Certainty – Are you Scared of the Dark?

Our brains are hard wired to protect. Our brains need certainty. When we feel uncertain, our brains go into ‘protect’ mode. For example, I’m from Wigan. If I were to go to a strange place on my own for the first time, let’s say, Accrington, my brain would know that I wasn’t 100% happy. As a result, I would be on red alert. I would be subconsciously looking for danger. I’m not saying I would be rolling over car bonnets, or peering around corners before walking around them but I would subtly be on guard. Imagine I walked into a pub and ordered a drink and the bloke at the side of me heard my accent and unashamedly admitted to also being from Wigan. We would be chatting like best mates in no time. He could well be a serial killer, but the fact that he’s from Wigan would be enough to provide my brain with certainty and I’d no longer be on red alert.

Another example is the dark. Many of us are scared of the dark. We are scared, not of what we can see but of what we can’t see. Our brain knows that something is wrong. Due to this uncertainty, it goes into overdrive and the dressing gown hanging from the back of the door suddenly turns into a ghoulish ghostly figure, ready to pounce!

The PU View

How much certainty do your employees feel? I’ve worked with tons of teams down the years. The teams that got the best results were always the ones that worked in a culture where the manager hid nothing. In other words, they instilled a transparent culture – a culture where every individual felt certainty. When I was in a team like this, If I felt uncertain of anything at any stage, l knew that I could approach my manager and I would be given an honest answer. No blagging, no waffling and no lying. As a result, my teammates and I trusted our manager implicitly and we felt ‘safe’.

Similarly, I’ve worked in teams where things were completely the opposite. The shiftiness (is that a word?) in their response to questions and the way they kept things to themselves all created uncertainty. My brain would go into ‘protect’ mode and so I would resist or question most things. “What’s he up to?”, “Why won’t he give me a straight answer?”, “He’s trying to get me out of the door”. He wasn’t of course, he was just a poor manager with zero communication skills. The uncertainty however, led to distrust and an unhealthy environment to work in.

Do you provide enough certainly for your team? Are you allowing their brains to go into ‘protect’ mode? If the answer is ‘yes’ then maybe it’s time you worked to tighten things up. Don’t leave them second guessing or you’ll really struggle to create an open culture of certainty and mutual trust.

*Please note, I have been to Accrington and it’s not that strange, it’s actually quite nice!

Other Resources  

The Chimp Pardaox by Dr Steve Peters is a brilliant book that will help you to understand why you react the way you do, but more importantly why others react in a certain way especially when faced with uncertainty.

Listen to Mike provide some advice around certainty in this short video from our YouTube channel 

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