Archive for June, 2024

There’s more than 2 Fs.

Friday, June 14th, 2024

When you are in a stressful situation at work there are famously two reactions that you might feel: Flight or Fight. 

These ancient responses make sense if you think of a pre language situation, where danger, at the dawn of mankind, might be sensed by the snap of a twig in the antediluvian forests.  Your reaction, like any cornered animal, is fight or flight.

But these two Fs are not the only instinctive responses to danger.  There are in fact another 3.  So if you feel that Fight and Flight are not your normal gut reaction to stress, read on – here are the others.  Stress reactions are possibly inevitable in daily life, unless perhaps you are lucky enough to be able to avoid them.  But if not, like most of us, understanding what is going on, and even trying to turn your typical reaction to your advantage if possible (as I think might be true with one of the Fs), can help with dealing with the frictions of the workplace.

These are the other 3 Fs.

  1. Flop: When you faint, become unresponsive, collapse.  Clearly a very dramatic response, especially in a work situation.  If this is your experience, you need to get out of any situation that brings this on as soon as possible. Don’t tolerate anything that threatens your health or peace.
  2. Fawn: To please someone to avoid conflict.  If you are a people pleaser by nature then this might be your response to a difficult boss or colleague.  Could you even use this response to navigate difficulties?  In classic ad man legend this might be the perfect recipe for account handling a difficult customer.  The qualities demonstrated by Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell in Mad Men show this to an extreme.

Roger Sterling describes meeting a prospective client (and here read customer, boss, very important colleagues) as if it like being on a date: “Smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go and listen to them talk.  They’ll throw out something revealing.  Let them know you have the same problem.  Then you’re in a conspiracy together… the basis of a ‘quote’ friendship”. 

When suit Pete Campbell is asked what it is he does all day as an account handler he replies by turning the question back on the questioner (Emile).  He asks: “What do you do?  I hear you’re a trail blazer.. I bet the world would be better off if they knew about the work you’re doing.”  Emile, highly flattered responds: “You’re very kind”.  And Pete replies: “And that Emile, is what I do, every day”.

It can be hard to keep this up if your people pleasing skills are at odds with your real values, but if you can reconcile the two sides of your nature then this might be a great boost up a career ladder. People pleasing can help you get what you want.  If the people around you are motivated by flattery then fawning may be your way to manipulate the situation to your own advantage.  Don’t fear the fawn, use it. 

  • Freeze: When you are unable to move or speak.  This might be the most difficult of the responses (after the Flop).  At least in Flight, you get yourself out of there, and with Fight you might end up being thrown out.  But to freeze in the moment means that you are stuck.  Typically you might feel this response in two sorts of situations.  One is when simply overwhelmed by the other personalities in the room.  I can remember meeting a new creative agency top team for the first time as a planner in my twenties, and just being unable to contribute anything in the moment.  I’d been selected by my boss to lead the media part of a new business pitch, and sent to the introductory meeting with the ECD and CEO at the creative agency where I was completely intimidated.  By the time I got back to the office, where I had planned on coming up with a thought through response, my boss had had a call requesting my replacement, which created an opportunity for my very talented, and much more extrovert colleague.  The other situation when people can freeze is when they experience sexism, homophobia, racism or prejudice.  It can cost a lot to speak up in that moment, particularly if the person involved is more senior than you or has lots of apparent allies around them. 

There are techniques to help with all of these instinctive responses. They can be found in our book Belonging.  Breathing is paramount, with the right technique, all the Fs have a chance of coming under some kind of control, so that you can be your best self at work.