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The F Word

Time and time again I find the ‘F-word’ is collectively banished to the sidelines in the business world. It’s possible your mind has raced ahead to ‘f**k’, which is openly bandied around, or the other F-word which covertly lurks within organisations - ‘failure’ - which is far too often covered up and concealed despite invaluable learning opportunities. I’m thinking of another F-word: ‘feelings’.

Despite an encouraging increase in mental health and wellbeing awareness in recent years, feelings are still skirted around and unceremoniously evicted from the workplace. However, the division between our professional and personal lives has become increasingly blurred as we’ve been confined to working from home over the last six months. During this period of time, whilst amassing hours of virtual coaching with my clients, I’ve observed an increasing willingness to broach the elephant in the room.

“How are you?” The introductory question posed at the start of a coaching session with one of my regular clients. She’s a newly promoted manager from within the team, working in a household-name organisation.

Once again, the ‘B-word’ is her automatic response. I’m sure you’ll have guessed it: “Busy”. This word warrants a separate blog post to unpack our cultural obsession with this state.

Shifting tack, I rephrase the question. “How are you feeling?”

After a slight delay she tentatively tries a different word. “Good.”

To clarify, ‘good’ is not a feeling. Good is a judgement we make upon ourselves. It also lures our minds into the restrictive binary bind. The opposite of bad. It fails to capture the essence of our inner world. True feeling words direct our attention out of our heads and back into our bodies. This concept always reminds me of the apt phrase ‘your body is more than a taxi for the brain’, coined by the embodiment expert Mark Walsh at the beginning of each episode for The Embodiment Podcast. Ever since Aristotle uttered the fatal words ‘I think - therefore I am’, we’ve increasingly divorced ourselves from our bodies, whereas in reality, ‘I am - therefore I think’ switches the focus and is more expansive.

After gently sharing this idea with my client, and whilst seeking to elicit a ‘feeling’ word, I find the feelings inventory - expertly introduced by my relationship coach Naomi during her introductory sessions - extremely useful. The feelings inventory is a comprehensive list of feeling words used to express a combination of emotional states and physical sensations, and forms the basis of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Our sessions would always start with a grounding exercise, landing within bodily sensations and then identifying three feelings present within ourselves. A copy of the feelings inventory quickly became a permanent resident on the kitchen table where different feeling words were keenly scrutinised and tried on over breakfast. Over the course of the last six months, I’ve personally waded through a chunk of feelings where needs are not always satisfied with only a smattering of positive words. Drilling down beyond the main headline feeling word categorised in bold to discern, for example, whether my feelings of confusion are in reality feeling torn, perplexed, puzzled, mystified, lost, hesitant, bewildered, baffled or ambivalent opens up a deeper insight into my inner world.

I’m sure you’ll recognise other ‘umbrella’ feeling words which can dominate our thoughts and conversations in response to the original question, whether it’s stressed, sad or mad. The opportunity to pause, rummage around inside and explore what’s really going on underneath the surface through the honest appraisal of our feelings offers an insight beyond our rational brains. We’re human beings designed to feel deeply, not robots. I’ll openly admit it’s been a scary personal journey becoming acquainted with my feelings after nine years in the British Army. These feeling-based conversations, whether rightly or wrongly, simply weren’t part of the ‘green machine’ culture. It’s only been through my ongoing coaching professional development, working with some phenomenal coaches and shifting my own beliefs around feelings that I’m able to listen, acknowledge and sit with my own feelings. This in turn translates into my coaching practice, where I’m able to hold space and invite others on this journey. This can be confronting and messy at times, though simultaneously deeply restorative, enlivening and connective towards myself and others.

I’d actively encourage everyone to increase their emotional bandwidth - whether that might involve taming our own internal demons or openly conversing with family, friends or work colleagues. We’re all living amongst chaos and uncertainty, where moving beyond our heads into our bodies, accessing and honestly acknowledging our feelings fosters deeper connections, compassion and empathy towards ourselves and others. In a world where our lives are increasingly isolated from face-to-face contact, this is a small yet significant step towards forging deeper relationships.

Looking ahead as you move through your day, carve out time to recognise and own your feelings. Maybe you’ll find the courage to share or genuinely enquire how a family member, friend or colleague feels and make the time to hear their response. You’re offering a chance to generate an deeper inner awareness which shifts physical, mental and emotional states. It’s a powerful gift to yourself and others.

How are you feeling?


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