Can I give you some feedback?

An irritated face at my door

Some one came in to my office and said to me: can I give you some feedback?  Yes, of course I said.  Sit down.  Would you like a cup of tea?

My interlocutor had though, absolutely no intention of giving me feedback about anything.

Feedback is not about me

Feedback means the distance between where we are and the goal we want to achieve.  And preferably, contains information that allows us to steer towards the goal.

If my interlocutor had such information, they should not have been keeping it to themselves.  That would be poor team play indeed.  And if they really had feedback about our joint goals, why would this be cause for embarrassment?

Oh, you have a complaint?

Of course, my interlocutor really wants to make a complaint.  They feel annoyed or irritated with me about something.  And as these are rather hostile emotions, they feel embarrassed.

No one likes to feel embarrassed, so they’ve become indignant and righteous instead.

Am I feeling playful?

Now if I were in a mischievious mood, I could let them sweat.  But as I wasn’t, I thought I would let them off the hook of their own anger.  Grab a chair, have a cup of tea, and tell me all about it.

Anger is such difficult emotion

It can be so difficult to give up anger.  Anger is to do with status.  Someone has ‘dissed us’ and we want our status restored.  So often we want nothing else.  Just an apology, an acknowledgment, and a sense that we are appreciated.

But it is too embarrassing to begin the conversation – you dissed me – so we dress up our anguish in other terms.

So feedback was just a request for an apology?

Of course, sometimes there is more to someone’s complaint than anger.  And we can address whatever specific issues arise.

But most times, the redress and correction is easily done.  What’s really wanted is for status to be restored.

How was that cup of tea?  Do you feel better?

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From anger to effective action

Anger: Stage Two of the Banking Crisis

Today, senior bankers fronted up to a Select Committee to make their apologies.  Shortly afterward, BBC ran a chat show and asked the public whether apologies were enough.  The public had a lot to say and the BBC presenter was clearly testing the depth of our anger.

Anger is Stage Two in the FIVE stage process of receiving bad news: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So what does acceptance look like and how do we get there?

David Whyte, corporate poet, tells a good story that helps us understand the beginning and end of the five stage process, what we have to do to move from start to finish,  and why it is so difficult to take the first steps.

Whyte was trekking in Nepal.  He had left his friends and came, alone, on a ravine with a rope bridge in poor state of repair.  He was horrified.  It was too dangerous to use the bridge and too late to turn back and rejoin his companions.

So many situations are similar. We are stuck. It is too dangerous to do what we want to do and we cannot immediately see a way out of our predicament.  We are overcome by a mix of frustration, anxiety, shame and fear, and are in Stage One and Stage Two.  We are ‘all emotion’, and reasonably so.  After all, we are in trouble.

But in that funk, we cannot think clearly and cannot find a way out of our dilemma.

Tomorrow, I’ll break the situation into psychological terms and point out what we have to do if we are ever to move on.

Come with me!

5 speed gears for the recession

A sheepdog taking a break in some wool, Victor...
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As energetic as a sheepdog!

On another one of my many international flights, a hyperactive attendant was running up-and-down barking orders like a sheepdog as one of my fellow passengers put it. Hyper-energetic people can be tiresome!

Initiative

For a few days now, I’ve been writing about initiative because I’ve become irritated with people sitting around complaining about the recession and ‘all the bad people’ who brought it about.  These complaints claim no responsiblity and worse, promise no contribution to getting us out of this mess.  Before I became too irritated and bossy like a diligent sheepdog, I decided to use a week to review the essence of initiaiive.  Why is it that sometimes we get on with things, and other times we do not?

3 types of initiative

Michael Frese of Giessen University divides initiative into self-starting (jumping in and making tasks our own), proactivity (mentally preparing ourselves and learning about the world) and persistence (dealing with distractions on their own terms and coming back to our own goals).  Self-starters may seem the opposite of planners and persistent people may lack flexibility.

In truth, we need to understand how the world works so we can make an adequate set of plans.  If we do that, we can distinguish between distractions that call for our attention right now, and our own goals that we will get back to soon.  Then we find that our work rate goes up, and we feel goal oriented and on top of our to do list (and the world).

When is it time to chill?

But do we want to be hyperactive all the time – like the flight attendant who behaved like an a collie dog herding sheep?

  • Sometimes we are on a learning curve.  When we’ve had bad news – and what else is the recession than bad news? – then we also have to go through an emotional curve of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  That is our goal and our task immediately – to be patient with ourselves and to work through the curve.
  • Sometimes it is time for a rest.  We want to be like the collie in the picture who is taking a rest in the wool!  There is time for everything and recreation is important.
  • Sometimes it is time to wait.  On these long-distance flights, the worst thing we can do is look at the screen telling we how far we still have to go.  12 hours, 11 hours – it will drive you mad.  Sometimes our task is to wait.

Can we afford to wait?

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing though!

  • The pilot is driving the plane.  Everything is in hand.
  • We are allowing a well understood process to unfold.  Should we be required to help out, in an evacuation for example, having listened to the safety instructions, we’ll act promptly and decisively.
  • We understand that people around us may be restless, disorganized, agitated or confused.  We make a comfortable social bubble where they can settle down and relax for the ‘long haul’.
  • We relax ourselves knowing that we will need energy for sorting out hassles at the other end.
  • And we enjoy the flight – the movies, our book, a bit of day dreaming, the life stories of our neighbours.

Sometimes initiative means chilling because initiative means letting a process unfold the way it should!

The right speed and the recession

Having lived through an economic melt-down before, I’ve learned we can predict ahead how people react.  These are my estimates.

  • A lot of people will ‘hold their breath’ for another year hoping that the recession will just go away.  They are ‘happy’ to be in the denial or anger stages.
  • Many people will ‘bargain‘ and try to cope individually.  They will trim expenditure and try to be extra-sweet at work to avoid redundancy.
  • Some will lapse into nostalgia and talk endlessly about better days.
  • A handful will find opportunities and be working on them regardless.

What will the first four groups do in a years’ time when the world has moved on?  I think the fifth group needs to think ahead to how to incorporate people who will not have made much preparation for 2010.

Come with me!

What is your feeling about the speed at which we will adjust to the crisis?

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Sing and dance to the music of the recession!

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance & the financial crisis

Over the last one -and-a-quarter years, since the run on Northern Rock, I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand the credit crunch, the financial crisis and the recession.  The nature of understanding big, bad events is that we are so busy trying to understand them that we have little time to reflect.

Typically, we follow a five stage process.

  • First, we deny the crisis either saying “I’m OK – it doesn’t affect me” or conversely ranting “This can’t be happening.”
  • Then we move on to anger, when we are quite clear we are not to blame and that someone else such as politicians and bankers should be punished for getting us in to our mess.
  • When we are a bit further along, we work out what will stay the same in our lives and what we can can cut out.
  • The next stage is to resign ourselves to our mess dragging on for twenty years or so,  and we are actually secretly relieved because if the mess is that big, there is nothing you and I, ordinary Joe citizen, can do about it.
  • And eventually we begin to dig beneath the surface of the crisis and, in this case, set about upgrading our financial know-how and skills.

Where are you?  And where are the people around you?

My job as a psychologist

I have a page where I store good, accessible explanations of how we got into the financial crisis and I will expand it to include the financial know-how that you and I should have.

Being a psychologist though, I think it is my job to bring to your attention key psychological ideas that equip you for understanding the recession and the ways we react to it.

  • The first psychological idea in this post is described in the at the beginning.  We often respond to bad news in five rough stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We go through these stages when we hear of the sudden death of a loved one.  And we are going through similar stages as we get our heads around the idea that our financial system has been subject to a the equivalent of a major earthquake.
  • The second psychological idea in this post is that objective knowledge matters.  Positive psychology emphasizes that our attitude to a problem makes a big difference.  It does, and I will return to that in other posts.   But objective information matters too.  It is foolish to pretend that a large box isn’t heavy.  We are much better off when we understand the principle of levers.  We do need to take charge of our education about the financial system.  We clearly did not understand it well enough to play our role as informed voters, wise buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, and savvy consumers of mortgages and credit cards.
  • The third psychological idea is the one I wanted to highlight today because I think it will be key to the mental housekeeping required to come to terms with the recession.

In the west, we have a weird idea that time is linear

Of course, we ‘know’ that yesterday was before today and today comes before tomorrow.  Unfortunately our separation of time into yesterday, today and tomorrow, has some peculiar side effects.   This works in two ways.

  • In good times, we spend like mad and rack up debt.   We take ‘Carpe Diem‘ or ‘seize the day’ far too far.   Tomorrow features insufficiently in our thinking about today, and when tomorrow comes, we are in a mess.
  • Equally, in bad times, we look ahead, see a diminished tomorrow, and we feel dejected.  In short, we bring tomorrow far too much into today.

This inability to act appropriately in time is an inability to ‘give unto Ceasar’ or to accept that ‘for everything there is a season’.  The net effect is that we enjoy life a lot less.  We also rack up unhealthy deficits and one day we wake up very disappointed with our lives and where we have taken ourselves.

And then we are into the five stage process I described at the outset. This cannot be happening. It is not my fault.  OK, I will compromise.  Oh, this is impossible.  And then ultimately: OK, I’d better get on and understand this.

Are you acquainted with philosopher Alan Watts?

At the end of this post is a video presentation, about 3 minutes long, that accompanies the late English philosopher, Alan Watts, talking about the way we confuse time.

He begins “you get into kindegarten, then you get into first grade  .  .   .”  And ends, life “was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance or sing while the music was being played”.

Do watch it!

I grew up in a competitive culture so this resonated with me.  I have long protested that we should let 3 year olds be 3, and 18 years olds be 18.  Preparing for the next year is part of a 3 year old’s experience but it is not all of their task.  And being 3 should never be dreary.  Nor should being 84!

Recessions are simply part of life

Like preparing for a test or examination, they are there to be enjoyed (!) along with all the other activities that come at the same stage.

It takes time to work through the five stages of our reaction to bad news.  And we work through at different paces.  So we need to be patient with ourselves and each other.  But we also do need to resolve not to become stuck at any stage.

We may be in for a long and difficult time in this financial crisis.  What I am suggesting is that we sing and dance to the music nonetheless!

Come with me!

Here is the link to this great presentation accompanying Alan Watts.  Do enjoy it and have a good weekend!  There is a season for everything!

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