12 useful coaching questions based on the FIRO-B

Checkers Dessert Menu on Vinyl 3 by FredMikeRuby via FlickrPersonality questionnaires then and now

Almost a century ago, In the early flurrie of personality testing, it seems we were drawn to models that sorted us into types and then subdivided types with a secondary, intuitively appealing question such as what do we do under pressure, or what do we show and what do we want.

These days, we tend to describe personality along 5 lines.  We are regarded as having more-or-less extraversion, emotionality, openess, conscientiousness and agreeability.   We simply measure you on each and draw a ‘profile’ which we then reconstruct into a story you can understand.

Here is a version of the ‘Big Five’ from You Just Get Me.  As ever, long to fill out but with a cool interface.

Old Tests and Corporate Coaching

The older tests might be a lot clumsier in their formulation, and almost impossible to use in scientific models and investigations, but they are a lot easier for lay people to grasp and intuit.  We are also slow to change our ways and they are found in training rooms across the corporate world.

One very popular test is the Firo B.  We are measured on the extent to which we ask for or demand inclusion, control and affection and the extent to which we secretly want the same.  Some people, for example, will be inclusive to others but don’t  want a lot of inclusion themselves.  Others are the opposite.  They don’t include anyone but want to be included.  And so it is with control and affection too.

12 Coaching Questions

As a coaching tool, the FIRO-B leads to some good coaching questions that people find useful in understanding their style and preferences and how other people might experience them.

Preferences about inclusivity

If they are very including, they  can ask themselves whether they give others enough space?

If they are not including in their style and mannerism, do they ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to participate?

If they like to be included, they can ask themselves whether they expect others to seek their input unprompted and whether they take the trouble to ask for the input of others?

If they  don’t like to be included, do they meet with their team often enough to satisfy their needs?

Preferences for control

If I talk a lot about having everything organized and under control, do I also talk a lot about my ideas at the expense of the ideas of others?

If I am dismissive or disinterested in order and control, can I let people who like to be organized have their heads and set priorties?

If I have a strong need to be organized, do I regularly test whether it matters if a plan or arrangement is flexible or ambiguous?

I f I have a deep dislike for any order or organization, is it simply a personal need for independence or is there a real problem that should concern every one else too?

Preference for affection

If I am generally a very affectionate and expressive person, could I intrude less on others?

If I generally don’t welcome displays of affection and emotion, would it be possible to support and encourage others more

If I have a strong need for attention and interaction with others, am I too dependent on feedback on my work?

If I have little need for attention and interaction with others, does my emotional distance prevent me from being seen as supportive?

Use these questions at home!

Yes, do.  But don’t over-reflect.  The idea in coaching is to find something you can do that will bring greated comfort and effectiveness for both you and your colleagues.

Enjoy Open Space events by becoming a player

Lost at an Open Space event

Cindy Hoong comments that at Open Space events, we wander around feeling lost and pretending we aren’t so that we fit in with the geeks.

Mmm . . . . yes, I did remember that feeling as I cast around looking for landmarks to orient myself.  We do like a measure of order in our lives and plenty of control for ourselves.

The first stage of group formation, anyway, reminds leaders that we are totally dependent on them to answer the question in our minds, “Do I belong here?”

Landmarks help people move from dependence to independence.  Social landmarks help us feel included.

What can we do when we feel lost at an Open Space event?

One of the most important features of an open space event is that everyone takes part – even if it is only to demonstrate how to make a cup of coffee.

If the event is half-half – then I would fall back on the open source principles. Think of something you like to do and volunteer to do it.  Offer to staff the reception area.  Offer to make the coffee. Set yourself up as official photographer or blogger.  Do something inanane ~ match people in green sweaters to people in green sweaters.

But do something. Preferably something you like to do.  Preferably something you are good at.  Preferably something that achieves a goal important to you.

Then your mindset changes. You want to know where the signing up board is.  You want to grab a room. You want to get to know the other participants so you can tailor your presentation.

Get into the flow.  Join the river.  Become a player.

Hope that helps!

Not a sudden revolution in human nature but a gradual evolution in human institutions

Tony de Mello

My internet rambles threw up a contemporary philosopher that I hadn’t encountered before: Tony de Mello.  Catholic priest from Indian, Tony de Mello challenges our yo-yo swings between the idea that we can and should control the world and our irritation when we find out that we cannot.

With western thinking, frustration often drives us to despair

Tony de Mello uses a good example.  Someone jumps the queue and it irritates us.   Would we, he asks, take a sledge hammer to ourselves?   Why do we punish ourselves with a bout of ill temper?

Does putting aside our ill-temper mean we should accept unfairness passively?

Should we do nothing about the queue-jumper?  Quite possibly. Particularly if we are feeling ill-tempered.  We are unlikely to be effective.

But we shouldn’t be passive.   Our first task is to attend to our ill temper.  Then when we are in a clear and positive state of mind, we can see what if anything can be done.

Choices in tough conditions

In a separate post I found a longer description of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl’s explanation of the choices that we face under the direst of circumstances.

These are the three rules of thumb which I’ve tried to make concrete because I am still more comfortable with explanations of what “I do” rather than explanations of what “I be.”

#1 The world is not ours to control

I do feel better when I let go.  I can understand the world as scientist.  I can represent imaginative changes to the world as an artist.  But as a celebration of what is miraculous rather than as a need to control it.

#2 Other people are not here to do my bidding

It matters not whether I use force or charm.  People are not here for my purposes.

Rather I am able to build good relationships between myself and others.

#3 Accept that other people express fear, anger, pain, misery and spite

Of course, people will not be nice just because I am willing to be nice.  How nice are people when they crowd onto a commuter train or worry about their job security?  They will do what they will do.

What I am able to do is to be realistic about what they are feeling and doing and concern myself with how I react.  How does my interior world echo back events in the world to me?   What am I making of these events and am I absorbing their unpleasantness into my life?  It can be hard to remember that they are not here to do my bidding.  Nor I theirs.

To become discomposed by their actions is like remonstrating with boiling water for being hot.  I need to get a grip on irrelevant emotion, step back and consider the circumstances and my goals.

A gradual evolution in human institutions

When Barack Obama accepted his Peace Prize in Oslo this week, he quoted J F Kennedy.

“Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace–based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions–on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace–no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process–a way of solving problems.”

People won’t change.  But I can contribute by the slow improvement in the ways that we settle our differences.  And I can be realistic and expect to renegotiate our differences continually.  Daily. Calmly.

JFK went on.

“With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interest, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor–it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that

————–

We all inhabit this small planet.

We all breathe the same air.

We all cherish our children’s

future. And we are all mortal.

————–

“Enemies between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever.  However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.

So let us persevere. Peace need not be the impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.”

So I can persevere.  I need not be at odds with the world.  I will get further by not expecting perfection.  I will get further “By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.”

For that, I need to be in good shape.  To be in a good temper with the world.  It seems selfish to be happy.  It also seems tautological.  But it seems true that to be happy we must be happy.   Yes, here is the “be”.  As I am not that good at “to be”, I will just do happy!  I will not ignore the world. But first I will do happy.  Then I can attend to our relationships and institutions.  And then maybe the world won’t feel as it it needs to be controlled!

Maybe that is the goal?  To live in a way that we don’t feel as it the world is dangerously out of control.  First, attend to ourselves.  Then to our relationships.  And then we can celebrate the world as scientists and artists.

So an Indian Catholic priest, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the holocaust, a Roman Catholic President and Kenyan Ecumenical President ~ why do we find it so difficult to grasp what they are saying.  Well, begin by being happy.

Three video clips of Tony de Mello talking are here.

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3 questions to ask when you are stuck

I’m stuck!  Oh, we are. So often!

From time to time, we feel like we are stuck deep mud

Have you ever driven a car into deep mud? It’s infuriating.  Your first impulse is to gun the engine. Your wheels spin. And you sink into the mud!

Arrgh! We got into the mud because we were in a hurry and in frustration we’ve made it even harder to get out!

Knowledge matters when we are stuck in mud

  • Try explaining to a driver stuck in mud that they must inch out!
  • Try explaining that they must put the lightest touch on the accelerator and give the wheels a chance to gain traction!
  • Try explaining that we might need to put something dry under the wheels to give them some grip.
  • Try explaining that pushing and heaving is not the answer.

Patience and know-how is going to win the day!

Change driver? I would but it is your life!

When people sink real cars into real mud, it is often easier to tell them to get out and let me drive the car out. Especially if they are blokes. They don’t listen to women about driving!

But in the real world, you have to drive yourself out. I can’t do that for you.  I am also going to leave you if you are so engrossed in your own wobbly that all you want to do is put your foot on the pedal.

When you are willing to calm down and work patiently to get out of this muddy dilemma, then we can work together.

These are the questions we will ask and answer when you are stuck in mud

  • Where are the wheels? Where are our traction points? Where are our points of contact with the world or the problem?
  • What could we put under the wheels? Is there some gravel or cardboard or grass we could put under the wheels? What can we do to help the world help us?
  • Can we be trusted to put the vehicle in first gear, or even reverse, and apply our feet very lightly to the gas pedal? Can we be relied upon to inch out with out getting into other mud, splattering your helpers, or driving into them? Will you concentrate?

Of course you can get out of a difficult situation

But you have to want to. You have to have some idea that this is an important task. You are going to have to ditch your temper tantrum. You are going to have to work with what is workable – what is in touch with the world and how can we strengthen the connection.  You are going to be controlled – a light touch to allow the world to respond helpfully. You are going to have to know your tools and use them to express your respect to the world.

You can’t try this and then that and then something else. Control is of the essence here.

  • Review the situation and find the points were we make contact with the world.
  • Improve the traction at those points.
  • Inch out using touch-and-feel to improve the traction.

Are you up for getting out of stuck?

Psychologists, mentors, coaches help you keep your nerve. But you will do the work. And you can begin right now by taking a deep breath and listing all the points in the system where something works – anything that works.

Take that list to your psychologist. Well, you might save yourself the fee and solve the problem yourself!

We set goals to give ourselves control. My blogging story shows how.

2 months to go in 2009!  Are you on target to meet your goals?

One of my goals in 2009 was to increase my blog traffic.  In January, I reviewed my blog and what I had read about good blogging and bad.

As ever when we have a big push, we often achieve what we want, and learn that quite different rules apply than ones we had previously thought. This is my story of how my blogging goals shifted as I coped with the ebb and flow of 2009.

The received wisdom in blogging amount to

  • Stay at the top of people’s feed readers
    • Have an RSS feed so people can subscribe
    • Post often
  • Be found in search
    • Choose keywords for which you want to be known
    • Include them in the title and in the body of the post
  • Great content
    • Write scanable short posts
    • Show the benefits of post to the audience
  • Comment on other people’s blogs
    • Your interest in their work is your best advert
    • Your comment provides a permanent link back to your blog which humans follow and which Google counts for page rank

These are the blogging rules I would add

  • Comments
    • Cut out the elaborate logins with Disqus etc.  People will leave comments if you let them do it quickly
    • Have an RSS for comments as well the post and have it next to the submit button
  • Take search seriously
    • Alexa rankings will tell you what percentage of your traffic is from search
    • Mine is low – less than 10%.  Obviously I could improve that.
  • Great content
    • Write for yourself.  The pros do write great magazine pieces.  Write normally and develop your own style.
    • Alexa rankings also tell you the bounce rates, the number of pages each visitor reads and the time spent on site.  I have a very low bounce rate (below 25%), high number of pages (above 5) and high time on site (more than 5 minutes).
    • Google Analytics also gives these numbers.  I use WordPress.com which doesn’t allow a link to Google Analytics
  • Get recommendations
    • Your real goal on the internet is to get people to recommend you.
    • Visiting your site is a recommendation.
    • Commenting on your site is a recommendation.
    • Commenting on other people’s sites is a recommendation (even though it is made by you!)
    • Also Stumble your post and use tags from their basic list of categories.  You will get 50-100 hits from your own recommendation.  Among those visitors some will give a thumbs up.  Your traffic and your chances of another thumbs up goes up exponentially with each thumbs up.

My Results for 2009

I started well in 2009 driving up my traffic upwards each month to 5 000 hits a month which was my modest goal.  Then I got busy on other things and my blog suffered.  In September, I got back to blogging and began to blog more than once a day to catch up.  I also started to use Stumbleupon better.

I probably won’t make 60 000 for the year, but better still, I’ve discovered the art of getting 10K a month.  Such is the result of making a big effort. We learn.

And our goals change accordingly.  Ultimately we set goals to give ourselves control.

In what areas of your life are you in more control than you were last year?

 

 

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A currency of visions not a currency of force.Thank *** we live in the 21st century!

Masculine cultures are not about ‘guys’ – they are about force

Yesterday, I heard two female politicians bickering on BBC Radio 4 – talking over each other as the male moderator said amiably. A tedious, wearisome listen.

This ‘spectacle’ (what is the auditory equivalent?) neatly illustrates the point that masculine cultures are not to do with ‘guys’.  Masculine cultures are to do with the currency of force.

Britain’s masculine culture

Britain has long had a masculine culture.  Though smooth and very often, very witty, British culture is not so much controlled as controlling. When it is relaxed and funny, as it often is on BBC Radio 4, it is also complacent.   The funny people live in the certain knowledge that their status in the world is not being challenged, let alone threatened.

Watch how they react if they have to account for themselves! That is the test of a culture.  How do we respond to the huge variety of visions in the world – and our need to fit our visions into the visions of others?  What do we do when people long-ignored want room to pursue their visions?

Sadly, we often move to defend “our right” to live as a law unto ourselves.  We often demand that the newly-enfranchised make room for us, even though we have never made room for them, and certainly don’t intend to start now.

Britain’s masculine culture in the literature and film

The masculine culture of Britain is an old story and is often told in literature and film.   For utter complacency, read P.G. Woodehouse and the relationship between Bertie and his butler Jeeves.  For the ongoing struggle, read Rumpole stories and his manouvering around institutionalized class in the legal system.

And for an alternative to a ‘masculine culture’, find yourself a copy of Goodbye Mr Chips -the old musical or the modern version with Martin Clues – both are great.  Settle down for a charming 1.5 hours and the better possibilities a feminine culture.

I am so glad to be living in the 21st century!

What a relief!   Not least for guys who must be heartily sick of the pushing-and-shoving they have been required to endure.

In the 21st century, our currency will be less of force and more of visions.

5 Little Understood Ways to be Resilient in Hard Times

I am 99% persuaded by positive psychology, largely because I thought like a positive psychologist long before it was invented.  I never took to clinical psychology so I had nothing to discard, so to speak.

But it is the darker side of life where I think positive psychology has its limits.  Maybe the typical positive psychologist does not feel that because they have the skills to deal with people who are deeply unhappy.

My reservations come at many levels.   As a practitioner, though, I want to know what to do when we are in a dark place.

What does it mean to be resilient when times are terrible?  What are the critical processes that we are trying to leverage?

If I succeed at exercising leadership when times are miserable, if I show resilience and help others to be resilient, what might these processes be?

Here are 5 processes underlying resilience

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Active listening

The key to listening to angry people, among which I include people who are deeply insulted, humiliated, frightened, defeated and generally gibbering wrecks, is to acknowledge their emotion.  We don’t have to agree with their emotion.  We don’t have to copy their emotion.  We don’t have to make any comment about the circumstances.

We simply have to acknowledge the emotion, and show, through our acknowledgement, that we still respect the person, in spite their emotional display, and in spite the circumstances that led to these humiliating circumstances.

Generally, that leads to slight embarrassment on their part but that is a much more comfortable emotion than the anger and hurt.

Developing a group

We are often angry and humiliated when we have lost status and losing status usually means losing status in a group or being ejected from a group. Referring to a group to which we are both a part helps restore status.

Additionally, when people have been humiliated in front of their nearest and dearest, particularly the partners, children and parents, we should restore their status in their eyes too.

Identify small actions

Anger comes from loss of status and be implication, loss of control. When we look for small things we can do now, and we do them, we feel better.

Be grateful ourselves for having the opportunity to help

While we are doing all three above, we are active. We take the initiative. We are in control. We belong.

Be grateful, and allow our gratitude to show to the other person.  They will be grateful in turn.

Gratitude is a great mood-lifter.

Enjoy the results

As the other person lifts from utter dejection to a willingness to try, enjoy.  And be grateful again.  That way we share the ‘positive feedback’ with the other.   Let them share the way our mood has improved.

And watch the entire group become more buoyant

If we have done our job well, collective efficacy and trust should have risen.  And we all know that collective efficacy – our belief that our colleagues are competent – is the most powerful factor in raising school quality.  It is bound to have the same impact in other circumstances.

Trust also creates upward positive feedback spirals.  Though, we may need a lot when we start from a dark place.

What do you think?

  • Are these the effective mechanisms for regaining resilience in desperate places?
  • Are these effective mechanisms for encouraging people who really have few ways forward and little to push off from?
  • Would these questions even help you in the day-to-day dispiriting trials of the western world – like getting stranded in an overcrowded airport?
  • Are you able to try them out in the less-than-terrible conditions so that one day you can use them when life is truly terrible?

To recap:

L – Listen

G – Group

A – Act

G – Gratitude

E – Enjoy

Flu, Ghurkhas, 100 days and we the people

Day Two at Xoozya

Home!  A cup of tea! Hmm, no milk.  I took out a tea bag from the pot, made some black tea.

Interesting.  Fair Trade English Breakfast tea tastes much better black.  Ta da!  Been in the UK for two years and I’ve struggled to find a tea I like.  I’d been told it is the water that makes the tea taste funny.  Maybe it is the milk.  Black tea for me from now on.

News!  The world has moved on while I had my head down preparing proposals.

The words of 29 April 2009

  • Swine flu up to level 5 – pandemic imminent.  British troops departure from Iraq is also imminent.  Odd use of words don’t you think?  Why didn’t BBC say British troops are close to leaving Iraq? Or preparing to leave Iraq?
  • 27 Government MP’s broke ranks and voted against a Government proposal to restrict Ghurka residency in UK.  BBC is saying the vote challenged the PM’s ‘authority’.  Did they mean ‘control’?   Surely I elect my MP to represent me and Parliament has greater authority than the PM?  Authority = legitimate power and all the power is delegated ultimately from Parliament?  The PM answers to Parliament surely?  Well, I grew up in a republic so maybe I have this wrong.  Correct me if I am, please.
  • Obama’s 100 days.  This time I liked the BBC’s choice of words. Something like – the sentiment in America is that “we have chosen the right person for the job”.  Yes, much better.

We have chosen the right person for the job

Feel the tension fall away.  We have chosen the right person for the job.

We the people have chosen and we are happy not just that we are right, but because in our rightness, we see, hear and feel our collective competence.

We notice the 2 long years we put into making our choice was a good investment.  We notice the American people, man and woman, young and old have good judgment.  We notice that the American people despite their differences are able to sit down and thrash out what needs to be done.  We notice that even when times are hard and it would be oh, so, so easy to get it all wrong, the American people didn’t lose their nerve.  We notice the American people invest in a collective agreement even though their own view, temporarily, may not dominate.  And so our confidence rises that we can make another collective agreement, then another, and then another.  (Yes, for the first time in my long life, I’m in danger of becoming an American groupie!)

I don’t like the current tendency in British politics to “play the man and not the ball”.  I don’t like the rendition by BBC that MP’s triumphed “against” Parliament.  No. The MP’s triumphed because they worked with Parliament.

Today should have been a celebration that we are able to discuss serious matters (very serious for the Ghurkhas and their families) without coming to blows.  Today, we should be celebrating that Parliament works.  Today, we should be should be celebrating that our chosen representatives can go to the capital and present our views.  Our views.  We the people.

A man from a neighboring village won his case last year to erect a small memorial on the bridge connecting our settlements.  This memorial is to the soldiers of Richard II and Cromwell who lost their lives fighting for Parliament.  Parliament was hard-won in similar battles all over the UK.  Parliament is a hard-won right and should be cherished and celebrated with our cup of tea (without milk)!

Xooyzya!

A play on the Greek for authority.  We the people.  We the people are quite capable of sitting down to discuss our differences, even when our differences frighten us.

And we are going to need a little solidarity if this flu breaks out.  I hope HR departments across the land are stepping up hygiene.  Tissues and wipes everywhere.  Rubbish bins cleared more often.

Time to check the share price for tissue-makers!

We the people have chosen the right person for the job.

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Positive psychology on despair and world conflict

To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already there?

As I’ve watched the supersonic work pace of Barack Obama, I’ve also been annoyed with the curmudgeonly spirit of many commentators.

I believe they are scared.  Not because of anything Barack Obama may or may not do, but because Barack Obama may be the person we all want to be.   If it is possible to be articulate, poised, present, warm, honest, then we don’t have to be scared, hesitant, insecure, insincere and most of all ‘outsiders’.  We can just ‘be’ and ‘be accepted’.  To arrive is scary.  What will be our journey, if we are already here?

Don’t let disappointment be an excuse to delay arrival

Nonetheless, I was very disappointed by the bombing of Pakistan.  Sending an unmanned drone into a civilian building seems to me a murderous act.  How can we defend this?  I would like this to stop.

We want what we don’t like not to be

My emotional reaction to this event follows a spiral that, I believe, is quite common when ordinary people follow politics and world events. I read the reports and I felt disgust.  Then I felt judgmental.  And then I wanted to reject what disgusted me.

And when reality does not cooperate, we sulk

But the source of my disgust is in power (and popular).  Rejection is not an option open to me. So, I felt down and dejected.  Feeling that there was nothing I could do but endure the undurable, I withdrew, at least emotionally, and felt alienated, despondent and dejected

Curmudgeonly behavior is a mark of esteem in UK but it is “wet”

It is very likely that many people who express a curmudgeonly view are going through a similar process.  Something specific disgusts them, and they allow that one point, important as it may be, to allow them to feel despair about all points.  Positive psychologists call this ‘catastrophizing‘.   We go from one negative point to believing that we lack control.  Not only do we believe that we lack control on this issue, we go on to believe that we lack control on other issues too.  And we don’t stop there.  We go on to believe that we will always lack control, to the end of time.  In other words, we feel that what has gone wrong is persistent, pervasive, and personal.

So what am I going to do?

Put the strength of my feeling in words

Well, this issue is important to me.  I am sickened by the bombing of civilian targets.  I am ashamed it was done.  I leaves me uncomfortable and embarrassed and feeling that our condolences are woefully insufficient.  I don’t even know how to express this adequately.

Be a player

But it is also wrong to write off the hope that has come to the world.  One day I may be in a position to influence decisions like this.  And if I am to open a conversation with influential people, I need to be informed, and much more informed than I am now.  So I will become so.

List specific small things that I can do

And for now, should I meet my MP, who is a UK specialist on the conflict in Afghanistan, I will ask him.  I will tell I am unhappy and that I want to know more.  And though the whole matter makes me want to throw up, I will listen and learn.

Stay where the decisions are made

If we want the world to be as we wish, we cannot pick up our toys and go home every time we don’t like something.  I am afraid the art of politics is to be where the decisions are made.  Sometimes we have to stay and engage.

Stop the decline into ineffectiveness

Positive psychology does not say that the problems of the world will go away.  But it does help us not sink into despair and become ineffectual.

Come with me!

  • Is there something that makes you angry and fearful?  Are you overgeneralising from one issue, thinking it is ‘persistent, pervasive and personal’ – catastrophising?
  • If you put aside your general despair and remain in the forum where decisions are made, what do you need to do to become more effective at influencing our collective decisions?
  • And having thought this through, can you see a way that you may be able to influence events in future?

Hope: how can this touchy-feely stuff help me during the recession?

“I hope so.”

How many times have you said that, and in the true spirit of England meant “I very much doubt it”, or ,”It had better, or someone must watch out.”

Hope was out of bounds

When I studied psychology, we didn’t study phenomena such as hope.  ‘Behaviour’ was ‘in’.  If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist.  If it didn’t respond to the experimenters’ manipulation, it was unimportant.

Character, intent, and morality were out.  Be like a rat, or psychologists wouldn’t pay any attention to you.  (Hmm, good idea perhaps?)

Virtues

Positive psychology, under the leadership of Martin Seligman, has changed all that.  Now we study virtue.  Are you zestful?  Are you prudent?

And we aren’t going to impose a menu on you either.  We’ll help you label the virtues that are dear to you, and have been dear to you for a long time.

Then we’ll help you build your life around them.

Hope

Hope is one of these virtues, but it is a tricky one.  It has a double meaning for positive psychologists as it does in lay language.  Some of us ‘specialize’ in hope as others ‘specialize’ courage, humility or love of beauty. If you want to label your ‘specialities’, you can take the virtues test here.

This is how positive psychologists define hope.

Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]
Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness – You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Hope is linked to control

Sadly, this defintion does not distinguish what we can control  from what we cannot.  People who want to control everything are likely to get very frustrated.  Too much hope of this kind is likely to be anything but a strength.

Equally, we know that hope is essential to all of us.  It is not just a ‘speciality’ chosen by some.  When we have hope, we are less stressed, even when conditions, objectively, are bad.  Those of us who design organizations and institutions as part of our professional work know that leaving control in the hands of individuals is the foundation stone of a viable, vital and vibrant collective.

Torturers understand the importance of hope and deliberately take control out of people’s hands. That is the nature of terrorism, whether it is a bomb on the tube, bullying in a school or factory, or threatening to drown someone when we question them for information.  The intent is to break our will by inducing “learned helplessness”, or the collapse of hope.

Hope is not just a virtue; it is as necessary as air

And there we turn the full circle.  If we are living in the shadow of a bully who is intent on removing hope, it is so, so, important not to let them get to you.  They are likely to succeed, at least in part, because we aren’t miracle workers.  But for every glimmer of hope we retain for yourself and others around us, we are winning.  They only win if they remove hope completely.

Positive psychologists often quote a concentration camp survivor who went on to train as a psychiatrist: Vaclev Havel.

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Sometimes life sucks

We have to remember that sometimes life sucks, and sometimes ‘shit happens’.  And sometimes it is big stuff that we didn’t invite and cannot control.  When focus on the randomness of life, we rehearse our sense that life is nonsense.  We deny hope.  And we break our own spirt as surely as a torturer.

But what can we do instead?

How do we nurture hope?

When we start to ‘take inventory’, to ‘start close in’, we express faith that our strengths were given to us to use in the situation we find ourselves in, and that we should use them even if the situation is awful and indeed, because the situation is awful.

Hope is not belief in an end point.  Hope is belief in a beginning point.  Hope is a belief in you and in me.

Come with me

What is your beginning point?  What is the best part of being you? I need to know too.  It strengthens my hope that it will all ‘make sense regardless of the way it turns out’.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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