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Brené Brown: We either attend to fears and feelings, or we just keep managing problematic behaviors

We can manage the symptom, or we can treat the cause.
We can manage the symptom, or we can treat its underlying cause. (Photo: Brené

Brené Brown became highly popular more than a decade ago after her Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” went viral. Per her website, Brown is a “researcher, storyteller, and Texan who’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.” She is author of the best-selling The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (which I recommend), and Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (which I have not read). Graceful, insightful, and quotable, Brown is never too shy to address the elephant in the room.

Today, I’ve transcribed a short clip I recently came across that makes an important point about behavioral psychology. Brown addresses the relationship between charged, unresolved emotions and problematic behaviors. Brown’s immediate audience evidently consisted of business leaders, and the example she uses is one of conflict resolution in the context of work. However, the principle applies just as well on a personal level: If we want a problematic behavior to go away, we need to address the root emotions that underlie it. Many of us have found ourselves in strenuous cycles of behavioral management, whereas if we dealt with issues on a deeper level, behaviors would resolve themselves effortlessly.

Check out the complete transcript and video below!

We either attend to fears and feelings and dig enough, or we just keep managing problematic behaviors.

Brené Brown

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

Transcript Of Brené Brown On Attending To Fears And Feelings

As leaders, we either have to attend to fears and feelings, or we have to spend all of our time managing problematic behaviors. If all we keep doing is managing behaviors without digging underneath and dealing with the fears and feelings that are driving the behaviors, we don’t see change.

How many of you in here have led somebody ever? How many of you have ever had the same kind of conversation with someone around problematic behaviors 20 times? We’re not peeling enough. We’re not digging to the–you know, this is how it works. We’ll do a boundaries example, because those are always really easy. People are scared to set boundaries, because they want to be nice and they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. A boundary is really simple. It’s what’s okay, and what’s not okay. So, let’s set a boundary. “Hey, I need to talk to you about what happened in the meeting. I saw you got pissed off. That’s okay. But then you pounded your fist on the table and rolled your eyes. That’s not okay. Okay to get pissed. Not okay to pound your table and roll your eyes in the meeting.” “I got it. I’m clear. Great.”

Happens again. Second time. “Hey, I need to talk to you again. Again, you got upset in the meeting. I can tell you were angry. That’s okay. Not okay to pound the first and roll your eyes.” “Sorry, I got it. Won’t happen again.”

You know what? The privilege of the first time is you get to say it won’t happen again. The second time is “We’re going to sit in here together and figure out what’s going on, so I can figure out how to support you, and we can get underneath that behavior. Because there will not be a third conversation about this behavior.” “No really. I’m good. I’m good. You know, ‘pounding,” I got it.”

“No, what’s going on?” “Nothing. I don’t need a therapist. I get it.” “And that’s good because I’m not a therapist. That works out great for both for us. What’s going on in the meeting?” I’m sick of the way they treat Ops, They never bring Ops into any of the big decisions, but when sh*t goes bad, it’s always our fault. So, when every day when things smooth, they don’t even know we work here, but if something falls apart…” All the Ops people in here are like, “This is true, universally.”

Okay, now we have something. So when you don’t feel heard. When you feel taken for granted. When you feel like your work doesn’t matter. And when you’re not brought in soon enough to influence something that you’re going to clean up later, it feels disrespectful. Yes, this we can work with, so we either attend to fears and feelings and dig enough, or we just keep managing problematic behaviors.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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