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Making Sense of the Intangible

Joseph Alonzo

How to integrate visceral experiences into the workplace

It is difficult to separate how we feel about something from how we think about something, and sometimes attempting to intellectualize an event leaves us with no clearer an understanding than when we started.  Perhaps, some things are best experienced viscerally and not intellectually.

The arts, I would suggest, fall into that category.  The way music, paintings, and movies makes one feel often precede the way they make one think.  My experience at a recent evening at the ballet, for example, tempted me to rationalize what I was seeing unfold.  I was a spectator to a performance that was both abstract and challenging. I wanted to make sense of it, and find patterns that I could weave together to create a story.  And, while doing so, I found myself regressing back to my visceral responses.  The way it made me feel kept interrupting my need to make sense of it all.  And so, I gave into it, put my frontal lobe to bed, and let my visceral responses wash over me. 

By its end I would describe the performance, as a whole, best experienced viscerally rather than intellectually.  I think the same can sometimes be true for workplace culture as well.

We are constantly employing our higher level cognitive processes at work.  In fact, it is required of us.  It is what makes us unique within our positions.  And, it may not seem like we ever stop using our ability to reason, but consider some of the silent moments we experience just before employing our intellect.  It’s difficult enough to do, let alone remember. 

During graduate school, I had a professor who created an activity that highlighted visceral awareness.  She laid three words on the ground and asked us to walk around slowly looking at each word and noticing what thoughts and feelings the words conjured.  We were instructed to “listen to our bodies” and feel which we were more drawn to and which we were less.  Typically, the process of making a decision based on feeling is criticized as an inadequate determinant, and rightly so, as many studies have shown the fallibility of the senses. However, the mind is also fallible, and what my professor was suggesting we do, and what I am now suggesting you do, is not to allow the senses to make a decision, rather to include what information our senses have retrieved in the decision making process.

We have more opportunities to recognize our visceral reactions than one might imagine.  During meetings while observing colleagues sharing ideas, while working with different systems both human and technological, and while listening to clients express their needs, to name a few.  Initially, each of these events triggers visceral responses that we pull a blanket of intellect over.  What might we be covering up that could aid our response and help shape our conversations?

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Joseph holds a Master’s in Organizational Development from Saybrook University, and is an education and innovation consultant in the San Francisco, Bay Area.  Joseph is a guest blogger for Great Place to Work®.


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