The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

49 Self-Awareness, Psychoanalysis and Systems Theory with Gabriella Braun

February 05, 2024 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 49
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
49 Self-Awareness, Psychoanalysis and Systems Theory with Gabriella Braun
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to a new episode of The Knowing Self, Knowing Others Podcast. 

In today's episode, our host Nia Thomas is joined by Gabriella Braun, the director of Working Well and a senior consultant with over 20 years of experience in applying psychoanalysis and systems theory in the workplace. 

Gabriella is also the author of "All That We Are", a book that delves into the hidden truths behind our behavior at work. This episode explores the concept of self-aware leadership, diving into the definition of self-awareness from a psychoanalytic perspective and its connection to leader effectiveness. Gabriella shares valuable insights from her experience, shedding light on the relationship between self-awareness and leadership at different levels of organizations. She also discusses effective ways to develop self-awareness, providing a unique perspective on coaching and individual reflection. Join us as we uncover the profound insights offered by Gabriella Braun in this engaging and thought-provoking conversation.

Tune in to this episode to gain a deeper understanding of self-aware leadership and how it influences organizational dynamics.

Find out more about Gabriella here

Buy Gabriella's book, All That We Are here

Support the show

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Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...


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Nia Thomas [00:00:01]:
Hello, and welcome to the Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast, the fortnightly podcast discussing self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. Join me, your host, Leah Thomas, as we talk to today's guest.

Nia Thomas [00:00:14]:
I'm absolutely delighted to be joined by Gabriella Brown today. She is the director of Working Well, and she's a senior consultant with over 20 years experience in applying psychoanalysis and systems theory in the workplace. Gabriela has a background in education and training, and for many years, she taught on the master's degree at The Tavistock in psychoanalytic and systemic approaches to understanding and consulting to organizations. Gabriela specializes in leadership development, team dynamics, conflict resolution and mediation, organizational change, and culture. She's also the author of All That We Are, uncovering the hidden truths behind our behavior at work, which makes her the perfect guest to help us explore and learn more about self aware leadership. Gabriela, thank you so much for joining me.

Gabriella Braun [00:01:06]:
Thank you very much for having me. It's great to be here. It seems like a very good fit.

Nia Thomas [00:01:11]:
So let's start with our first Question to really embed us into this conversation of self awareness. How do you define self awareness and really what does it mean for you? Because you're coming at this from the perspective of psychoanalysis, which is quite specific.

Gabriella Braun [00:01:28]:
It is. What psychoanalysis does that is very specific It's taken to account the unconscious.

Nia Thomas [00:01:36]:
Okay. So for

Gabriella Braun [00:01:37]:
me, really being self aware includes Making some of what's in our unconscious conscious. Okay. That is the that is the ultimate as it were as far as we can get, I think with self awareness, but we can't all we we don't generally do that for ourselves. It's too difficult. It's not really possible. We can get glimpses, but we can't do it as if we were in a patient in analysis. And obviously, we're not all gonna go into analysis. So if we come down from that or or move sideways from that, For me, it is it's much more than the kind of psychometric testing, which is fine, but It's kind of a fairly superficial level like I'm an introverted or an extroverted thinker or whatever it is.

Gabriella Braun [00:02:33]:
For me, it's much more about understanding our difficult stuff as well as our good stuff. So we all have we're all contradictory inherently. We're built that way, and we all have con a constructive part With, you know, things like empathy and compassion and hope and love and all of those things. And we also have all of us have, destructive part which will be violence and Negative aggression, aggression can also be positive, envy, all of those qualities as well. We all have We we differ very much. What those 2 parts look like and what the balances of those 2 parts We're each different, and also it differs a bit over time in what we're up against and what our environment is. But for me, self awareness does include knowing something of our potential and our constructive self and something of our Destructive self and how that bears out in in our relationships and in our roles.

Nia Thomas [00:03:47]:
Oh, fascinating. So if I were to try and summarize that then in my layman's terms, if we think about it in terms of Yin and yang that we have different parts of us, and maybe the yin and the yang are slightly different shapes, and they're more weighted in 1 person into one side or the other. Is that what we're saying that psychoanalysis is trying to do? It's trying to uncover and unearth the whole of you?

Gabriella Braun [00:04:14]:
Yes. It's trying to get to the whole of you as far as it's possible to, but it's also trying to help you To reconcile your different contradictory parts and live your to your best capacity, Which will be different for each of us. So isn't somebody saying, well, these are your negative parts, let's get rid of them. When I first went into psychoanalysis, I think I was under the illusion that I'd come out as a kind of perfect person. And of course that doesn't happen, But it is about that you learn to tolerate what's not great in yourself and you learn You can even learn to use some of the difficult stuff in a positive way. So that's what it's about.

Nia Thomas [00:05:03]:
That definitely resonates with whatever guests have talked to me about in terms of being brutally honest With yourself. And I think that's what you're saying. It's that recognizing the bits that that maybe are difficult for you to appreciate and accept and to work with it Rather than try and fight it and try and work against

Gabriella Braun [00:05:23]:
it? Yeah.

Nia Thomas [00:05:28]:
What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?

Gabriella Braun [00:05:34]:
I think there's a hugely close link between the 2 of them. As a leader, you have power, You have impact and I think you have responsibility to use those well and not every leader does. And I think if you don't know yourself well, you can be doing all sorts of creative, all sorts of difficulties for other One of the things that psychoanalysis shows us that we do, and it's very normal, Where we can't bear things about ourselves, the unconscious splits it off and projects it out. So if I can't bear my envy, my unconscious will recognize who around me is a good hook for envy. The unconscious is very good at spotting another unconscious that will receive this well. So they'll get the right hook and let's say that's one of my team and so that person has a bit of envy themselves but now what happens is I don't I'm not recognising my envy. I'm not recognising that I'm now pushing out and pushing into them, and what I then do is behave towards them As if they're very envious, and of course I wind them up so they become more envious, and then I sit back, I met him, it's a bit simplistic, but I think it illustrates it. I sit back and say, look at how envious that person is without any clue But that poor person has been lobbed with a dollop of my entry which I then wind up in them to go on top of their own entry.

Gabriella Braun [00:07:23]:
So actually if we don't have any awareness, we can be quite damaging to other people and if we're a leader, We have more chance of being damaging just because our position and our power and our impact.

Nia Thomas [00:07:39]:
I'm I'm that's it was such a helpful way of describing that because, I guess I've heard people talk about the fact that you project your the things that you don't like about yourself onto others, but I've never heard it described that way. And that is really helpful because That adding your dollop onto somebody else, I understand that, and that makes absolute sense.

Gabriella Braun [00:08:01]:
And that you then wind them up to behave like that.

Nia Thomas [00:08:04]:
Absolutely. So it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy, whereas your deficit becomes somebody else's deficit and and on and on it goes, and it becomes the bigger and biggest snowball.

Gabriella Braun [00:08:14]:
I mean, occasionally, you'll just dollop it without the winding up bit, but you might also quite likely do the winding up bit as well.

Nia Thomas [00:08:22]:
It's interesting. My definition of self awareness, it it has 3 layers. It's reflection, which is internal, recognition, which Bridges that internal to external, and then I have, regulation. And I think what you're saying is that Those elements together helps you identify those things that you're projecting and helps you stop winding each other up With those deficits or those those things that you're not able to identify?

Gabriella Braun [00:08:54]:
Absolutely. And you won't none of us can do it a 100%, but I think the more we know of ourselves And the more we can kinda tolerate, like, rather than madly getting exporting stuff that we can't bear, we can actually sit with them, Okay. I'm kind of an envious person. I'm gonna deal with it. The more we can do that, the better we are in terms of Being around other people and and leading other people.

Nia Thomas [00:09:28]:
Do you think that effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations, and and really what experience do you have that that makes you suggest that that is a thing or it's not a thing?

Gabriella Braun [00:09:39]:
I definitely think that there can be at all levels of an organisation. Sometimes it's a team member who is an informal leader Lower down in an organisation. I've worked in an organisation up at the top level. There are problems with awareness, And they've got no clue of the impact that they're having down the system, and lower down the system, they're much more aware of what is happening both ways, what they're getting From the top and what they're giving to the top, and I've coached people to try and help them to get the top level more aware, Which is obviously difficult.

Nia Thomas [00:10:17]:
One of the stories that you share in your book, one of the very early stories, is that you were working with team who had just lost their previous therapist or or their their coach who was working with them. And you mentioned a character called Brian, and that actually Brian was the manager leader in Name and in job title, but, actually, they didn't function as that leader. But there were other people within that team who were Stronger or more confident or maybe just louder who seem to be leading the team and setting the tone and the attitude of the team?

Gabriella Braun [00:10:54]:
Yes. Yes. Good example. He he wasn't able to lead really at all, and and one thing that happens in teams is Teams will unconsciously choose a leader for a particular purpose. If they are very anxious and they go into certain state of mind, Like they're in a state of mind that just wants to have a fight or flee because they think everybody's an enemy. A lot of people will recognize that, like where there's a lot of Agro between management and staff or whenever you get into them and us, that's very polarised. You can feel a kind of fight flight dynamic going on. And a team in that state of mind will choose, unconsciously, the best person to fight or flee, And when that person when they're in a different state of mind, they'll ruthlessly depose that person and choose somebody else.

Gabriella Braun [00:11:46]:
So that's why you'll see in teams some times somebody leading who isn't the leader at all, and they might be off their own back, but they might have been put there by the team.

Nia Thomas [00:11:58]:
Isn't that interesting? So we talk so much about leadership, but maybe we should be talking more about followership because if few, as you're saying, that we put leaders in those positions because we we want them to use their skill and their ability and their behaviors to do what we need them to do at that point in time, maybe we need to talk more about the followers.

Gabriella Braun [00:12:21]:
I think it's a really important area and one that we neglect actually. I do think it's Very important to talk about leaders, but we also need to talk about followers and talk about the dynamics. But I I certainly think you can have strong leaders at Different levels. I'm just working somewhere at the moment where a leader at a lower level is has got far more capacity than the boss. Far more capacity than the boss. And I'm trying to help that leader think about how to handle it. And it's very tricky For that leader, but also for me, you know, professionally, I can't say, well, yeah, your boss is not up to much, you know. I can't say that, And I would not say that, but, you know, it's a very difficult situation.

Nia Thomas [00:13:10]:
Absolutely. So there is also something about managing upwards there that we need to think about.

Gabriella Braun [00:13:15]:
Very much so. And I think the thing about why people can be better at different levels, it's not necessarily goes with the Top level is that it might be that they're much more self aware. It might be about self awareness.

Nia Thomas [00:13:29]:
Which brings us very nicely on to the next question. Do you think that leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater Self awareness and leaders at other levels of organizations, and, really, what's your experience that's informed your view?

Gabriella Braun [00:13:46]:
Ah, yes. That is a question. I don't think they necessarily have more awareness, and that's exactly that That illustration informs my view, and I've met it on many an occasion. I think it really varies according to the organisation's culture. So some organisations promote people purely because they have particular skills in particular areas, Or they're brilliant with external partners or they're brilliant with data or, you know, those those things they promote, And what they don't think about is the self awareness and what that is going to do within the overall organization. That's why I don't think it necessarily follows that the strategic people are the most aware.

Nia Thomas [00:14:41]:
It's interesting. I'm I I I'm having more and more conversations about the fit between the individual in the team and the team in the organization. So I I guess my area of interest is very much about the individual and how an individual interacts with other people. Paul. So very much the initial transaction of, relationships. But the more that we talk about it, those relationships radiate out. And if your organizational strategy or your organizational stance, or tolerance even as an organization Isn't it the right place? The self awareness of the individual can be neither here nor there.

Gabriella Braun [00:15:26]:
Totally right. It really and the individual might in the end feel that all I can do is go. Yeah. The organization because they can't Do anything within it because of the culture of the organisation. And what you've just talked about, Nia, is the systemic bit. I use 2 aspects of systems thinking. 1 is open systems thinking where, simplest simplistically and a bit prudently, you think about an organization like a body, so you have to take in things, And you have to let things out. We have to take in air.

Gabriella Braun [00:16:02]:
We have to take in food. We have to go to the loo. We have to breathe out, you know, otherwise, We die, and organizations are the same. They have to take things in across their boundaries, do something to them, and let them out in a slightly different form. An open systems theory also thinks very much about role, task, and authority. So how we are in our Role depends on the task and the authority. So that's I find very helpful, but I also use Thinking from systemic family therapy, which I also find really helpful. And in that case, if, say, if parents are pulling the hair out About their 8 year old daughter don't know what to do.

Gabriella Braun [00:16:47]:
If they take the daughter to a regular child therapist, The child therapist will absolutely meet with mom and dad as well, but basically be treating daughter. If they take the daughter to a systemic family therapist, the systemic family therapist will think there's a problem with the system, And this child is representing something and shouting in in bad behavior, But this system is not working, and it's not okay. And if we don't work sort out the system, Something that, you know, the daughter might become fine and then but the system might not change, and somebody else might get ill or not form well, And I think that can be really true in organizations, and people can be too quick to think that person is a problem. Let's get rid of that person without stopping to think what is that person representing for us as an organization? Why are they like that? And it may be. Sometimes it's the individual, of course, but sometimes something's going on in the system That needs to be thought about. Otherwise, you'll intervene at the wrong level. So in a way, organizations need to pull Self awareness as well.

Nia Thomas [00:18:06]:
Isn't that fascinating? The and I think that individual awareness, team awareness, and organizational Awareness is something that I don't think that we are talking about. In the same way that we're not talking enough about followers, I don't think when we're talking about systems, because I think we generally talk about systems when we're talking about organizations is Other organizations that are working with us or partnering with us, we tend to think about the system that's beyond us as opposed to the system that we are.

Gabriella Braun [00:18:38]:
I agree, and I think it's really helpful and important to think about the system that we are. I think there are there's more about systems That's really helpful, I find. We don't think about the unconscious aspect of system either. Like, if something happens at one bit of An organisation. We don't realise or we like to pit ourselves that it won't somehow Trickle through to other parts of the organisation, and it does. You know, we pick up that something's going on over there. We may not know we've picked it up, but something isn't quite right, and people wouldn't respond.

Nia Thomas [00:19:16]:
So it's almost the butterfly effect that actually the Butterfly flaps its wings in the CEO's office, but, actually, everybody in the post room knows about the impact.

Gabriella Braun [00:19:26]:
Exactly that. Yeah. The other bit about systems thinking that I find really helpful is the connection of tendencies. So an organization is always impacted by its post. It's impacted by the present obviously, but it's also impacted by its aspirations for its future. So in a way, all 3 tenses are happening in the present.

Nia Thomas [00:19:51]:
Of course, because we carry our baggage with us, and we can never put it down. So, actually, we take that into our behavior, into our operating, and into the culture that we want to set in the organization.

Gabriella Braun [00:20:04]:
Yeah.

Nia Thomas [00:20:08]:
What do you think is an effective way to Develop self awareness and and maybe this is something as part of your psychoanalysis and your your work with clients. Is this something that you do with them?

Gabriella Braun [00:20:22]:
I can talk to you about what I do in in working with individuals and coaching, But also talk to you maybe about what I think people can do on their own without

Nia Thomas [00:20:33]:
Absolutely.

Gabriella Braun [00:20:34]:
One thing that I do, which is very, very unusual in coaching, And somebody the other day said to me, well, are you really a coach? If you do that, I'm not sure that you're a coach. And I said well, I'm a coach and how I think of coaching, but no, I agree it's not normal. So what I do if clients are up For it, I asked them for their biography. I asked them for something of their family history, their parents, their upbringing, their Schooling, their relationships, all of that, and they tell me that and then we've got it in front of us together And then we can together think when they then later they're saying, for instance, like, this colleague is driving me absolutely mad, And together we might click that it's triggering something about big brother when they were a child growing up and actually As soon as we name it, they can think, oh god. Yeah. And this is not my brother, and I'm not at home as a child. I'm in work. I can let this go.

Gabriella Braun [00:21:38]:
I can just change my looking glass and let go of what's triggering it. So that's One thing that I do that is really helpful, it also alerts us to where people will be vulnerable, you know, somebody's always had to be very protective, It's always protecting people as a child and is now overprotective so we could see the patterns. That's really helpful in in that way. I'm also in my work with people, I'll challenge them sometimes about Why they're making this assumption or what their bit is to the difficult dynamic they're describing, you know, what are they not Seeing what impact they might have had. So I might ask some I hope kindly, but some quite difficult questions at times. And I'll just ask people, but why did they do that? Or why did they not tell me that? Or why did they tell me that? Or whatever it is. But I think some of those things we can do for ourselves by becoming disciplined about how we observe ourselves. So really trying to notice when we get wound up, when we get aggravated, why one day something doesn't bother us and the next day it does.

Gabriella Braun [00:22:52]:
We're really trying to observe our own patterns and ask ourselves if it trick if it reminds us of anything, Like when someone's really winding us up or a situation's annoying us or we're over the top happy, does it remind us If anything, and that might be completely logically rational, something from school, something from a holiday, it's a child, something from Parents, siblings, whatever. And if we can remember that, it might help us understand what's happening right now.

Nia Thomas [00:23:24]:
That's really interesting. So I think From what you're saying is that there are some things that we can do by looking at ourselves in the mirror, but sometimes we need somebody else to hold the mirror up because there are some things that we just can't do on our own.

Gabriella Braun [00:23:39]:
That's totally one. So yes.

Nia Thomas [00:23:45]:
Gabriella, thank you so much for joining me. Before we go, I wonder whether you could tell us a little bit about your book Because, I'm I'm reading through it, and it's really interesting. And I really like the the style of storytelling that you're using to to write the book. So for listeners, Please do tell us a bit more about it.

Gabriella Braun [00:24:03]:
Oh, thank you. I'd love to tell you about the book. Well, the book was a labor of Toil and sweat and much love. So it's lovely to be able to talk about it, and I am in the end, I'm actually really proud of it. So it, what I do is uncover the truths behind our behaviour at work through storytelling because I wanted to Relate to people emotionally, not just intellectually, and I think stories are how we connect emotionally. And so the 1st part it's in 3 parts. The 1st part is the fundamentals of being human, like our aggression, our drive towards life, and our Drive away from life, all of those things. The second part is how it's really our destructive part.

Gabriella Braun [00:24:51]:
It's all how it plays out at work. Different illustrations about different stories about that from from my work, very much disguised, obviously, to protect Confidentiality. And then the 3rd part is how we it's finding ourselves. That's all about our potential, our Huge potential. And I also in it, which became a a late thing, I use my own I always knew I'd use some of my own thinking, but I didn't realize until late on that I'd use my own experiences. So there's some memoir and biography in it That were a big surprise to me, but I readers tell me that that really helps them because they can really relate. And in the end, what I thought is if I'm talking about all that we are, I have to include me. I can't say all that Everybody else is, but not me.

Nia Thomas [00:25:46]:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Amazing. Listeners, we will make sure that there are links in the show notes to the book as well as to Gabriela's website so that if you want to connect with her and find out more about psychoanalysis Or you want to point find out more about the book, then you certainly can do. Gabriela, it's been really great having a conversation with you. Thank you so much for joining me. I've I've learned So much that I didn't have a clue about in terms of psychoanalysis and systems thinking, so thank you so much. It's been brilliant.

Gabriella Braun [00:26:15]:
Been brilliant too. Thank you very much,

Nia Thomas [00:26:23]:
my guest on today's episode. Remember to rate and review this podcast on your favorite podcast player and to join me in 2 weeks' time for the next episode. Looking forward to having you on my learning journey. The Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, DeFi, Google Podcasts, Podcast Index, Overcast, Amazon Music, Podcast Addict, Castro,

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