s available in hardcopy or audiobook. And I would love to speak with you on this topic or others, and see how I could develop a specific training for your organization, team or leadership. I am currently working with Capital One, which I love. And I’m doing a lot around this particular topic with their leadership team and their organization. The links for booking time with me will be in the show notes. And Karla also has many incredible resources. So back to the show.
Carley Hauck 40:58
And then grief, tell me more about the wisdom of grief.
Karla McLaren 41:04
Grief is a beautiful emotion that arises at a death, either of a person or an idea or relationship, the death of your previous lifestyle, the death of health, right if you move into an illness, and grief is the emotion that helps you make those profound transitions.
We are a grief impaired culture here in white, Northern America, white European, Northern America, I would say that there is a good grief tradition in Judaism. And many people of color, especially African Americans, and people from Mexico have beautiful grief transitions. But for
most Europeans, the grief traditions are gone. And so we don’t know how to make those profound transitions. And we also confuse grief with the other members of the sadness, family sadness, and depression. So we don’t kind of know grief, but our bodies do.
And that’s something that’s always made me feel really, really happy, that even though culturally, we’ve been separated from the traditions of grieving, our bodies know how to grieve, they do and I give grief rituals, and people are like, I don’t know what I’m doing. But as soon as we move into the ritual, they totally know what they’re doing. They totally know. So bodies know grief and, and connecting with your body is one of the key ways to support your grief. And the question for grief is what must be mourned, and what must be released to completely.
Carley Hauck 42:54
love that what must be mourned and what must be released completely. And there’s so much to grieve, right now, in our world, there’s so much to let go, and release and more. So that we can create the new build the new.
So I want to move into the increased awareness of mental health, I feel like mental health was always present in the workplace. It’s always been there. But it’s becoming talked about more and more and more, which is fabulous, because then hopefully we can create some changes and give people the support that they need. And part of that has arisen more in the midst of the pandemic because of the social isolation, the increased complexity and challenge and, you know, layoffs mean so many things being quarantined. And it was very easy to find research on this.
But I basically looked into two articles earlier today. And this was an article that was looking at the impact of COVID on suicidal ideation. And it said that COVID-19 crisis, increased suicide rates during and likely will after the pandemic. And it was something that I thought was really interesting, because I know that you have spoken about suicidal urges. And I don’t think that’s something that is talked about very often and the wisdom behind suicidal urges, would you be willing to speak to that?
Karla McLaren 44:38
Yeah, and I was thinking in my book, I talk about the mental health effects of the workplace, and they’re pretty grim. The workplace is a pretty emotionally and empathically abusive place because specifically because emotions were kicked out of the workplace at the turn of the Industrial Revolution, and you can’t kick emotions out, you can only suppress them and make an emotionally unhealthy environment.
And I think there was a very large research study on like 17,000 workers in the US. And
the numbers that came out of it were just sort of horrifying in that eight out of 10 workers said that they were struggling at home because of the social and emotional trouble at work. So we spend most of our lives in an emotionally troubling or even abusive environment.
And when the pandemic came along, and maybe people then realized, oh, their home lives aren’t that healthy either. And there was all the fear that people don’t know how to work with the anxiety, they don’t know how to work with the sadness, grief and depression, they don’t know how to work with the panic. So for a lot of people, a lot of emotions came up and it just became overwhelming. And the emotion that arises when things are, you know, when the shit has hit the fan, and everything is just not workable. The suicidal urge will arise and say, This can’t go on.
I call it the darkness before dawn. Because it is a time to look around yourself with you know, this very clear eyed, realistic view, to say, the difference between who I am in my heart of hearts, and what I have become in this world of expediency and meaninglessness is so extreme that it’s already like a death.
And the suicidal urge arises to sort of mark that moment. And the question for the suicidal urge is what behavior or situation must end now, and what can no longer be tolerated in my soul? In dynamic emotional integration, which is my work, the rule for the suicidal urge is that the human body that I’m living in is off the table. It’s off the table, we can always die, but right now let’s look and see what it is the suicidal urges pointing to. And as you’ve seen, if people don’t have that framework, then they simply think that it is their body that needs to die, that they need to die.
But it can be one of the most powerful moments of evolution that a person could ever experience when their own emotions say, No, this is no I refuse to live this way. Give me liberty or give me death. And you know, the way that we work with suicidal urges like take liberty death will come anyway. Like, it’s like death and taxes are going to happen. So let’s live this life. And you know, take the power of this emotion and let’s go. Let’s go kill something that needs to get killed. Like, you know, this situation or this ridiculous job or this unhappy life that I’m living in. How the hell did I get here?
Carley Hauck 48:17
Or the fossil fuel industry.
Karla McLaren 48:18
Yeah, let’s go kill that real good. Let’s blow it up. Yeah, yeah. And there really isn’t any….
What I’m noticing is and I’m gonna swear but I’ve been having this thing in my mind a book called a form of violence that’s not fucked up. Because the violence that we see over and over again is fucked up violence that is meant to hurt or kill others but we don’t see that kind of sacred violence of killing that which needs to be killed and ending that which needs to be ended and being in you know, intense conflict over something and not having everybody go let’s just agree to disagree.
No, let’s have conflict, let’s go right. So it’s something that is just in the back of my mind, how do we create healthy violence?
Carley Hauck 49:12
I believe conflict is essential in relationship. It’s just part of relationship and with healthy boundaries with self awareness, with empathy, with emotional intelligence, with care, it can be very healthy, it can bring us closer, it can create more innovation and intimacy.
Karla McLaren 49:33
Yeah, yeah. But you know, you have to go through the shit, like you have to be willing to. And sometimes my husband and I are, you know, I’m like, let’s do it dude, bro. Let’s go, let’s go outside. Let’s do it.
Carley Hauck 49:45
You yourself have faced suicidal ideation based on your own childhood and really being you know, with those parts of yourself and being able to really understand and navigate it from that place. Is there anything else you want to add to that?
Karla McLaren 50:08
I, you know, sometimes people ask me, Well, how did you go from being a person who survived? You know, pretty extreme dissociative childhood trauma and homelessness and abuse and, you know, tremendous mental illness and poverty and all that kind of stuff. How did you get from there to here? And I was like, suicidal urge, man. That’s what that’s what brought me out. Because it continually was my, my North Star, it would continually tell me this is not it. This is Oh, hell, no, this is not it. This is not your life. This is not it.
And I was so fortunate that I learned to listen to it, and work with it. And yeah, yeah. To say you’re right. This is not it.
Carley Hauck 51:08
Thank you for sharing that. And, you know, just to step in this ring with you. On Monday of this week, I had a really hard day, Karla, I was really, really hard. I cried most of the day. And I noticed in myself, that I really wanted to stop crying, like there were parts of myself that I kind of wanted to just push away, I wanted to abandon. And so I noticed for myself, when I’ve had suicidal ideation and urges in my life, it’s because I’m, I’m abandoning parts of myself in that moment. And I’m not allowing myself to feel them.
But when I can turn towards and then get to the deeper wisdom of this has to die, this has to stop, this is not working. And that’s where I got to, by the end of the day, I have some bigger changes I’m going to be making very soon. So freeing, there’s so much clarity and ease, and then, you know, action that I can gather around that decision and that wisdom. So anyway, just speak to listeners, that I myself have gone through that and continue to go through it. And that’s been my experience of what I notice. In that.
Karla McLaren 52:35
Yeah, like no, I also want to say that once you get once you befriend your emotions, and you become, you know, pals with them, and you communicate with each other, they don’t have to come up in a full scale, like you don’t have to go to rage. You can go to slight tiny peevishness, and you’ll be like, Oh, no, you know, you could become more sensitive and empathic with your own emotions.
But there is a soft, suicidal urge that I have now identified as what I call the dead flat no. Which is when someone says, Hey, Karla, can you do a whole bunch of work for me? Because I have a party later? For free? No, actually, no, I cannot do that at all. And this no is very different from the relational no of anger.
Anger always has relational pieces in it, you can’t be angry about something that’s not important to you. So whenever there’s anger, it means there’s importance here, there’s value here. And the no of anger would be. No, I can’t do that today. But I can help you blah, blah, tomorrow, right? Or whatever if this person is worth keeping, but the person that I set up in that earlier story wasn’t worth keeping. That person’s like, Nope, I’m not in a relationship with you, pal. No.
Carley Hauck 54:01
Okay, so I’m going to take this back into the workplace. One of the things that I have been feeling really inspired by now that we have this virtual world of work, it is worldwide. And we have an opportunity to kill the structures and systems that in the workplace that are not supporting as you share in your book, emotionally well regulated structures that actually support empathy and all emotions and us to bring our whole selves.
And so when we think about designing for empathy and emotional intelligence, what do you think are some of the questions we can be asking leaders and teams? You have some really, you know, wonderful questions in your book such as, what environments do you experience as most nourishing? Emotional work? And what environments do you experience the most draining emotional work? And what are the differences between nourishing and draining environments? Those are definitely a start what? What other thoughts do you have about designing for empathy and all of our emotions to be welcomed at work?
Karla McLaren 55:33
I think that I’m sort of starting from the ground up in helping everybody develop an emotional vocabularies, not only so they’ll have better language with each other, but also because developing a better emotional vocabulary just all by itself gives you better emotion regulation skills. That is cool. That’s a two for one. And I’ve got a free emotional vocabulary list on my website that we’ve gathered, so that people can know, you know, are they in soft anger, medium anger or intense anger? And then that can tell them? What does anger mean? And why did that emotion come up right now, another one is making sure that there is a process for mistakes and conflict, that there is that that mistakes are seen as normal and necessary ways to learn. And that, you know, it’s not it’s not a terror inducing thing to make a mistake in your, in your world.
Because generally, people will be blamed or shunned, which will shut everybody down. Absolutely, everyone will see that happen. And it will shut down the entire community. And I think there was data saying that 85% of workers have not communicated really serious workplace issues upward because of this culture of we don’t make mistakes, and we don’t want anything negative to happen here.
Another one is that there is an environment of trust, that it has to come from if it’s a traditional kind of a hierarchy, which we would hope those go the way of the dodo. Because it’s such a bad, hierarchies are so damaging to everybody from the top down. They’re just awful situations, but that people must feel safe enough and supported enough to speak the truth, even if it might destabilize relationships or processes. So everybody should be able to have the red, you know, stop button that says we cannot go forward with this process, because I noticed this problem, and you see in most workplaces is if anybody had asked, at least two or three people would have been able to tell them about the problem that they found out six months later after they spent $40 million.
Carley Hauck 58:04
Well, and that’s the lack of psychological safety. Yeah, yeah. Right. And that’s, that’s been a big part of what I bring in as a foundation. Because if we don’t have psychological safety, for the folks that are listening, and don’t know what that actually means, it’s the ability to share our feelings or needs or experiences or worldviews without the fear of reprimand, punishment, or, or judgment. And when that’s not present, we actually can’t feel comfortable sharing our emotions or our emotional sensitivities.
Karla McLaren 58:48
Yeah. Yeah. And everybody knows that. Yeah, everybody, like they can just see someone get blamed for something. And it will just cast a pall, there will be a cold wind going through the social structure. And these things, these things have so much power. Doing doing things wrong, and making bad transitions is one of the things I see pretty much every workplace do, because transitions require emotions, sadness, grief, fear, anger, and if people don’t know how to work with those emotions, their transitions are not going to be strong, they will be lumpy and cause a lot of backlash.
Carley Hauck 59:29
And we’re going through such a reorg in our workplace, but in our world. There are so many emotions that are coming up with all the changes in the transitions that you’re sharing. And one of the things that I imagine you’ll agree with, but I’m open to you disagreeing is social contracts are things that I bring in to support psychological safety, but I was really inspired in reading your book where you call it the nine aspects of emotionally well-regulated social structures and it’s, it’s actually social contracts that are that are similar and I’m, I actually would love to just read them if that’s okay the nine because I find I think they’re really helpful when we think about the designing of empathy and emotional intelligence and emotions at work.
So, number one was emotions are spoken of openly and people have workable emotional vocabularies. Number two, mistakes and conflicts are addressed without avoidance, hostility or blaming. Number three, you can be honest about mistakes and conflicts without being blamed or Shun. That goes back to psychological safety. Number four, your emotions and sensitivities are noticed and respected. Wow, to live in a world where these were present and agreed upon I love it. Number five, you notice and respect the emotions and sensitivities of others. Yes. Number six, your emotional awareness skills are openly requested and respected. Number seven, you openly request and respect the emotional awareness and skills of others. Number eight, you and others feel safe enough and supported enough to speak the truth. Even if it might destabilize relationships or processes. Yes. And number nine, the social structure welcomes you, nourishes you and revitalizes you.
I want that. I believe in that those are beautiful. Thank you.
Karla McLaren 1:01:38
Thank you people like where does that happen? I’m like Emotional Dynamics, LLC, pal. We have so many fascinating people working here. I call us the Island of Misfit Toys. Because we have you know, we’ve hated work, we’ve hated work. And then we come here, and it’s what work should have always been. Yeah.
Carley Hauck 1:02:06
So just briefly, what are what are you offering through this particular you know, community of people to really structure revision? The workplace?
Karla McLaren 1:02:19
What am I offering to my colleagues? Or what are we offering in the marketplace?
Carley Hauck 1:02:26
What are you offering in the marketplace? Oh, support this new design of greater empathy and emotional intelligence and sensitivities at work?
Karla McLaren 1:02:36
Yeah, the book. Well, the books, and we have dynamic emotional integration, we run a licensing program so that people can learn to do this work. And we also run Empathy Academy, which is a place where people can take online courses, it became very popular during the pandemic, because people are like, I’m trapped at home with my emotions, please give me a class.
Yeah, and, and then we’re also developing an online community where people can come and talk about emotions and develop their emotional skills and their vocabulary and have a place to laugh uproariously and and say things that are inappropriate. And I will laugh and laugh.
Carley Hauck 1:03:27
Mm hmm. Wonderful. So, so needed. And so what I’d like to leave with all of these resources will be available in the show notes, folks, for those that want to learn how to take advantage of all the wisdom and these offerings that Karla has. But many of us listening know that in the midst of the pandemic, and I found this latest number that about 4 million folks have left the workplace since April 2020. And that is as a result of people seeking more meaning, purpose, better wages, flexibility, more caring teams, and leadership, and likely because they hadn’t shared what they didn’t enjoy or wasn’t working for them.
Like as, as you said earlier, Karla, most people are not sharing these complaints upward for this person. It’s not safe, right? It’s not safe. Exactly. So instead, they’re leaving and trying to find something that’s probably more humane, more caring. But if you’re listening in you’re a leader, or you’re not a leader. I feel really curious about what would make you want to stay and what makes you want to leave? And I’d love to hear and Karla, do you have any other thoughts on that?
Karla McLaren 1:04:50
It’s a little bit off topic, but it sort of isn’t. People talk a lot about workplace culture. And one of the experts of workplace culture, Edgar Schein, he’s like the grandfather of workplace culture studies. And he says that, you know, people come in and want to change the culture, but the culture is a living, breathing thing. And any culture change should if it’s done in a helpful way, take between five and 10 years, write the whole book, much people come in, like, we’re gonna do culture change in six months, I’m like, No, you’re not that, usually they say people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their manager. But that puts a lot of pressure on managers, many of whom don’t have the power, that they have a lot of responsibility, but no power, it’s not a good position.
And what people are really leaving is the culture. They’re leaving a sick social structure. That is a lot like a sick family. And what I love about the great resignation, which is what they’re calling it, as people are seeing it, and they’re saying, I can choose otherwise, there’s a little bit of a suicidal urge there. Right, I’m going to kill this relationship here. And I’m going to go on, and I believe in the future. You know, and maybe they’ll find a slightly less sick culture in the next place, or call the Great reshuffle. I think they’re interchangeable. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah. And, and to begin to understand culture, to understand the way the social structures work, and that’s what you know, the power of emotions at work does is help you understand the social structure and as, as you would term it, the psychological safety. But it’s not just psychological, it’s sociological, that there’s, you know, an interrelated human structure happening here that is functional. And in most workplaces, sadly, that is not true. That is not true. It is a dysfunctional, emotionally unsupportive culture. So it’d be wonderful to see that change. And people are saying, I’d rather have no job than this one.
Carley Hauck 1:07:04
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that is happening right now. Well, we are at the beginning stages of this change. And I so appreciate your wisdom, the work that you’re doing, your offerings, we are in this together. And I look forward to just seeing how it all begins to evolve. And thank you again for your time today.
Karla McLaren 1:07:38
Carley Hauck 1:07:40
Wow, that was the highlight of my week. Karla, thank you so much for everything that you have learned and are sharing around these important topics with the world. We as a society and humanity need this more than ever right now. If you want to learn more about how you can access Karla’s knowledge on these topics, the link for her website and her books is in the show notes. And as always, it is such a wonderful privilege to have you listening and in this community. There are lots of other fabulous podcast interviews, some definitely related to this topic that you can preview from past episodes. And if you’re enjoying the podcast, please share it wildly with others. And as always, until we meet again, be the light and shine the light.