A PhD Built an Anxiety Chart to Help You Deal With Toxic Workplace Interactions

People are hard to understand sometimes.

In fact, forget other people, we can’t even fully understand ourselves.

Some of what we feel and experience is conscious, some of it unconscious, and some of it is downright irrational. All of this means that it can be very hard to decipher our many interactions with others.

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And nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace, where anxiety runs high and human interaction is at its most frequent. That’s why leadership coach Julian Humphreys, Ph.D. created the Anxiety Matrix Chart.

Photo Credit: Julian Humphreys

What is the Anxiety Matrix Chart?

The Anxiety Matrix Chart combines the two primary “dimensions” of anxiety to create a four-by-four map that explains each of the four major forms of anxiety we face daily: Unsconscious/Conscious and Rational/Irrational. The goal is to help figure out weird and confusing workplace interactions by outlining predictable behaviors.

However, it’s important to understand each of the anxiety types on the chart as co-existing conditions and behaviors — not mutually exclusive ones. In a single afternoon we can– and often do– experience all four types of behaviors for various different anxieties.

The goal, then, is to work to move ourselves towards the most productive form of anxiety: purposeful, which is not only rational, but conscious.

Here is how Humphreys describes it:

Our goal, though, should be to move as many of our anxieties into the top right box as possible, where they are rational and known.

Only then can we proactively manage our anxieties, remaining purposeful and productive despite the many complex challenges we face.

The 4 behaviors of the Anxiety Matrix Chart

In order to get the most from the Anxiety Matrix Chart, you need to know more about what each behavior looks like.

These are the four behaviors of the Anxiety Matrix Chart:

Neurotic

Perhaps the most difficult behavior on the matrix to deal with, neurotics are both irrational in their anxiety and are completely unaware of it. Talk about a difficult combination.

However, this kind of irrational, unconscious anxiety is extremely common both for employees in the workplace and business owners, who tend to inflate worries to irrational levels and avoid facing them.

Intuitive

Adopting the top left behavior on the chart, intuitives experience a very rational type of anxiety. However, they’re wholly unaware of it.


As the name implies, intuitives are heavy in intuition because they’re placed in situations which warrant rational action, however, they’re unaware of what is causing this intuitive “push” to act, so they likely have a hard time explaining their choices and methodology.

Intuitive behavior, especially in leaders, may not be very convincing, and lead to confusion when you expect others to follow or listen to you based on hunches and feelings.

For that reason, intuitives should work to identify patterns in their behavior, which will allow them to become more conscious of what informs their actions and decisions.

Ironic

This is a conscious behavior, but it’s not rational. Ironics experience irrational anxiety, and they are fully aware of it.

A step up from neurotics, ironics have the same inflated worries as neurotics, however, they’re at least aware that their anxiety is rooted in irrational thought patterns. The problem is, being aware that the anxiety is irrational isn’t always enough to get rid of it or properly manage it when strong emotions are at play.

By identifying patterns of behavior, the ironic can identify the underlying issue and begin to work through this irrational behavior.

Purposeful

The pinnacle of Humphrey’s Anxiety Matrix, purposefuls are both rational and conscious. Their anxiety is well-placed, even if it is still anxiety, and they’re keenly aware of worries and stresses when they arise.

This is the ideal position to be in, because your behavior is predictable and you have perfect clarity to identify your anxiety and deal with it in the swiftest and most effective manner.

When a real issue arises, you experience rational anxiety due to it, but you also have the clarity to identify the root of a problem. Imagine a straight line. Each of the first three behaviors we talked about is a bit fuzzy, or the path is uneven. This makes reaching a solution take longer.

However, the purposeful has a straight line. She is able to waste the least amount of time solving the issue, and therefore is the most productive and successful.

We can only hope to encompass the purposeful’s rational awareness at all times. However, the more we can, the better.

And, in any case, the better we can understand each of the four behaviors, the better we can understand ourselves and make more effective choices in the workplace and at large.


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