Let’s Talk – Lessons from Physiology

Let’s Talk – Lessons from Physiology

In this article, we use the word “team” and refer to leadership and business but note that this is also applicable to our personal relationships with our families, partner and friends.

Nature and biology are great teachers where we can learn about systems and processes and use them as metaphors for living.

We know that everything that comes into our body must go out; if not, we’ll become sick and may even die. The following metaphor is taken from physiology. It may sound rather grotesque, but it’s a reality for everyone independent of their social position. It’s the digestion process called metabolism. Whatever we eat will be broken down into tiny particles where some will be absorbed as nutrients; this process is called anabolism. The rest is excreted through the lungs, kidneys, skin, and digestive system called catabolic waste. This process is regulated through homeostasis and temperature regulation.

It’s like a car engine where fuel comes into the injectors, creating the energy to move the pistons to move the car, and the exhaust expels what is not necessary. I want to mention the significant difference in energy savings between the body and engine. The engine makes our amazing body operate all its functions at only 36o without noise, while the car’s engine works at 80-100o while producing noise to operate! (Except if it’s an electric car). 

The body is provided with effective mechanisms to control ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ to expel what is unnecessary. In a functional scenario, when we know that it’s time to excrete waste, we have clear signals that allow us to take time and head towards a private place to undergo the expelling process. After that, we leave behind what is unnecessary, leaving this designated place feeling relieved, lighter and with a sense of accomplishment. It is a success story of completing the food intake and digestion cycle. It’s good for the individual, as well as for those around him or her. Everyone is happy!

When the digestive system is not functional due to consistent inappropriate intake or due to a glitch in the body, the person may not control the ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ to do their business. It may occur in the wrong place, at the wrong time and would come out in absolutely the wrong way. The person may feel sick and throw up or develop colic and diarrhoea, both embarrassing and messy experiences. Or the intake gets stuck in the system, resulting in constipation, something that will eventually burst out. This is an inappropriate way of completing the cycle. I must apologise again for using this type of example to make this case. 

This is not good for the individual who has suffered colic pains, discomfort and feeling embarrassed and has experienced a lack of control, and we also know that it’s not pleasant for those around them either.

Where am I going with this? Well, the same metaphor applies to interpersonal relationships. Whatever we experience will have to come out—either appropriately or inappropriately eventually. The appropriate way includes a when, a how, and a what, creating satisfaction and providing a healthy outcome.

Like the digestive system, if we don’t want people to ‘excrete’ what they think and feel in the wrong place and time, we must create the appropriate whenhow and what. People need to have a way to voice their needs and opinions appropriately and constructively. This is creating a culture of growth, like the body or the car that moves. A shared culture is one where there is awareness of what is needed, the feeding of what is necessary, ways to monitor the assimilation of what has been fed (catabolism), how this has been transformed into energy (anabolism), and the expulsion of the waste. Leaders have the function of regulating this healthy culture like the CNS (Central Nervous System) regulates the body.

Leaders are not always aware of these processes and focusing on what comes out. We see that appraisal methods, performance management conversations or just casual, ad-hoc chats about performance end in ways that are often not what we’d like, expect or desire. We know that the same things happen at home or with friends. The intent is correct, but often the practices do not contribute to communication and growth.

The Narrative Interview is a tool that creates the right ‘space’, in the right’ time’ and provides better ‘ways’ that gives the employee or associate, in the best possible way, the ability to express his or her genuine, honest, real emotions and thoughts towards creating a constructive relationship. It is the responsibility of leaders (and parents) to create a safe environment with a personal attitude of care with the appropriate channels of communication, receive and process what is presented, and give appropriate feedback.

The end purpose is to find the best possible ways to achieve the desired objectives using the least possible energy and noise.

It’s not easy to create a space and create an appropriate attitude where people will freely expel what they need to, as we fear not having the resources and desire to confront “the messy and noisy”. There is also a fear of opening up a can of worms, to confront what makes us uncomfortable, so we avoid and delay those moments. We forget that whatever comes in has and will come out, appropriately or inappropriately.

The appraisal time could be one of the times when a fruitful conversation could occur, but it’s not the only one. Appropriate appraisal systems educate management and staff to face each other with skill, clarity and respect.

Trust is the essential component for outstanding performance. If you trust your people, ask them how they feel and what they think about your style of leadership and the organisation as a whole. If you don’t trust them, you have more reason to ask them what they feel and think. What great information you’ll get from dissatisfied people who are already talking about you and the organisation anyway. You have the opportunity to control those conversations. Priceless!

– Dr. Carlos A Raimundo