Written by Samantha Stern (Senior Consultant)
We are living in tough times: Covid-19 (and the accompanying loss of loved ones, loss of work/income, loss of connection, loss of the familiar, loss of routine, restrictions on movement, etc.) ; the ongoing violence towards people of color and the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept across the world in the past year; the ongoing sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against women, children and members of the LGBTQI+ community; the domestic terrorism in the United States; the environmental crisis; etc. As a result, many of us are struggling with unprecedented and prolonged levels of grief, sadness, fear, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Our normal physiological responses to this fear and anxiety are most commonly known as Fight (becoming hyper-efficient, prepared, controlling), Flight (hiding out, withdrawing, disengaging), and Freeze (paralysis, engaging in numbing behaviors). However, there is a fourth, less commonly known response called Flock. This is where, in times of stress, we seek out the comfort and safety of others.
‘Flocking’ is not a new concept. People come together in meaningful ways all the time – through affinity groups, support groups, coaching circles, etc.
And sometimes we come together purely for the sake of ‘flocking’ – to reflect on and process our thoughts and feelings in the comfort and safety of the collective. (Which feels especially valuable at the moment, when opportunities to be in community with others are so limited.)
However, the value of ‘Flocking’ does not end at reflecting on and processing our feelings. The increased sense of physical and psychological safety when we ‘Flock’, enables us to move from ‘survival mode’ (our emotional brains) to our ‘higher-order functioning’ (our thinking brains); which, in turn, allows us to get back to being able to think more clearly, more creatively and make more informed decisions about how to navigate the challenges confronting us.
Therefore, as leaders of teams and organisations, perhaps one of the most useful things we can do right now creates (and encourages) more spaces to ‘Flock’ – both for ourselves and those in our teams/organisations. Creating and encouraging spaces where people can come together to process their thoughts and feelings about the current challenges provides the physical and psychological safety that allows people to apply their collective wisdom and creativity to the problems at hand. Creating spaces where we can engage in continuous cycles of reflection ® action ® reflection ® action…. Spaces where synergy, innovation, and solutions abound.