Fully formed and fully functioning is a fiction

A team of dancers in the middle of their choreography with a single dancer flying out of the mass of bodies.

There can be a lot of pressure to present as fully formed and fully functioning. There are myriad problems with succumbing to this pressure. And it’s surprising how often this pressure can assert itself in human contexts.

One common instance of this is that people want to be seen having the right answer. And they want to be seen fully understanding the problem.

It’s not uncommon in meetings, for example. Problems get presented. Once. And then an expectation descends on the room that everyone gets it. And then people want to move on to solutions.

One reason is discomfort. Energy is focussed on appearing coolly professional. Folks can feel the need to nod along and pretend to understand what’s happening because they worry about appearing as less than. They worry about their value on the team, and their perceived value on the team.

“Fake it ‘till you make it,” is a widely accepted mode of operation. And there’s a time and place for it, sure. But it can’t be the default.1

In cases where teams have leapt too quickly to solutions, they have usually leapt too quickly to thinking they fully understood the problem.

The pressure to present as fully formed and fully functioning is real.  Tweet This!

Consider another example. When people walk into a social situation, they can feel pressure to fit in and be interesting and funny and be able to talk about virtually any subject. Again, it’s the pressure to present as fully functioning. In some cases, it drives people to drink. In others, it drives people to talk over others. In some, it freezes people and stops them from wanting to engage.

“I’m not interesting enough” “I lack the educational background to engage.” “I don’t have anything of value to contribute.” These are some of the thoughts that everyone has had at one point or another.

And work situations, by the way, are social situations. People struggle with these dynamics in leisure settings, and people also face these challenges at work.

So meetings will end and important things will have gone unsaid. Committees will be formed and important people who ought to have been on them will have been excluded. Action plans will get operationalized with only a fraction of the information that was required. Decision making will suffer.2

When you think about it for even a moment, the idea of being fully formed and fully functioning is absurd. But the desire to present this way is profound in humans. You can be fully formed or you can be a work in progress, but you can’t be both. So the Four Fs are a serious roadblock to a having a growth mindset and learning environment.

Succumbing to the pressure to appear fully formed has real and negative impacts.  Tweet This!

Importantly, there are basic, but important, emotional intelligence skills that can overcome the Four Fs Roadblock. Here are a few.

Independence is key. It’s okay to have different perspectives and thoughts from everyone else in a meeting. It’s more than okay. It’s golden. It’s okay to have different questions from everyone else on your team. It’s more than okay.

Emotional self-awareness is also key. When you are aware of the flood of ongoing feelings you have in uncomfortable situations, you can observe them, get curious about them and limit their negative impact on your behaviours. And you can also let your feelings be signposts to important insights about the situations you find yourself in. It’s not like emotions only have negative impacts. When you’re aware and curious about them, you can turn your emotional signals into drivers rather than anchors.

Assertiveness and impulse control are also at play. But we think self-regard is a more central factor. You don’t have to be perfect to have value. It’s important to be continually recognizing and acknowledging your skill sets and capacities. You can be curious and forgiving of your thoughts, beliefs and feelings instead of judgmental. Take time to look at what’s working and what you’re doing well.

As leaders, there are also important ways to dismantle the Four Fs Roadblock. Let’s encourage curiosity and different perspectives. Let’s value individuals that are “slowing down processes” or are not “understanding the plan.” And when toxic behaviours creep into meetings and gatherings, it’s our job as leaders to pull the people responsible aside and have those difficult conversations and explain the importance of creating psychological safety for all team members.

  1. It should also be mentioned that there can be serious safety implications to thinking or pretending you know something, when you don’t, in some work contexts. See, for example, Invisibilia: How Learning To Be Vulnerable Can Make Life Safer
  2. Consider for, example, problems associated with Perfectionism.

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