Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lovin' the Spin I'm In

A phenomenon known as frame dragging predicts that a rotating mass will drag space around it, like a bowling ball spinning in molasses.

This is an apt metaphor for how stuck our worldviews become when we operate in the same old way instead of broadening our perspective.

We continue spinning in the molasses of our patterns, no matter how much we want to do something different, because that particular spin has so much momentum.

Sometimes we wake up to a bigger game because our bowling scores are down. Sometimes it takes a complete "miss" to energize change.

Remember these lyrics to a Frank Sinatra song?
"In a spin, lovin' the spin I'm in..." 
Paradox is essential to change. When you see the spin you're in and love yourself anyway you will, paradoxically, unstick yourself from the molasses that's been dragging you around.  

Thursday, October 31, 2019

You Might As Well Be In Ittoqqortoormiit

If I could pass on one message from my long life (so far), it's this:


You like lemons? You eat lemons all day long? Go for it! But please do not assume lemons are the only fruit worth eating, and--especially--don't assume the rest of us SHOULD eat only lemons.

We live in a diverse world, we have access to the most remote locations on earth--want to go to Tristan da Cunha? Mutuo? Oymyakon? Kerguelen Islands? Ittoqqortoormiit? Just Google it.

While there, you surely won't expect everyone there to look like you, talk like you, eat the same foods you do, have the same interests, dreams, perspectives, or behaviors you do. Well, bring that same perspective home:

Every place you go, every group you join, 
every team you're on at work or play,
every family gathering,
you might as well be in Ittoqqortoormiit!*

Which also means that your way of doing things is not necessarily the best way in a given situation, and certainly not the only way. EVER!

There are countless personality models--organized descriptions of human characteristics--cognitions, emotions, motivations, behaviors, self-perceptions, values, attitudes. I happen to map the varieties of personal, interactional, and leadership styles on the Enneagram. You may find the MBTI more useful, or Tilt365, The Leadership Circle, The Big Five or one of many others.

But please, please, in your everyday interactions, keep in mind the implications of acknowledging our differences, as described by "Allison" in my book with C.J. Fitzsimons  (Somebody? Nobody? The Enneagram, Mindfulness and Life's Unfolding, p. 5):
"I'd assumed everybody thought the way I did and was aware of right and wrong, that people couldn't be good if they didn't do what was clearly right. It never occurred to me that others might have a different focus of attention than I do. That opened up the question, If I could be so mistaken about the way the world is, could I not be mistaken about a great many other things?

*Prounounced "It-oh-kwa-kwaor-tow-mEEt"

Thursday, October 3, 2019

What Are Your Enneagram Personality Patterns?

Make a guess as to your core style, but take the results of this or any Enneagram questionnaire as tentative. Your fundamental personality patterns rest on deep motivations, not on observable behaviors, and you have connections to all the others.  The links in each paragraph connect to stories that add more depth.

"An Enneagram number does not stand by itself. It remains part of a line, part of an ongoing story..." The Lines Are the Basic Building Blocks of the Enneagram, Not the Points, by Michael Goldberg, Nine Points Magazine.
Are you compelled to fix things, focused on standards, quality, ideals? Are you angry when disappointed with others' shoddy work?
  Style 1 patterns
Are you focused on service, relationships, helping? Do you sometimes lose yourself by taking care of others? 
  Style 2 patterns
Do you have a stronger drive to succeed than most? Are you competitive, focused on efficiency, goals, and marketing yourself or your company?
 Style 3 patterns
Are you an innovative thinker who sees how things could be better? Are you moody; do you have trouble getting past your melancholy? 
 Style 4 patterns
Are you somewhat reserved; a deep thinker who's focused on gaining knowledge? Do you tend to withdraw from others' emotions?
 Style 5 patterns
Are you a good contingency planner, focused on what could go wrong? Do you second-guess your own decisions sometimes? 
 Style 6 patterns
Are you primarily enthusiastic, focused on the future and the possibilities? Do you avoid the nitty-gritty details?
 Style 7 patterns
Are you usually the one in charge, a strong, highly responsible person who doesn't feel comfortable showing weakness?
Style 8 patterns
Do you seek consensus, cooperation; avoid conflict? Do you tend to see all viewpoints, preferring not to be in the spotlight?
Style 9 patterns

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Intuition: Paying Attention to Your Inner Voice

Even when we're not at a fork in the road, wondering what to do and trying to hear that inner voice, our intuition is always there, always reading the situation, always trying to steer us the right way. But can we hear it? Are we paying attention? HuffPost President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington, in her book Thrive.
Years ago, in a conference on Dreamwork, I learned a stress-reduction technique that both relies on and enhances intuition. It can be used anytime, to see what your unconscious has picked up in interactions with others, including some subtle information about Enneagram styles. It's especially calming when you want to influence others in some way and find you're anxious about the outcome.

As with any visualization technique, this practice will work more readily if you're in somewhat of a meditative state: close your eyes, take a deep breath, gradually let your muscles relax: loosen neck and shoulders, chest and stomach, legs.

Trust your intuition.

Now imagine yourself in a room with others in a semi-circle facing you--their forms may be true to their living presence, or vague and dreamlike, or even surprising (once when engaged in this practice I "saw" the others as fairy tale figures and incorporated that into my intuitive understanding of each).

Now, ask each of them, one-by-one, to give you a symbolic gift. In some cases, this is enough. You have imagined the others showing good will toward you by giving you a gift, and your unconscious will carry this positive expectation into the actual gathering. If you want more information, you can frame the request to match your intended purpose. From here on, I'll use one of my own experiences to show how this practice works.

I was preparing a presentation to a group of people who knew me in my current role, but not my consulting history. The more I thought about it, the more anxious I became, and asked myself what would help me feel confident. I decided if they respected my knowledge and experience, they'd be more likely to agree with the plan I'd be presenting. So in my imagination I asked each of them, "Please give me a gift that symbolizes your esteem," meaning "What would you see in me that would give you confidence in my suggestions?"

One by one, I pictured each stepping forward with a gift. If I wasn't quite clear about the gift's meaning, I asked for more information to help me understand:
  • One of them gave me a kaleidoscope, explaining further, "I appreciate your ability to hold multiple views."
  • Another gave me a fancy high-heeled shoe, similar to Cinderella's but with shiny jewels all over it, saying "The shoe fits." When I asked for more: "I see you have the credentials for this."
  • One gave me a megaphone, speaking through it to say, "I hear you."
  • Another said, "Here's the shirt off my back," adding, "There are things I want to get off my back and I need your help."
  • The easiest gift to interpret was a silky red throw pillow, shaped like a heart.
  • A person with strong opinions handed me a velvet glove, saying "I see your iron fist behind the velvet glove."
  • Someone I don't know very well gave me a silver bullet, saying "You're able to take down opponents without killing them."
  • Another put an Army Sargent's cap on my head: "You now have the authority to do this."
  • With a hand wipe across the forehead, another said, "I give you the sweat off my brow." When I asked for more understanding: "I see you're a worker."
  • The most puzzling gift was a Halloween pumpkin with a smiling face and a light inside, until I asked for more: "I envision you with a happy face, having succeeded."
  • The last one gave me a handmade doll, a little man made of straw. "A straw man?" I asked. "Yes, I may bring up something that seems totally unrelated, but I want you to listen to my objections anyway." 
The answers I imagined gave me so much more than I had expected. In addition to anticipating a positive reception, the symbolic gifts also showed me how to present my ideas in a way that would elicit respect: speaking clearly, with the strength of my convictions, confident of success, and dedication to the project; but also with an open heart, smiling, inviting input, watching non-verbals and encouraging anyone to speak who seemed hesitant, being open to multiple viewpoints, and handling disagreements without shooting anyone down.

Without conscious realization, my intuition had picked up what was important to everyone in this audience and helped guide me to be present to their individual priorities.

*   *   *

Click here for more ways to learn from and enhance your intuition.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Three-Step Self-Coaching Process

A.W.E. Three Steps to Self-Coaching

Awareness of your unique patterns of motivation and behavior. 

If you'd been hypnotized in a nightclub act to do something silly afterward at the hypnotist's command, would you then ask, "Why am I clucking like a chicken?" No. You volunteered to let someone make strong suggestions about your behavior. As a child you were even more suggestible. Read more. . . 

Watching, without judgment, how those patterns operate. 

Instead of backing away from an aspect of yourself you don't like, get to know that troubling part and see what there is to learn. Read more. . . 

Experimenting to interrupt patterns and invite transpersonal change. 

When you allow yourself to fully experience your typical reactions, you'll discover a new meaning for the baseball phrase, sweet spot. Read more. . .


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Seeing with New Eyes

Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs define leadership agility as a process of reflective action or ongoing learning from your own actions — the ability to focus, step back, gain a broader and deeper perspective, and re-engage from that new perspective.

Though addressed to organizational leadership, the four key areas of agility are applicable with anyone or group of any size, from individuals to partners to families to organizations to communities to nations:
Self-leadership agility stepping back to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and experimenting with new, more effective approaches.
Creative agility — stepping back from your habitual assumptions and developing optimal solutions to the issues you face.
Stakeholder agility — stepping back from your own views and objectives to consider the needs and perspectives of stakeholders.
Context-setting agility — stepping back to determine the best initiatives, given changes taking place in the larger environment within which you operate. 
As noted by these authors, we all need greater agility to adapt to our turbulent world economy's accelerating change, growing complexity, and interdependence.

We enrich our lives and the lives of those we impact when we step back from our habitual views to broaden and deepen our perspective.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Using Resistance as a Positive Force for Change

In his chapter on resistance in Flawless Consulting, Peter Block makes the point that people often use the phrase "overcoming resistance," which implies that convincing or persuading people will win them over. This doesn't usually work.

If your point of view wasn't persuasive to begin with, repeating it will probably only make others dig their heels in deeper. They may feel threatened in some way (which to them is legitimate), or trying to maintain what's important to them (which to them is legitimate). They may feel some concern about their credibility, their job security, their sense of autonomy, their competence. They may also see a lack of congruence between the proposed change and some core values.

Someone who defends the status quo can actually be valuable to you. In your zeal for change you may be missing something they represent that could help you avoid problems. And they may represent others who don't support the change but aren't so open about their reluctance -- whatever they're concerned about is an important issue for you to address. Most important, because defenders have the courage and strength to challenge you openly, you want them on your side, and it isn't necessary to fight for what you believe to make that happen.

Think of the futility of standing in a flooding river to stop the flow. When the "flow" of someone's energy is directed against your efforts, trying to convince them to head in a different direction can be equally futile. An effective way to deal with a flooding river is to divert the water using its own energy -- by digging a channel, for example.

In his classic article, "A Positive Approach to Resistance," H.B. Karp suggests surfacing, honoring, and exploring the resistance by making its expression as safe as possible and asking for all of it, at the same time listening, acknowledging, reinforcing the notion that resistance is permissible, even valuable, and probing for alternatives. 

Karp's article reminds us "the objective is not to eliminate all resistance," but instead to "work with and reduce needless resistance" and, once the conversation is workable, to "thank the resister and move on. It is important not to try to persuade the resister to like the demand. It is enough that the resister is willing to agree to it."

For more ideas, go to my blog post, Moving From Problems to Solutions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

No More of the Same

In a post for writers about the power of storytelling to motivate change, I was reminded of the most influential week of training in my career, at Palo Alto's Mental Research Institute. MRI affiliates study and apply interactional concepts with families, schools, communities, and businesses, their goal to understand and resolve human problems at all levels of social organization.

That was the first time I'd heard the famous Einstein quote:
Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created.
The extended meaning of this quote has grown clear over my thirty years of coaching. Change occurs when we:
  1. come to see a frame of reference (worldview) within which we have been operating,
  2. learn to observe without judgment the nature of our thoughts and behavior from within that worldview,
  3. experiment with ways to interrupt those previously unconscious and automatic responses.
Even someone you're close to may have an entirely different perspective on events you both experience. In the four novels of The Alexandria Quartet (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea), author Lawrence Durrell brilliantly illustrated how our limited perspectives create completely different interpretations of the world. The Quartet's first three novels describe the same sequence of events through the eyes of three different people, showing three different perspectives of a single set of events.

When you don't step out to a fresh perspective, but continue thinking and acting from within the framework in which a problem arises, you create "more of the same." This dynamic operates every time you and someone else act from within your own worldviews without discussing your assumptions openly and developing a larger perspective.

For example:
A wife and husband agree in marriage counseling to show each other appreciation every day for a week. In the next week's session the wife says "You never once brought me flowers!"
The husband says, "You said you wanted me to do something different, so I thought you would see flowers as not really doing anything. Instead, I took out the garbage every day this week. And you didn't even notice!"

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Why Not "Why"?

If you'd been hypnotized in a nightclub act to do something silly afterward at the hypnotist's command, would you then ask, "Why am I clucking like a chicken?" No. You've volunteered to let someone make strong suggestions about your behavior.

As a child you were even more suggestible. Not only did you learn what was expected, you also learned how to maintain that trance. As an adult, your conscious mind and unconscious programming work together to keep the suggestions operating. Check it out for yourself. How many times a day do you say to yourself, "Don't be rude," or "Look out for yourself, nobody else is going to," or "__________" (fill in the blank for yourself). 

Does this mean you have to like the programming? No. You may consciously feel the urge to change, or you may have headaches, or tense shoulders, or acid indigestion, or depression. Something tells you this isn't who you want to be. These are wake-up calls--your attempt to snap your fingers and break the trance. 

You could spend the next few years exploring why you have the patterns you have. Or, you could simply accept that you've been in a trance and ask how? How does my trance operate? When you observe this closely, you'll know how to break the pattern. It's not a surprise that we associate "being chicken" with powerlessness. But notice the implied meaning of "free-range chicken." You, too, can range free.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Golem or Pygmalion?

The Pygmalion effect... describes how high expectations... lead to high performance... The Golem effect designates the opposite... Jean-Fran├žois Manzoni, "Inside the Golem Effect."
Most of us know if you constantly criticize children they'll develop an inferiority complex. A classic classroom study known as "The Pygmalion Effect" showed that positive expectations for children influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively.

With adults, however, we're more likely to create The Golem Effect, where our effort to protect the quality of performance instead demolishes motivation. The traditional way of addressing problems, setting targets, and working to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement where subsequent feedback focuses on failings, on what's not working well.

In contrast, Appreciative Feedback supports a climate of continuous improvement by envisioning people at their very best. First, you develop a mutual agreement describing (1) what behavior we'll observe when the individual is performing at his or her best, and (2) what support we can give to reinforce the new behavior. Feedback is then based on what's going well. 

This agreement is not a conversation about shoulds and oughts. Rather, we encourage and support actions that contribute to the desired change. It's important to notice any behavior that moves in the desired direction, even small, incremental changes. Paying attention to what's going well invites us out of the box of noticing only problems; it also increases the number of positive examples we notice.

Being appreciated for what's going well is truly empowering—it calls out our best because we learn to believe in ourselves.

NOTE: This doesn't mean we give dishonest feedback or totally ignore problematic behavior. However, we give this feedback in service of the agreed-upon "best":
  1. Compliment them on what they're already doing that's useful/good.
  2. Connect their present behavior to desired future behavior.
  3. Invite ideas about new behavior, or suggest something new and encourage them to revise it for a better fit.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Spiritual Emergency: When 911 Can't Help

These conditions, when treated with respect and receiving appropriate support, can result in remarkable healing, deep positive transformation, and a higher level of functioning in everyday life. Stanislav Grof, "Spiritual Emergencies" 
Those of us engaged in efforts to deepen our self-awareness, if we're lucky, have glimpsed moments of grace where we've transcended the demands of ego and have seen the world in an entirely different way. Often this is a gradual emergence of unconscious material into consciousness, where we loosen the bonds of personality. This kind of transpersonal change has also been described as spiritual emergence.  
Most who undergo deep transformational experiences... go on to live seemingly rather ordinary lives but with an extraordinary inner perspective.*
Sometimes, though, there's such a rapid, forceful shift in awareness we can be momentarily destabilized, which Stan and Christina Grof refer to as spiritual emergency. Here's a description of such an experience:
"I was at the airport, and as I walked toward my gate, the hundreds of people around me suddenly looked like pop-up figures, as in children's books where you turn the page and a scene pops up. I felt completely alone. The sensation passed. Then, as I boarded the plane, there it was again as I looked down the aisles, the seats were filled with pop-up, cardboard passengers. I thought I was going crazy."
With help from a friend and assurance this was a spiritual emergency, this person was able to integrate this episode and several later ones that were somewhat similar. She had an unnerving and yet exciting realization of what her 'pop-up' experience symbolized   her worldview had so radically changed that everything she'd thought was true now seemed only an illusion.
The bad news is that your psyche just got blown to shreds, and the good news is that your psyche just got blown to shreds.* 
So if you're experiencing psychospiritual/transformational crisis, don't assume you're crazy. Tell your story to someone who will listen, an experienced coach or counselor who understands the nature of spiritual transformation.
*   Dance on Fire, Richard Jewett

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What's in a Name?

Many years ago I had the good fortune to attend a Self-Differentiation Workshop with John and Joyce Weir. "Self-differentiation" refers to separating our intellectual and emotional functioning from childhood conditioning influences. 

As children we typically had low differentiation from the family, depended on others for approval and acceptance, and began to unconsciously accept only input that fit our unique biases.  

As adults we carry this worldview with us, acting as if there's a truth in the world around us, when, in fact, we create that world based on the meaning we give it. 

Below are two ways you can broaden your worldview, based on practices from the Weir workshop. 

First, we used language to denote how we project our perceptions onto others. Projection means denying something about yourself and attributing that denied aspect to someone else, as if your unconscious were a movie projector and the other person the screen. 

When you experience surprisingly strong emotions, that's a clue that you may be denying the same trait in yourself. You'll know by trying it on.

Let's say you're particularly impatient with Sue, who's "always moping when she doesn't get enough attention." You'd say to yourself: "I'm impatient with the 'Sue' in me who mopes when she doesn't get attention." Then let it settle, and see what comes up.
Now think of someone you know who really gets under your skin, and finish this sentence: "I'm (strong emotion) with the (name) in me who (behavior you dislike)." Let it settle, see what comes up.
Second, we were requested in the workshop to choose name tags that represented what we were projecting onto the world at the moment. When that changed, so did our name tags. For example, one participant chose "teenager" for his opening day name tag; later that week he was "deer in the headlights." 
What word or phrase would capture what you're projecting onto the world at this very moment? 
*     *     *
In Emotions and the Enneagram, Margaret Frings Keyes defined projection as "denying a particular feeling in ourselves and sensing it as coming from the other person." She assured us "the same unconscious which generated the projections also strives to correct them:"
Projection: When we believe what we believe is so.
Doubt Denied: Some information doesn't fit, but "louder and wronger," we insist it is so.
Recognition: We experience "small and ugly" self-blame for a "wrong" perception.
Empathy: We can see the other person's point of view.
Assimilation: We shift to include the complexity of feeling two ways about something/someone.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overcoming Performance Anxiety and Panic Attacks

"I don't think you can help me, said Jack. "I've never told this to anybody at work, and I certainly don't want it to go any further than you, but I sometimes get panic attacks so bad I have to go to the emergency clinic."

"Great!" I said, to his puzzlement. "We have an opportunity to make a difference in your life that's so significant, you'll find everything else we do a piece of cake." Though we'd talked for almost two hours, this was our first meeting and I knew I was taking a chance to challenge Jack in this way, but he'd been responsive so far, and I thought he'd at least try what I suggested. "Raise up that feeling of panic right now," I said.

"Are you nuts?" he asked, with apparent rising panic.

"I promise you it won't get out of hand," I soothed. "Just think of the last time you felt panic and do the best you can to recapture the feelings. Where did you feel it in your body?" Using this paradoxical strategy, we worked with Jack's unconscious to undercut the assumption that he had no control over the panic attacks (if he could bring them on, they were within his control). Once he focused on the sensations associated with panic, I had him exaggerate them, assuring him all the time that to his surprise the symptoms would eventually diminish.

And they did. Not only that, but he was able to use the technique whenever the symptoms began to arise, and he never again had a full-blown panic attack.

This approach is "paradoxical" because you might logically expect that bringing the symptoms on would make them worse. The paradox: inviting the symptoms leads to their diminishment or even extinction.

There are a number of terrific resources available on this topic. I have a fondness for Dr. R. Reid Wilson, partly because panic is his particular area of expertise and partly because he has a great sense of humor. I first encountered Dr. Wilson at a brief therapy conference where he started his session with a Far Side cartoon showing a cut-away view of two moles below ground. One of them was shaking and perspiring profusely, saying to the other mole, "It's O.K.! It's O.K.! The tunnel was closing in on me there for a while, but I'm all right now!"

In Don't Panic, Wilson writes:
Our instinctual defenses fail to overcome panic. In fact, they actually support the recurrence of anxiety attacks. We encourage and strengthen the power of panic by treating it as our "enemy," to be avoided or to be battled . . . Whenever you resist something, that something will persist.
He suggests the following ways to cooperate with symptoms instead of competing with them:
  • Take a calming breath and begin natural breathing.
  • Don't fight the symptoms or run away.
  • Consciously decide to use a paradoxical strategy.
  • Observe your most predominant physical symptom at this moment.
  • Say "I wold like to increase____"
  • Consciously increase the predominant symptom.
  • Now increase all other symptoms you notice.
  • Continue natural breathing while consciously increasing symptoms.
  • Don't get trapped in worried, critical, or hopeless comments.
Deeper work may be needed to address the issues behind the symptoms, but this is much easier once you're relieved of focusing on the symptoms. According to Wilson, "Panic says, 'Wake up! You're not facing something!"

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Moving From Problems to Solutions

Sometimes advice is appropriate, but when you're in a supervisory role, those you're coaching will accept more responsibility and learn more if you help them solve their own problems. These four communication skills move a conversation from focusing on problems to generating solutions:

Active Listening

Paraphrase: Play back your understanding of what they said. If your restatement is not quite on target, they'll usually clarify.

Reflect: Confirm what they seem to be feeling. This helps diffuse tension, acknowledges their right to express feelings, and lets them know you support them, even if you disagree.

Open Probing

Open probes encourage the other to amplify: "Go on." "Tell me more about..." "Give me an example of... " "What did you do/say?" "How did the situation arise?" "You mentioned previously that..." "Remind me again of..."

Notice also how the way you probe can begin to lead toward solutions: "How do you think it could have been handled better?" "What might happen if... ?" "How do you see ___ being able to improve?"

(NOTE: "Don't you think that... ?" is advice in disguise, not a probe.)


Instead of focusing on what you don't like, reframe negative statements into a positive. This is not about being "nice." The purpose is to keep your eye on solutions and model how to turn obstacles into opportunities. If someone complains about inconsistencies in top management's priorities, you might say, "You'd like to see things handled differently here."

Both/And Thinking

Most people who are stuck in problems are also using either/or thinking ("It will take too long to do it right"). Move the conversation into both/and thinking:

  1. Mentally determine the two apparent opposites (in this case quality and time).
  2. Ask a question that presumes both are possible ("How might you do both ___ and ___?"). For example, "What could be done in the current timeframe?" or "How might we make it work in the time remaining?"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Don't Lie to Yourself...

The 2015 U.S. presidential election triggered a variety of emotions in me, my friends, and my clients. Whether positive or negative, the reactions have been strong. And most of us know it's healthier to explore emotions with some depth rather than tamp them down. 

But how do we recognize what we're feeling? Of course, we're aware something's going on, but it may be little more than "I'm feeling off today" or "I'm so tired," or "I can't quite focus..."

You may have seen the TV show "Lie to Me," where Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) and his associates helped determine if someone was telling the truth because of their ability to read micro facial expressions. The show was inspired by the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, who's served as advisor to police departments and anti-terrorism groups and whose many books include Telling Lies and Emotions Revealed.

Ekman's pioneering research determined six core emotions: JOY (top left), SURPRISE (bottom left), SADNESS (top middle), ANGER (bottom middle), DISGUST (top right), and FEAR (bottom right). (Note: Ekman later added to these six.) 

For a quick assessment of one's feelings however, I find it easier to remember these simple homonyms (with a few examples... feel free to add your own):

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization translates quite literally -- you develop a system to gradually desensitize yourself to a feared situation. The best written resource I've found is Chapter 6 in Thoughts & Feelings: The Art of Cognitive Stress Intervention, by McKay, Davis, & Fanning (New Harbinger Publications). 

"With Systematic Desensitization," the authors write, "you learn to relax while imagining scenes that are progressively more anxiety provoking." They provide a "Fear Inventory" and detailed instructions on how to develop a hierarchy of threatening scenes.

In The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (also published by New Harbinger), Dr. Edmund J. Bourne outlines a hierarchy for a common phobia: giving presentations at work. Visualize:
  1. Preparing a talk you don't give.
  2. Preparing a talk and delivering it to a friend; when comfortable with that, visualize delivering it to 3 friends.
  3. Giving a brief presentation to 3-4 people at work you know well; when comfortable with that, visualize a longer presentation to them.
  4. Giving a brief presentation to 10-15 acquaintances; when comfortable, a longer presentation to them.
  5. Giving a brief presentation to 3-4 strangers; when comfortable with that, visualizing giving them a longer presentation.
  6. Giving a brief presentation to 10-15 strangers.
  7. Giving a brief presentation to 50 strangers.
Whatever the situation, visualization works best if you first learn a relaxation technique and visualize the scenes while practicing relaxation, moving up the hierarchy only when you feel comfortable.

  • Visualize a scene as if you're actually there -- emotions, colors, sounds, tastes, temperature, smells, other people/objects. First create a peaceful scene where you feel completely safe. As you move up the hierarchy, if you experience more than moderate anxiety after 30 seconds to a minute, go back to your peaceful scene for a few minutes until you feel relaxed enough to try again. 
  • The best way to gauge your change from anxiety to comfort is to create a 10-point scale, where level 2 or 3 is mild to moderate anxiety and 10 is blow-your-socks-off terror. When you feel low or no anxiety visualizing the least anxiety-provoking scene, move to scene #2 and repeat the process. You'll gradually develop comfort with the scene at the top of your hierarchy (#7 in the example above). Also, you can build up to 30 minutes of visualization/relaxation. Eventually, you'll find you can master 2-3 scenes in 30 minutes.
One of my most interesting consultations on this topic occurred almost as an aside. I reviewed personality styles with a client's team members before a team session, and one of them ("Ned") said "I really identify with the driving force of fear. My anxiety is not so bad at work, but I've developed a real phobia of snakes. I like to ride my motorcycle on country roads, but I haven't been able to do that for a couple of years."

"Well," I replied, "snakes can act as a metaphor for all the 'snakes' you have to deal with on the job. Let's work on it." I asked him to describe his worst possible imagined scene with snakes and the least scary scene. We then created seven or eight scenes between those two associated with increasing levels of anxiety. After we completed his hierarchy, I taught him deep relaxation and visualization techniques so he could mentally rehearse, moving up to the next most difficult step only when he felt relaxed at the step he'd just practiced. 

Apparently those few minutes motivated Ned to continue on his own. I didn't see him again until six months after the team session. As I was heading toward his boss' office, Ned stopped me in the hall and said with a grin, "I'm so glad to see you. I wanted to tell you my fear of snakes is gone!" 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Give Feedback

If someone you're trying to give feedback seems defensive in response, take a look at how you're framing your words. Are you using general and blaming terminology? ("You never initiate a conversation about our relationship." "You come across as arrogant." "You've been disrespectful to me." 

It's a natural human response to defend ourselves against feeling we've been wrong or bad. If you really want someone to change, it's vital to frame your comments in a way that bypasses those defenses. The other person needs to be able to take in what you're saying and consider whether they want to change and know how to change. 

If someone asks, "Why didn't people didn't warm up to me at the dinner party last night?" saying "Well, you came across as arrogant" will be difficult to hear and accept as true. Even if they can accept it, they might change some behavior that's entirely different from what you meant to point out. What behavior, exactly, seemed "arrogant" to you? 

Effective feedback is specific, descriptive, nonjudgmental. It communicates whether or not someone's behavior is "on target" in relation to a shared goal.  

While these examples are from work situations, the elements of effective feedback apply equally well in personal relationships:
Instead of judging someone as wrong -- using words like should, always, never, don't -- describe what you've observed.
Judgmental: "You're still not delegating enough."
Descriptive: "We talked about your delegating more to Larry and Helen, yet you're still putting in overtime. Tell me how things are going with them."  
Instead of a general comment that's open to interpretation, be specific. 
General: "You're not a team player."
Specific: "At the quarterly team meeting last week you noted how you improved profitability but didn't mention the work we put in behind the scenes." 
Instead of criticizing the whole person, direct your feedback toward behavior that can be changed.
Personal: "You're a buffoon!"
Behavioral: "Your introduction today took 30 minutes. Your stories were funny, but we were pressed for time, and after about 15 minutes I quit listening because I was anxious to get started."
The simple formula?  Describe specific behavior.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Responding to Criticism and Manipulation Without Defensiveness*

Often other people don't give effective feedback. Sometimes we feel defensive no matter how descriptively and helpfully feedback is given. In either case, most people think their only options in response are to (1) take it, (2) explain/defend themselves, or (3) fight back. 

There is another option. You can agree to a partial truth, agree to a probability, and/or agree in principle, followed in each case by probing for more information.

For example, if someone says you're not serious enough, you could: 
Agree to a Partial Truth -- "It's true I'm not as serious as some people we know," followed by, "In what way has that been a problem?" Or "Is there something in particular you suggest I change?"

Agree to a Probability -- "Maybe I haven't been serious enough," followed by, "Tell me more" or "What would you like to see me do differently?" 

Agree to a Principle -- "I agree it's important to be serious sometimes," followed by, "What have I done or said that's out of balance?" or "Let's talk about how my being more serious would be helpful here."
It may take a round or two or probing for details and/or moving to a solution before the other person stops making judgmental ("You're not..., you should... you shouldn't") or global statements (what does serious mean to that person in reference to you?). But if you remain non-defensive and show you're open enough to look at yourself honestly, eventually you'll have specific, behavioral feedback. You may or may not choose to act on it, but at least you'll know exactly what the other person is perceiving.

Then you can explain yourself, if necessary, and show your appreciation, if appropriate. Benefits of responding this way:
  • Even when the other person is being manipulative and/or passive-aggressive, this will lead to a more direct interchange.
  • Your questions will require the other person be more specific, less judgmental.
  • You'll buy some time and lower your defensiveness as you think through which way to respond: Is there some truth to it? Might there be some truth to it? Can I at least agree to an implied principle?
  • You may learn something about yourself you need to know.
  • The other person will gain respect for you instead of thinking, "Forget it! You can't tell that person anything!" 

*Dr. Manuel Smith calls this technique Fogging (see When I Say No I Feel Guilty and When I Say No I Feel Guilty, Vol. II, for Managers and Executives).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Two Types of Creativity: Kirton Adaption-Innovation Indicator

In his book Adaptors and Innovators, Dr. Michael Kirton describes Adaption-Innovation as a cognitive style, a "preferred mode of tackling problems at all stages." He emphasizes that scores on the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI), are value-free: "Very high, very low or intermediate KAI scores are neither laudatory nor pejorative." All of us can use both styles of creative problem solving, but we have a preference for either Adaptive/Resourceful or Innovative/Original Creativity.

People who score on the KAI as Adaptive tend to accept the paradigm within which a problem is embedded (current theories, policies, points of view). They're likely to produce a few ideas that aim at continuity with the practices, norms, and current way of doing things, but bring about a better way of doing them. They often (not always) show a preference for Sensing on the MBTI. To be successful over time, most organizations (except the most innovative in their products and/or services) will necessarily be adaptive in their orientation. It's more costly and risky to continually do things in a different way. Kirton remarks that Adaptors are at their best "in the smooth, efficient operation of an existing system; creatively refining, improving, and extending the thinking that underlies it."

People who score on the KAI as Innovative tend to "detach the problem from its cocoon of accepted thought," to step out of the "box" or paradigm. They tend to redefine a problem, produce many ideas, break through what the organization perceives as givens and restraints, provide solutions aimed at doing things differently. They often (not always) show a preference for Intuition on the MBTI. While a company is growing and maintaining itself in predictable ways and in a predictable market, innovative solutions are not necessarily preferable; but organizations cannot survive if they're unable to break through with new thinking when necessary.
The Dilemma of Differences
Studies at the Center for Creative Leadership suggest that each problem mode has its advantages, and the most successful organizations (and leaders) are those able to use both problem solving styles flexibly. In many organizations, though, Innovators experience problems in communication because it's difficult to get others to see outside the box, and they're often met with skepticism.

Perhaps as a consequence, Innovators tend to be condescending to Adaptors, who can be very resourceful and come up with excellent solutions to ongoing problems, but who tend to work within the rules, to seek consensus, and to prefer change that occurs gradually. Thus Adaptors are often seen by Innovators as unimaginative, stuck, resistant to change, always focused on problems vs. solutions, and/or lacking a view of the big picture.

Because innovative solutions are less easily understood and have unpredictable outcomes, and because such break-through change is threatening, Innovators are often seen by Adaptors as undisciplined, impractical, irreverent, abrasive, and/or insensitive to people. Clearly, a better understanding of these different creative styles -- and the value of each under certain circumstances -- can lead to stronger, more flexible teams and more successful organizations.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Follow Your Nose

I've sometimes said of myself, “I’m like a mole, I have to smell my way along.” More accurately, I might say “swim my way along” because moles have small eyes and lack external ears. To compensate, their long snouts and paddle-like forefeet allow them to “swim” through the soil. 

My learning style is kinesthetic, compared to auditory or visual channels for learning. For example, I tried to learn Adobe InDesign to use in self-publishing e-books. I bought the software. I bought the InDesign book. I had a video tutorial. I did NOT swim along!

In contrast, a friend with an auditory learning style says, “Give me a book and I can learn anything.” He hears the words in his mind, and understands.

A student of music whose learning style is auditory would focus on pitch, rhythm, phrasing, articulation, tempo. Another with a more visual learning style might picture rice being spilled on the floor to remember a certain passage. And a kinesthetic learner might touch the instrument and feel the vibrations or compare the music to the sensation of riding a horse at full gallop. 

When I created my web site many years ago, I bought a package deal, for the consultant to spend a few hours with me setting up the web site and showing me the basics, then to be available to answer my questions. Don’t take “showing” literally. He quickly saw how important it was for me to put my fingers on the keyboard and try things out myself. A whole variety of kinesthetic metaphors would fit here. I paced. I tore out my hair. I stumbled. But bit by bit I got the “feel” for it. I nosed my way into it. 

So if you find yourself confused when trying to learn something new, or frustrated when trying to teach someone something new, preferred ways of learning may not have been addressed. Here's a general way to assess a learning style:

When you..
Kinesthetic & Tactile
Do you try to see the word?
Do you sound out the word or use a phonetic approach?
Do you write the word down to find if it feels right?
Do you favor words such as see, picture, and imagine?
Do you use words such as hear, tune, and think?
Do you use words such as feel, touch, and hold?
Do you become distracted by untidiness or movement?
Do you become distracted by sounds or noises?
Do you become distracted by activity around you?
Meet someone again
Do you forget names but remember faces or remember where you met?
Do you forget faces but remember names or remember what you talked about?
Do you remember best what you did together?
Contact people on business
Do you prefer direct, face-to-face, personal meetings?
Do you prefer the telephone?
Do you talk with them while walking or participating in an activity?
Do you like descriptive scenes. imagine the actions?
Do you hear the characters talk?
Do you prefer action stories?
Do something new
Do you like to see demonstrations, diagrams, slides, or posters?
Do you prefer verbal instructions or talking about it with someone else?
Do you prefer to jump right in and try it?

For a free, detailed learning style assessment, go to 
Colin Rose's Accelerated Learning.