Have you ever come across something so obvious you can’t believe you hadn’t seen it before? I was sitting in the beautiful New Zealand bush on an adventure camp with our daughter recently, and that exact thing happened to me. Through a series of encounters this summer, I’ve decided to design and create a new atmosphere for our home. Have you ever considered the atmosphere in your home? Maybe it’s not one that you like or one that you want. Would you like to work towards creating the kind of culture you want to live in, rather than putting up with an unwanted atmosphere that is there by default?
Atmospheres are invisible things – things that you ‘feel’. They are often hard to explain or pin down, and yet they can be very powerful. You may have stood in the middle of a foreign city and thought, “Wow, I do not feel safe here.” I felt like that in Mexico City. It was broad daylight, I couldn’t see anything bad taking place, and yet the atmosphere was one of danger and unease.
On a personal level, a friend was staying at our place and commented that there was a ‘vibe’ in our home that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She described it as a kind of tension – everyone was talking to each other, but it felt to her like we were all being careful and restrained in our communication. I knew exactly what she was describing – I felt it too. At many times in my life I haven’t felt comfortable expressing my feelings for fear of upsetting people. In these moments, my husband Hamish has felt unable to question me, because of my defensive response – something he finds really off-putting. This was a vibe or atmosphere I was super keen to change.
As good fortune often allows, this past summer, I met a ‘cultural architect’. Not understanding what this truly meant, I was naturally intrigued. During our conversations, I learned that a cultural architect is a person who works to build healthy, life-giving cultures in workplaces and amongst groups of people (among other things). It was a perfectly timed meeting. His philosophy is – “An atmosphere can become an environment, and an environment, over time, can become a culture.” I found this fascinating. It reminded me of a true story about a successful CEO who one day realised, to his dismay, that every time he arrived home, his children would run out the back door to escape him. He figured out that after work, the atmosphere he created in his own home was an atmosphere the rest of the family wanted to avoid.
So he took drastic action. For starters, he built a new entrance from his garage into his bedroom. In the evening he would arrive home, finish on his phone and enter his room. After showering and changing, he would sit on the edge of his bed and breathe deeply – transforming himself from CEO back into dad. The difference was massive. His children started to love being around him – and are more likely to run to see him these days. Naturally it affected and transformed how they were as a whole family. His atmosphere change led to a change in the home’s environment, and ultimately, a new family culture.
I decided to take a look at my own atmosphere-creating words and actions, and discovered that far too often I sound short, impatient or frustrated with my children. Essentially, I reckon I often sound angry. I then considered what kind of atmosphere this was potentially producing – and realised it was one of tension. I also realised that my words and actions were creating an environment where trying something and failing wasn’t very acceptable – an environment where my kids felt that taking a risk meant risking getting in trouble.
My impatience or anger also produced an environment where the children spoke to each other the way I spoke to them. They were regularly cutting and short with each other, and in turn, they spoke strongly to me – and as Hamish pointed out, not respectfully. This was definitely not the atmosphere I wanted, and I could see it wasn’t producing good fruit. It didn’t encourage the children to stick with projects if they were hard – instead they became frustrated quickly, and gave up. At times they showed their disdain for other people’s mistakes verbally, and visually, by rolling their eyes. This wasn’t the kind of character I was looking for in our children, and the simple solution that hit me square between the eyes was that I needed to model the behaviour I wanted to see. I needed to create the atmosphere I wanted our family to live in.
So here we are well into 2016, and one of the goals our family is working on is calmer communication. I have literally changed the tone of my voice. I now try to pause before I speak – which is no mean feat – but it gives me that vital nanosecond to re-evaluate, and sound more positive. I like it. I even like myself more, and I like the sound of my children when they talk to each other and to us. Our home is now a safe place to speak up. This is a goal worth working on. It gives me great motivation to know that I can at least be a cultural architect in my own home.