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Inside Out and disgust…fuel of the inner critic

July 10, 2015 Susan MacKenty Brady

What we think and feel drives what we say and do. We are only as effective as leaders (and partners and parents for that matter) as we are able to manage our internal dialogue. As a speaker, executive coach, leadership consultant, and author of The 30-Second Guide to Coaching Your Inner Critic, I love helping leaders on this journey of self-discovery—which begins by realizing that we have an Inner Voice.

And leave it to an animated movie to illustrate this concept so brilliantly. I saw Disney’s Inside Out with my tween girls this weekend, and I found myself feeling grateful to Hollywood for making such a clever and accurate depiction of the many personalities of our inner voice.

It opens with an introduction to joy (the leader of the inner voices) and then we meet anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. Given that the fuel of the Inner Critic is harshness and contempt—aimed either at others or at ourselves—I was particularly interested in disgust (voiced by the hysterically funny Mindy Kaling). As the movie progresses, we watch how the main character, an 11-year-old girl, struggles when her parents move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. We see the journey through the eyes of the characters representing the core feelings of the tween girl. Joy works hard trying to make it all okay. Fear is always on guard. Sadness lingers at the peril of all things positive. Anger is the reactive and furious feeling that fuels most of the rash outbursts and bad decisions.

I was impressed by how the movie illustrated the girl’s inner thoughts and judgement—which ranged from hating her mom and dad for moving her in the first place, to the harshness she feels about not being pretty enough compared to the girls at her new school. And I found myself nodding in agreement when disgust, fear, anger, and sadness forced joy to work double-time to make it all okay for our tween lead.

I enjoyed the movie (especially the addition of the girl’s imaginary friend, Bong Bong) and I couldn’t help but feel even more inspired about Linkage’s work bringing “self-management” to the business world. The destruction and impact that results from people letting their feelings run amok (ranging from bullying behavior to conflict avoidance to manipulating in order to get what we want to disengagement) is alive and well in the workplace.

What if the expectation at work was that we needed to understand our thoughts and feelings (including our bias, values and beliefs) and learn the tools and skills to manage them skillfully? What if we spent as much time working on a leader’s ability to take a pause between stimulus and response as we do equipping them with the critical thinking skills? So much of the world today is working in a knowledge economy—where work gets done with and through people. This means we all need to be firmly aware of, and able to coach ourselves about, which emotion is driving us in our heads.

It isn’t about putting all of the feelings away, as if they can be packaged up until we have time for them. It’s about noticing when we have a harsh thought (like: “he’s an idiot”) and then coaching ourselves to think differently before we say or do something we might later regret. How can we possibly have inclusive work environments where all are fully engaged when we don’t have a clue how our feelings impact our actions? I would like to go on record as saying that if disgust continues to reign supreme without being coached, our workplaces will only get more contentious and our ability to sustain results with and through others will derail if not completely implode.

Go see this remarkable movie. It makes talking about our inner voices and our capacity to know and manage ourselves easier than ever. And I can’t wait for the sequel. Just imagine when the main character grows up and begins to navigate the working world. If she becomes a manager or leader, disgust might even get a leading role! I can’t wait!

What did you think of the movie? Did any of the characters remind you of people you work with? Please share your thoughts with us below.

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