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The Geometry of Character and Culture

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Conversely, the mood which we experience at any one point in time – whether it be anger, fear, joy or surprise (to mention only a few of the many types of mood)—is temporary and dependent in large part on the setting in which we find ourselves. The setting tends to induce anger, fear, joy, surprise, panic, etc. This dimension of human behavior is often identified as state. Conversely, character and personality are often identified as trait (though as I just mentioned “Character” seems to imply something more than trait).

Coaching, Character and Culture

The distinction between state and trait is perhaps most clearly (and importantly) drawn between state-anxiety and trait-anxiety. Anyone can experience state-anxiety when confronted with a situation that is fraught with potential physical or psychological harm. It would be maladaptive not to experience anxiety (and to use this anxiety to activate a fight/flight/freeze response). By contrast, the state-anxiety condition exists when a person is constantly anxious. This person is always (or almost always) ready to fight, flight or freeze and views all conditions as perilous. Typically, a person experiencing trait-anxiety is in need of psychiatric care and will often require some form of medication.

A similar distinction can be drawn between culture, on the one hand, and climate, on the other hand. Organizational (and societal) culture is enduring and highly resistant to change; conversely, organizational (and societal) climate will often change, depending on the conditions confronting the organization (or society). Much as in the case of personal mood, collective climate can be filled with anger, fear, joy, surprise, etc. The climate of an organization might not shift as frequently and rapidly as one’s individual mood, however, it certainly does change and the people working in the organization are likely to find that their own personal mood changes in response to the climate shifts.

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