Being Reactive

How much control do employees (you) really have? Dr. Susanne Cohen


Many businesses today are facing challenges, and leaders are searching for answers. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, while social and political unrest have often pitted us against each other both in our business and personal lives. This is in addition to the problems that have plagued businesses for decades. Many company leaders recognize the way their company and its employees manage their emotions, communication and relationships directly impacts their company’s culture and bottom line.

The Statistics Tell the Story

Statistics prove that significant and mounting corporate challenges interfere with overall company culture, performance, productivity and bottom-line success. This includes issues such as ineffective communication, lack of engagement or motivation, workplace conflict, poor teamwork, stress, anger, depression and bullying.

It is often espoused that the quality of one’s communication skills is primarily responsible for their successes or failures in their work and personal lives. A study published by The International Journal of Business Communication established that, according to managers, the most desirable quality in a new hire is effective communication skills. Certainly, poor communication skills can be a contributing factor to all of the other challenge areas. In fact, according to Salesforce, 96 percent of executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. As a result, communication skills training seems to be the go-to remedy in today’s business world.

In reality, the corporate training industry, and specifically communication skills training, has statistically failed to improve these key employee and human resources (HR) issues. A critical reason for these failures is that none of them address the root cause of the challenges many companies and their employees face every day. If you are unable to effectively address the foundational source of a problem, it is comparable to putting a bandage on a disease. For optimal results, you must identify the root cause and resolve it at its source.

Getting to the Root of the Matter

The No. 1 foundational source of the challenges companies and people struggle with every day is the way people think—automatically and reactively. Thinking is the lowest common denominator. A thought comes before any emotion, action or reaction. In fact, thoughts drive all of our business and personal communication, behavior and relationships.

Science has proven that people have no conscious control (zero control) over their thoughts approximately 95 percent of the time, according to Dr. Bruce Lipton, an American developmental biologist. People think consciously—on purpose and with complete control—only 5 percent of the time. The rest of the time, their thinking is done by their automatic and reactive subconscious.

It is important to note that according to Dr. Lipton, our subconscious minds are formed and functional by the age of 6 or 7, which means our automatic and reactive thinking is based to a great degree upon belief systems that were virtually implanted in our brains when we were young. It is the way we were programmed or preconditioned.

This is the reason that many of the issues people face in their jobs often come from the challenges they experienced in childhood—it still impacts their ability to effectively communicate and perform today.

You can see how attempting to teach better communication skills without first addressing the primary cause of those communication issues—namely, the way we think—can be, to a great degree, futile.

One of the critical distinctions of subconscious thinking is the fact that there is no analysis, in the moment, of the potential outcome of actions or reactions. Employees simply “react” on a moment-by-moment basis. This happens scientifically because our subconscious functions at a speed that is 275,000 times faster than our conscious thoughts.1

This is why scientists have called our subconscious a semi-autonomous robot—because it lacks voluntary control.2 It is the reason that the underlying cause of many of the challenges in our business and personal lives is the way we think (each of us individually). This includes key, relevant issues like racism and its associated diversity and inclusion issues. With employees having no conscious control over their thinking (most of the time), you can see how this automatic, subconscious state of being dramatically inhibits the benefit of other corporate training programs.

Statistically, according to the National Science Foundation, we have up to 60,000 thoughts per day, with 80 percent of them being negative and 95 percent being repetitive. Our repetitive subconscious self-talk is the root cause of most of the challenges we face in all aspects of our lives.

The Bottom Line

People have virtually no control over how they feel, what they say, what they do, how they interact with others or how they perform in their jobs—most of the time. It is because they have never been taught the No. 1 skill they need to be as productive and successful as possible: The ability to take conscious control and intentionally shift their negative, destructive, subconscious thinking to more powerful and productive conscious thoughts.

Albert Einstein brilliantly acknowledged this when he said, “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

When individual employees’ conscious thinking skills are weak, they are virtually defenseless against their past and present, challenging situations and relationships. Their subconscious drives procrastination, self-sabotage, dysfunctional relationships and fear of change—all of which are detrimental to the company and its culture. They can permeate throughout people’s work and personal lives. Therefore, it is vital to address each individual employee’s thinking to most positively and effectively impact their emotions, communication and behavior.

The Reality of Self Control

Some people are unaware of how little conscious control they have over their thinking. Instead, they believe they have complete power over themselves—their thoughts, emotions and behavior—at all times. All of one’s thoughts certainly originate in their mind. The question is, are those thoughts conscious or subconscious, and how do you determine the difference between the two?

A subconscious thought pops into your head and leads to an immediate reaction (relative to your emotions, communication and/or behavior). This subconscious process occurs without an intentional review and analysis of the situation and a lack of a deliberate decision as to the best, most effective reaction to provide the optimal outcome (no self-control). For example, people may have an immediate reaction to a situation, but after reflection (which is a conscious process), they wish they had reacted differently. Their original reaction was subconscious and, therefore, out of their conscious control.

Science has proven that we have been designed to naturally be much more reactive than conscious about our thinking. Most people have no understanding of how to activate their conscious thinking, no skills to shift their thinking at a particular moment, nor the ability to analyze the outcome of their actions so they can alter their behavior to change the outcome. Once again, there is very little conscious self-control. As a result, people simply react their way through their days and suffer the consequences of those automatic, subconscious reactions.

Strong conscious thinking skills are needed to provide a step-by-step path to thoroughly analyze potential outcomes, make a conscious choice about which path to go down and which reaction to have to prevent any unwanted consequences.

The Foundational Solution

The good news is there is a foundational solution that addresses the root cause of the challenges and HR issues companies struggle with because of the fact people think automatically and reactively the majority of the time. This key, foundational skill is the intentional activation of one’s conscious thinking.

It empowers people, including employees, managers and executives, by:

  • Teaching them a proven, step-by-step process to activate their conscious thinking. This process allows them to take conscious control of their own thoughts, emotions, communication and behavior.
  • Supporting group dynamics through the activation of the conscious thinking of individuals within teams and offices companywide. It is a game-changer.

This solution provides two key advantages:

  1. It helps each individual unpack their past. They are guided through a process, so they can identify and understand, in detail and personally, how and why they think the way they do and how their thinking causes most of the challenges, including anger, sadness and fear, in their business and personal lives.
  2. It teaches them the No. 1 core skill they need to activate their own conscious thinking. This includes a step-by-step process to shift their destructive, subconscious thinking to more powerful and productive conscious thoughts. As they activate their conscious thinking, they are able to take back control of the happiness, fulfillment, productivity and success in their work and home lives.

The Transformational Benefits

When people learn how to activate their own conscious thinking, the transformational benefits companies and their employees experience are innumerable and include:

  • A happier, more peaceful and productive workplace
  • More powerful and effective communication skills
  • Greater compassion and kindness
  • Increased motivation, creativity and productivity
  • Better and stronger relationships and teamwork
  • A positive, more inclusive business culture
  • Prevention of workplace conflicts
  • Improved employee self-confidence and decision-making
  • Resolution for office challenges in the post-COVID-19 shift

Once a company’s employees have the ability to activate their own conscious thinking, on a moment-by-moment basis, it will support the benefits and success of other corporate training programs in the industry. All combined, these benefits will drive a corresponding increase to a company’s bottom line.

Relevance in the Actuarial Industry

The actuarial industry has recognized the significance of communication in its decision-making process. To be admitted as a fellow of the Society of Actuaries (SOA), a number of FSA modules must be completed, with the Decision-Making and Communication (DMAC) module being mandatory. It requires approximately 50 to 60 hours to complete all of the activities over a 12-month period, and it teaches the importance of communication, which is a plus. However, discussion about the underlying issue of how each individual’s subconscious thinking impacts their communication without their conscious knowledge or consent is not included in the module and may be helpful content to consider.

Corporate Leaders Have Experienced the Benefits of Conscious Activation

A number of business leaders have expressed their opinions after experiencing first-hand the value of power thinking. Denny L., a director at a national accounting and HR firm, said, “This is a tangible way to build culture.”

According to Jonathan J., a Vistage chair, “Productivity, engagement, happiness and fulfillment can be as simple as changing some of our factory default settings.”

Laura J., president and CEO of a clean energy company and Women Presidents’ Organization chair, said: “The concepts and paradigm shifts from these processes are priceless and immediately useful in building powerful communication, collaborative teams and a healthy culture. The value of this program—if practiced and executed—will make a difference in your organization immediately.”

According to William B., CEO of a green building technology company and supervising official for two professional hockey leagues (NHL and AHL): “I was able to take a negative environment and turn it into a positive environment. Everyone noticed a very positive, significant difference as far as communication and problem resolution. It made a huge difference in the ratings I received. This program works.”

Patty G., a tax director, said, “Because of these courses, I will have freedom from letting others have control of me, my emotions and my reactions.”

Thinking Impacts More Than Just American Businesses

International communication and culture barriers can be challenging. It is important to note that, while the belief systems that are engrained in children’s subconscious minds can be vastly different from culture to culture, the process or way in which their thinking is created is exactly the same. It is simply the information that is fed into their subconscious that is different.

Understanding the science of thinking and how it impacts emotions, communication and behavior can inspire compassion, understanding, negotiation and compromise when dealing with others who “think” differently than you do.

The reality is, companies today are full of subconscious robots “reacting” to each other and their own personal issues—for 95 percent of every day. This equates to more than seven and a half hours of reactive, subconscious thinking during a typical eight-hour workday.

This is a wake-up call for companies experiencing HR and employee challenges. You now have the opportunity to arm employees with strong conscious thinking skills to help them protect their own mental health and well-being. I invite you to learn how to activate your own conscious thinking and become a part of the solution.

Dr. Susanne Cohen is founder and chief executive officer of Conscious Activation.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

Copyright © 2021 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.