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Teamwork Enhanced from the Inside Out

14 Apr 2019 3:38 PM | Anonymous

By Alex Diaz, PhD

In any team sport, creating a robust team dynamic is always the greatest challenge for any coach. Team members differ in personality styles, attitudes, motivation, and behaviors. A coach fixated in believing that his message will equally resonate with each player will fail to create a cohesive team approach as individual’s differences are not being considered. To achieve an effective teamwork atmosphere, leaders shine in their ability to unite individuals by seeking a common goal while supporting their emotional behavioral differences.

An individual’s emotional behavior results from the combination of personal genes and life experiences, both supportive and upsetting. Such experiences mold a neurological imprint in our brains leading to the development of behaviors whose roots lie in implicit, subconscious, emotional memories. These memories cannot be intentionally brought up. According to psychologist Peter Levine, emotional memories are “felt-sense emotions such as surprise, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and joy.” These memories lie just below the neo-cortex. Giving an oral presentation before a large audience may bring an array of felt-sense emotions, such as calmness or nervousness, which are derived from implicit memories based on prior experiences.

Hierarchically, our brain develops implicit memories first and explicit ones later. We feel butterflies in the belly and later verbalize them as anxiety. A tennis player, who is serving to win a grand slam match, will feel rapid heartbeats and shallow breathing. If the player is from Australian, such felt sense awareness will be verbalized in English; if the player is from Japan, the same felt sense sensations will be spoken in Japanese. Both players feel implicit memories based on past experiences. Human beings experience non-verbal awareness before sensations turn into a verbal language.

To be coherent between what we sense and what we express is the result of how emotionally regulated we are. When athletes are asked about the experience of losing a very close game, they rationalize their feelings by either minimizing its emotional content or expressing a rationalization aimed at, subconsciously, diverting the attention from that of feeling upset. An emotionally regulated athlete not only feels the upsetting emotion by embodying a faster heart palpitation, but also by verbalizing it. When leaders attune to the emotional needs of self and others, an implicit level relationship takes place. It is at this implicit human connection that meaningful interactions are forged, bringing trust, safety, healthy relationships.

Being emotionally met allows for channels of communication to open up between leaders and team members. A team member will be more cooperative if he/she feels an inner sense of trust. In a survey presented at the 2015 World Class Performance Conference, the first leading factor for top Olympic performances rested on the coach-athlete relationship over other factors such as athlete self-awareness and having optimal training environment. In a 2008 Coach Survey Summary Results: Evolution of Athlete Conference, it indicated that focusing on the athlete as a whole person was more valuable than seeking techniques to improve performance.

On the other hand, when leaders seek inter-connectivity by using explicit language, it leaves a sense of emotional disconnection. Hence, a perceived lack of emotional safety is felt. More importantly, it leads members to having second thoughts about their own self-worth or thinking they have done something wrong. On the other hand, connecting with team members by supporting their hard work or frustration, praising when sincere effort is performed rather than taking such a behavior for granted, and encouraging when mistakes are made lead to promoting a higher sense of understanding and appreciation.

Holistic approaches aim at self-regulating emotions by eliciting implicit language attunement. Yoga, mindfulness, breathing relaxation, visualization of positive experiences, and somatic psychology embrace connecting at a non-verbal language. These practices help to develop a greater sense of tuning in to our felt-sense awareness and, as such, enhance our capacity to regulate emotions and maintain meaningful relationships.

At the core of who we are as humans, the emotional connection is what has kept us alive and able to survive for so many years. Whether we are part of a sports or corporate team, we owe it to ourselves to enhance our capacity to regulate emotions at an implicit level as such experiences will only bring a greater sense of human connection and an enhanced present moment awareness.

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