Imagine you’re minding your own business, going about your day. Assume it’s a pretty good day, delicious breakfast, right soundtrack, good hair. You walk into the office and, on the surface, everything seems normal, except it’s not.
Something is off. You can feel it in the tips of your nose hair. The vibe is weird.
So your brain starts looking for evidence. Your brain happens to be great at this. After all, your brain likes it when things remain the same. You know that fight-flight-freeze response that is engineered for mountain lions but that gets triggered in the weirdest of situations, in meetings or on the bus? That’s what the almond shaped part of our brain, the amygdala, is in charge of. And it gets triggered by things that are unusual.
I digress. In the case of your imaginary good day with a weird vibe at the office, the evidence your brain finds is this: the volume of chatter is slightly lower than usual. Sarah, who can usually be found in the kitchen making herself a gigantic mug of coffee, is staring at her computer screen in tense concentration. Martin is biting his nails while frantically typing one-handedly.
Yup, something’s definitely off.
And then your favourite colleague Wilma (<— everyone should have a favourite colleague named Wilma) catches your eye and pulls a face that can only mean “the big boss walzed in early and gave everyone a pressure-infused sermon and now people are worried about losing their jobs”.
No wonder you perceived bad vibes!
We all do. And they affect us a lot.
The soul-sucking job you ended up quitting even though it sounded great on paper? Terrible vibes.
The person you met at a party once and that you’ve secretly been wanting to be friends with ever since? Great vibes.
The big vibe problem at work?
We lack a socially acceptable language and an understanding of what constitutes vibes (that does not include feng shui or any other esoteric terminology).
In our modern business understanding vibes are an umbrella term for perceivable, but not quite pinpointable ambiance-related energetics.
We can probably all agree that vibes are powerful. They can have a devastating effect on everyone’s mood and affect productivity, motivation, behaviours and performance. Or they can rally people, cause smiles, belly laughter, gratitude and focus….
But since they’re not a “business thing” with the adequate business language we can’t really really bring them up. It doesn't seem like sufficient evidence to say “we shouldn’t take the once-in-a-lifetime business deal that will make everyone rich because… the vibe is off”.
Or can we?
For the record, in my world the above vibe assessment a valid reason not to pursue a business deal, but I’ve studied vibes and the disastrous, unspoken, brooding effect they can have when not taken into consideration. Plus, I’m my own boss and when I make statements like that, I make them to my pet chihuahua and not some powerful senior manager.
I do believe that if we all become more vibe-aware, we will become happier, more productive people, because we can more easily articulate when something is off and why it might be so. Being aware of our vibes, the vibes in the room and how everyone is responding to them, is the first step towards choosing, shifting and adjusting them.
This means we need to become aware of the types of vibes there are.
Based on my research, I’ve identified 4 main levels of vibes:
Core/Personal Vibes: the stuff you send out on an ongoing basis that are perceived by others
Directional/Interpersonal Vibes: the stuff sent out from one person to another or from one person to a group
Circumstantial/ Reactionary Vibes: the group vibes that a number of people are in simultaneously, caused by the same external stimulus - whether terrible weather or something gut-wrenching the president decreed
Vibe Equity: the relatively stable vibes that are associated with a place or organism that are established through consistent repetition of vibes on all other three levels. (The closest term to vibe equity is organisational culture - another delightful umbrella for all things hard to pinpoint. Same same but different.)
In the case of our imaginary boss on this otherwise fine day, when she walzed in, she exhibited a certain style of directional vibes that conveyed pressure and stress. When you entered the office an hour later, you perceived the vibe aftermath (a lot of people' reacting to the same external stimulus) in the form of circumstantial vibes.
Since it was enough for Wilma to pull a certain face in order for you to locate why the vibe was off, it’s safe to say this person tends to frequently emit these direct and authoritarian personal vibes, enough to be associated with them. If she did this very regularly, to the point that all employees know that this particular workplace is the kind of place you get yelled at, it would have resulted in the vibe equity of the business being affected.
As you can tell, vibes are inter-connected and trickle down form the personal to the business level. To some, it seems daunting that the more power an individual has within an organisation, the higher their impact on organism-wide vibes. It only takes one ill-tempered manager’s tantrum for everyone to be affected.
However, we tend to forget that we all have core vibes and that we have the power to transfer them just as strongly as anyone else, regardless of our formal position within a company.
I want to delve a little deeper into your core vibes to make my point. The core or personal vibes describe the stuff you emanate, whether you know it or not. They are the very makings that create the expectations people have when they interact with you. Your core vibes are affected by at least four sub vibes: your personality, your mood (which in turn is affected by things like sleep and food and self-care), your emotions (which are usually feeling, automatic and reactive) and your awareness.
This last piece, your awareness, is the most important and under-estimated part of your core vibes . If you are aware of the vibes you are emitting, you can shift them, simple by deciding. You can decide not to be pissed off about something, you can decide whether to see someone else’s actions as a threat or as a different communication style, you can decide whether or not to let an external stimulus influence your personal vibe.
And therein lies the real power…!
Interested in more things vibe design? Send me a question. I’d be delighted to address it in a future blanswer (blog answer).
Want to use the 4 levels of vibes in your work? Go ahead. Creative commons attribution license. In other words, I’d love to be cited and I’d love you to use the work!