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Month: November 2009

It’s your frontier that fascinates me!

“Oh, you are going to read my mind!”

When people meet me for the first time and ask what I do, I say, “I am a psychologist.”  And they reply, “Oh, you are going to read my mind!”  Some people squeal when they say that. Others wriggle most uncomfortably.

Depending on my mood, I say “No, I only do that when I get paid.  Or if I am feeling mean, “Is there anything to read?”

Both are true.  This is my work.  I am certainly not going to do it when I don’t get paid!  And our minds aren’t readable.  There is nothing in our heads but a jumble.

“No, but I’d be interested to know what is in there!”

Thankfully,  the jumble is quite interesting and I will enjoy listening to you. What is the story you tell?  Where have you come from and where are you going to? What is bothering you right now? How does the decision that you have to make today disrupt your story?

I want to know your frontier

When we are living on the frontier, we have lots of serious decisions to make.   They worry us deeply because somehow they don’t fit with the usual story we tell.

I’m glad you are on a frontier.  That means you are alive.  That means you are interesting.  You don’t feel it because at this moment, you are a little jumpy because you think you might have gone one frontier too far!

Have you?  Or does living fully mean that we have times when we wonder a little?

The 5 reasons you might talk to a psychologist are these

Dispassionate listening post

  • We will listen.  We aren’t a paid friend.  We are a sounding board.  You need a neutral sounding board because your decision is big.  Your friends can’t help you because they have a vested interest in your decision.  When you consult them, you are negotiating.! Your psychologist doesn’t  negotiate with you ~ except for their fee rate.

You pay (!:)) and you have someone who is a neutral interface between you and the world.

Space to hear yourself think

  • We will listen even when you are being a little tedious.  It’s not that we are super-patient.  There are times when we will push you too.  It’s just the tedious parts are the parts where you are stuck.  You have to hear yourself out loud to hear what you are saying.  You don’t hear yourself when you talk to friends because you are are talking with them.  What you are repeating is partly what they want to hear, yet don’t hear.

A third neutral person allows you to distinguish what you say from what your audience wants to hear.

Decide what you believe is right and wrong

  • We accept that you are making a hard decision.  It might seem trivial to someone else but the decision is hard because it affects your story.  This decision affects who you.  We know that you are debating what is right and wrong and what is worth doing and what it not.  This is a deeply moral decision.  It shocks us to make moral decisions.

We’ll stand by you until you get it right.  You will be the light of your own path.

Take first steps with some careful experimentation

  • We know that nothing is real in this world until you do it in the world.  We will encourage you to act.  Talking therapies have their limits.   Until you try out what you are doing in the real world, it means nothing.

We’ll help you define small experiments you can make to move you forward

Get the information you need to make a good decision

  • We’ve been around.   We are reasonably worldly.  We know that you gather information about other people’s intentions and preferences, about facilities available to you, about resources you need.  We’ll even help you do this because we may have quick internet searches and templates set up already or easily adapted from another project  elsewhere.

We will help you go to the source and find out what you need to know.  We will prefer you to do the fetching though because action is what gets you moving along a path to a decision.

How do you find a psychologist?

I would like to say it is easy.  I’ve tried in strange towns and it was incredibly difficult.  I’m afraid if you don’t know a psychology, and there aren’t that many, then they are hard to find.

I’ve been in UK for 2 years now and I know a range of people in my field.

I am a work psychologist

The decisions I specialize in are all to do with work.  What work should we do?  Who should we work with?  How can we work together profitably?  Are we getting the best out of a working arrangement, or could we get more?  Am I languishing and where could I flourish?

Most of the people I work with are not looking for a psychologist.  I could swing from the rafters for all they care!

Specific issues

People who ask me to work with them have a specific issue they want resolved.   They know they are at a fork in a journey. It’s not life threatening but they have a feeling that they want to get this one right.  They want someone who will pay attention, meet them on their own territory, and help them separate an issue into parts so they can make up their own minds what to do.  They also want information from other sources and advice on how to lay out their decision on a piece of paper or on a computer screen so they can think clearly.

Fast but thoughtful

They usually want to work fast and are impatient at diversions.  Sometimes we have to persuade them to slow down.  Sometimes we have to persuade them to “do some work” on thinking this decision through.

External facing and business oriented

Though they are making a big decision, it becomes fairly impersonal pretty fast.  Their work is a business and they want to run it well.  Taking time to stop and ask whether you are going in the right direction for them is pretty important.  They are only stopping briefly to clear their head and set up some priorities.

Frontiers are there to be conquered!

So, nope.  It’s not your mind that interests me.  It is your frontiers.   And the incredibly interesting story of how you choose them and set out to conquer them.

Sometimes I’ll ask you whether it would be better to speed up.  Other times I’ll ask whether it will be better to slow down.  But you will never be boring!

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Have fun at work. Pull your boss’ leg? Or is your boss pulling yours?

Work is not all serious

I’ve been writing serious posts.  That’s not surprising.  I’m of a serious turn of mind.

Have fun at work

But work is not all serious.  It’s possible to have fun at work and make money.

10 hacks for pulling your boss’ leg

Here are 10 hacks from dumblittleman for keeping good relationships!  They ar fun in a mischeivious sort of way

But what if they are pulling yours?

I suppose in countries where there is a strong tradition of irony, people will know what you are up to.  Heck, you boss might deliberately come in 5 minutes before you,  so you have to come in 5 minutes earlier!

Your boss might reply to your 5pm email with “as you have everything with you at home, can you sort this out quickly. See you in the morning at [your normal arrival time].”

Thank you for your coffee and ask for tea.

Do boss’ get irony?

It’s surprising how many people don’t get irony.  It’s also very surprising for someone in charge to get irony.  Being in charge does seem to make us blind to what other people think.

Can we remain playful and teasing in our approach to work?

Perhaps the dumblittleman can write 10 hacks for managers to remain playful and teasing in attitude to work?

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Choose to have a dream job. Write your dream job description now

Frustrated at work?

There are certainly times in life when we need to knock the dust off our feet and not look back.  But you have invested a lot in this job and you shouldn’t put it aside unless your next job is really worth another learning curve.

You shouldn’t live with frustration either. You aren’t nice to live with when you are frustrated!

Write your dream job description

Today, I played with a simple technique – I wrote my dream job description – in as much detail as I would if I were writing one professionally for a client.

The idea is that we cannot make a dream come true unless we imagine it. We still have to make it come true but first we must imagine the goal in technicolor detail.

Write your dream job description ~ don’t just daydream

And we must write down our dream.  Rarely do we write down our dreams, our draw them if we prefer.

We have to write down your dream to experience three things.

  • We aren’t clear on so many details.
  • We see we are hung up on details that aren’t terribly important.
  • Once we’ve done some work, we feel as if we are looking at a flower coming into bloom.

A bit of thinking often resolves the details.  We can abandon fixating about details that are just frills.   And we have a surge of relief at energize seeing our dream in front of our eyes.

Get moving on those baby steps!

Date your job description, store it away carefully, and get on with the next step!

Put aside everything that is does not take you towards the life you want!  Remember the dreams create the energy we need to act.  Then act we must.  Dreams are nothing until we take our first unsteady steps.

Review in a month ~ you’ll surprise yourself

Get Google Calendars to send you an email reminding you to reread it in 1 month.  You will be surprised at how far you have come!


Ah! I forgot. A structure for you.  Write your job description in five parts.

Situation [your boss’ concerns or it you running your own company ~ the company]

Mission [your overall goal that encompass the work of all your reports and contributes to your boss’ goal]

Execution [the goal for each of your direct reports]

Administration [the resources you and your reports will need to complete this mission]

Communication [the meetings you will have to assess your progress]

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The most important choice in your life: Are you big enough to step into your own dreams?

What do you really want to do in life?

Whenever you go near a positive career coach, they are going to ask you what you really want to do in life.

Guess what?

You are going to list excuses. Because if you were off following your dreams, you wouldn’t be talking to a career coach!!

Are you normally a wuss given to excuse making?

Probably not.  If you were, you wouldn’t be spending good money on a career coach.  And we will charge you a lot, just to make sure you are not!

What is holding you up?

So you paid your money, and you know you are up some sort of psychological cul-de-sac and you are making excuses.  What the **** is going on?

For a start, you are behaving normally.

We all have moments when we wake up and are confused about our purpose in life. Typically, this happens when we have been intensely busy.  While we had our heads down attending to detail, we took our eye off the bigger picture.

We are also shy.

It is normal to keep our dreams a little hidden, even from ourselves. We fear success. We are terrified of getting what we want because at that point, we are exposed.  What if it turns out to be a disappointment?  What if we won’t be who we thought we would be?

Making the most important choice in your life

When you go to see a career coach, that is the choice you are making.  You want to know whether you are big enough to step into your own dreams.

Well you won’t know until you try!

Here are five know facts about positive careers that I have rewritten from another blog.  It is a good example of positive career coaching.

#1 You won’t find what you love until you take the time to imagine it and draw it in exacting detail

#2 You won’t move forward until you can name and imagine your fears in excrutiating detail

#3 You’ll become purposefully efficient when you work on actions that move you forward and decisively put aside actions that don’t move you in the direction you value so deeply

#4 You plan will appear not to work until you move toward your destination which puts all other destinations aside

#5 You will get discouraged from time to time and when you do, you have two choices. If you are involved in an activity that does not take you forward, put it in your waste bin with relish and move on to something that does!  If the activity has proved to be an obstacle that you must move through and over to reach your destination, get on with it!

Writing the perfect job description is  #1.

  • Take your job description and rewrite it to match your dream job.  Put in your job title.   Write down who you report to and who reports to you.  Do the whole shooting match.
  • Now review your daily activities and remove what does not take you towards your dream (if you can).  Leave what takes your forward and what you do for love and fun.
  • Get moving!
  • Now do #2.  Imagine your fears in excruciating detail.  Imagine the villain to your hero as sympathetically as you imagine yourself. Let the story of you life unfold!
  • And when you are discouraged, take a walk in the park, get over the immediate emotional shock, then decide.  Where does this setback fit in to your journey?  Is it an obstacle that you will enjoy conquering on the way to your perfect job?  Or is this just trash to be put aside and ignored?

Get writing that job description!

Until you have it in technicolor glory, then you will be stuck at your crossroads wondering whether you are your boss is writing the story of your life?  That is the choice you are making.

Do you have what it takes to conquer your fear of being successful?


The honeymoon is over? Should I stay in this job?

Reviewing the situation . . .

There are moments in every project when we have to take stock.  Suddenly, we have details evey where, probably in a big mess.  Then, we ask ourselves, where exactly are we going?

It’s so tempting to walk away.  And, if you work for someone else, it’s easy to blame them for blocking you in!  The truth is that if you worked for yourself, you would reach the same point.  But this time you would sort out your crisis of confidence for yourself.

An example of rebuilding your own confidence

Let me give you an example of my blog.  Well, a blog is just a blog, you say.  That is true.  But if you are a knowledge worker, your blog is important.  It shows off your work and it gives you critical Google juice!

As we get better at blogging, we have to fine tune the content and look.  And we have to get a bigger bang for our buck – or better return for the time we put it!

So let’s use this as an example!

Last unsuccessful time

The first time I tried to tidy up my blog, my project was not a success!  I just started with the list of  posts and tried editing and re-classifing posts one by one.  It was bitty and it was horrible.

This successful time

This time, I began differently.

  • I sketched out what I want my blog to look like on a dummy server on my computer.  I selected 5 topics that I think will be important in the next two years. I had something to aim at.
  • Then I used some basic psychology.  I began with old categories that had few entries, reread the posts, tidying them up a little, and sometimes added updates and some better tags.
  • Then I reclassified the post into 1 of my 5 new categories.  Sometimes it was hard to choose but to choose one out of 5 is not too much of a tax on working memory and doesn’t get overwhelming.
  • When the category was empty, I deleted it!  Reward ~ I can see progress as the old list of categories grows shorter quickly!
  • Finally, I Stumbled my old posts, getting some basic traffic and learning a little about Stumbleupon as I went along.

I am enjoying my work!

  • The work is going smoothly ~ I can see what I am doing as I do it!
  • I am seeing progress!
  • I do it whenever I have a break from other projects.

It’s not done though.  I have 500 posts to sort and at a pace of 5 a day, which is a cracking pace, the job will take me three months.  Is that too much to ask to sort myself out?

Maybe the trick is not to wait for your boss to sort out your job.  Couldn’t you begin to sort out your job yourself?

Here are four basic steps

  • Write out your perfect job description (and keep it private of course)
  • Without disturbing your current job, take little pockets of your job (my small categories), and polish up those areas to match your future job description
  • Submit those improvements to your boss for his admiration and gratitude (:-) being realistic of course what is worth someone elses admiration and gratitude.
  • And plug on!  You know where you are going!

The trick though is to write the perfect job description. That’s the hard part.  Upcoming.  Turn over!  That’s next!

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If your organization could do one thing with enthusiasm?

Popular subject, this recession!

I love it when someone visits my blog and I love it even more when someone leaves a comment.  Sadly, though, on a blog, originally taglined beautiful work, I get more traffic about the role or HR and the recession than for topics like poetry.

So you want to know about HR and the recession?

These are my qualifications to talk on the subject:

1. I am a WORK psychologist.

I pay attention as much attention to the work we do, and the context that we do it in, as I do to the techniques of HR and the psychology of the work.

Here is an important point I have noticed:  Writers on HR are not exploring the recession itself. 

My observations are this:  this is not a recession.  It is not a depression either.  The financial system is too central to the economy and too large, with one quarter of our livelihoods in UK, for this to be regarded as a cold, or a serious bout of flu.  Indeed, I don’t think metaphors of illness or failure will take us far and it is best to think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly: the one goes and another emerges.

Where will we be in five year’s time?  What industries will be surgent?  What will jobs look like?

I spoke to someone in Johannesburg today.  He had just been into Zimbabwe and I told him of the Forbes’ prediction that Africa will supplant China as the supplier of low cost labour in five years.  Look at Africa with that filter and notice the scenarios you now consider.  Look at the processes you now perceive to be the ones we should protect, cherish and nurture.

We are not in a position of more-or-less.  We are in a position of radical change.  We need, I think, to be discussing the nature of work in the UK and how work will change by the time we are out of this crisis.

2.  My second qualification is that I have lived through a serous recession before, sadly.

We go through phases in these situations much like the phases of bereavement.  We deny, we get angry, we barter, we accept.

At the moment, we are in the early phases, with many people believing that somehow this will all go away while a few others expressing a little anger – about fat cats, particularly.

Few of us are exploring our options in any depth.  And, even fewer of us are taking a leadership position in which we help other people understand what is happening and how they can work together towards a better future.

My experience of these situations is that the presence or absence of that leadership, workplace by workplace, will make a difference to the final outcome.  The last thing we need is to develop a pattern of each man for himself, women and children look after yourselves.

Leadership matters.  And leadership means believing in our followers, and showing it.

3.  I am a psychologist.

In any stressful situation, we are faced with the easy choice: be defensive and protect what’s ours.  Or, we can step up and be proactive and generative.  Which is often very hard.

Let’s take Obama’s inauguration as an example.

Obama’s inauguration will be one of the largest in history – people want to be there.  Obama is doing some predictable things.  He is looking for ways to include as many people as possible.  And he is capping donations at USD50K.  Both laudable.

This quotation struck my eye:

This inauguration is more than just a celebration of an election,” she said. “This is an event that can be used to inspire and galvanize the public to act. That is what we’re aiming for.”

To spend all that effort (and money) on a celebration of past successess is not enough – not now, not after such a campaign.   The collective party in Washington and across the country, if not the world. lays the foundation for the next round of effort.

Rahm Emmanuel, incoming White House Chief of Staff is quoted as saying:  Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.

Indeed, a good crisis allows us to think through what is important to us and how we will work together in the future.  I desperately want to read stories in the HR blogs on what we are doing together to meet the challenges of the future, together.

Before we launch into micro-actions of making people redundant or whatever else (there’s been lots of traffic on psychometric tests of all things), how do we want people to act?

What collective action are we hoping to inspire and galvanize?  What is the good use to which we will put this crisis?


Reject your applicants? Why not invite them to something else?

HR standard letters are **** [fill in the word]

I am sure that some time in your life, you have received one of those “potted” rejection letters from an HR department.  Years ago, they said, “we regret to inform you . . .”  These days they say something like “the applications were of very high quality but on this occasion  .  .  .”  Somehow they always manage to be rude.

Do we have to act as if we hate the applicants?

Years ago, when a recruitment department came under my division at Coopers & Lybrand Associates, I would ask our consultants: what has this person done to offend you?  And as this is a smallish town, shouldn’t we at least take into account that the people we reject today may be our clients tomorrow?

Shouldn’t we take the trouble to say why we have rejected someone?

I insisted that every letter, every letter, include a least one phrase that gave the specific reason that we had rejected them.

Couldn’t we give people access to reports about them?

In my psychology practice, I took a stronger stand.  I insisted that every report was copied to the candidate.  They saw exactly the same report as my client.  And I would sit down and go through it with them ~ several times if necessary.  I have even remarked tests by hand when a candidate disbelieved the results.

Can’t we resolve the worries that students have about our marking?

I have carried out exactly the same policy with first year students in a class of 850 students.  If they queried their results, I took themseriously.  There is always a first time for a computer to mess up.  Students appreciated it and I am sure that reputation for being reasonable reduced requests for manual re-markes.

Managing rejections graciously

Now I am no wordsmith and I am not great at writing charming letters.

If you are, you might like to look at writer, Paulo Coelho‘s method of inviting people to his birthday party.  He is able to offer 30 invitations or so to his 1  000 000 plus readers.  Look at his methods and his charming way of letting people down engagingly.  We can learn a lot!


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Managing that dreadful post-honeymoon feeling – this job sucks

A few weeks into a new job, disillusionment . . .

It’s inevitable. A few weeks into a new job, the honeymoon passes, and we have our first ‘fight’.

Except, that unlike a relationship where we have mutual responsibility for getttng through a fight safely, at work, at work the blame usually falls on the employee. We get extremely anxious about this unwelcome feeling that our job sucks and that we have made a very bad move!

Temporary disillusionment is 100% predictable

In a well run firm, this should not happen. The crisis will happen ~ it is called storming, from the forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning sequence of group formation.

Every new relationship, whether personal or business, will go through a crisis of confidence as surely as the sun comes up in the morning.

What should happen, when we are running ourselves well, is that we wait for the storming. We even look forward to it, because storming marks the progress from the milling around of forming to “getting down to work”. We storm when we start working and we say “is this it? Is this worthwhile?”

Note well: we don’t have an anxiety attach until we start work! If there has been no storming, surely as the sun comes up, the employee is still in the forming stage. They still expect you to take all the responsibility and are yet to make the job their own. So welcome storming ~ even if sometimes it takes you by surprise!

How to manage storming when you are the manager

Your role as a manager, when storming begins, is not to panic!  The first sign of an inexperienced (untrained, unsupported) manager is that they take the storming personally, or ignore it.

The employee is serious. He, or she, has issues. And they want reassurance. Is this job worthwhile? Your task is to remain calm and through that calmness, show you confidence in three things

  • The doability of the project
  • Your competence to lead the project
  • & The employee’s competence to play the role that they were appointed to play.

Hesitate, show your own fears, panic, doubt the employee ~ and you confirm the employee’s worst fears. Your panic says to him (or her) that you also do not believe that this company, this team, this boss is not up to this job.

Please be calm and show confidence that all will work. And of course, if there is a specific issue, sort it out with equal calm and dispatch.

Task-oriented and socially-oriented reports

Now to make our lives a little difficult, employees don’t storm at the same points. They storm when they start working and different details will set off alarm bells.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that highly task-oriented individuals storm earlier.  Some will stat storlming before they arrive! Early stormers are more conscientious and results-oriented and consequently start questioning details early.   Budget some energy for being the anchor they need and be thankful you have hired a workhorse!

Very sociable people are the opposite. They have to get their social bearings before they start work (just as task people must get their task bearings before they get social). They may take an interminable time to get down to work and they will take longer if you push them. When they are ready, they will begin; and they too will get a fright and storm.  And maybe they start stormin months after the task-oriented individuals – so allow for it. Remain calm. That is what they are looking for. If you panic, if you believe they are attacking you, you will confirm their worst fears – that they are in the wrong job at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong people. Be calm.

How to manage your own storming

Now if you are in not-so-well-run firm and there is no one to calm you down when you start to panic, you are going to have to calm yourself down.

I’ve tried to make a heuristic for an individual to manage their own storming. Anyone? This one defeats me. After all, if I became involved as a coach/counsellor, I would a) calm down the report b) show the confidence the manager neglected to show and c) calm down the manager!

Maybe try this:

  • Draw out the work process
  • Mark every part that works quite well and you should continue
  • Mark out every process that worries you and try to understand why the firm manages that process the way they do
  • Keep your own counsel
  • Be calm because calmness seems to be lacking around here

Hope that helps!  Remember it is normal to have an anxiety attack shortly after the ‘honeymoon’.  It means you care.  It means you’ve started to deal with detail of the job!  Enjoy!

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Make more money by promoting a sense of belonging in your firm: A manifesto for HR

I don’t do pain, even in my imagination

In my last post I described an exercise for testing the depth of our positive attitude: write a novel about myself and make myself feel pain.  I tried it.  It was hard!  I’m glad to know that I am not a masochist.

But I learned a little.  I learned that we hate to lose our ‘role’ and that I hate to be around people who are just pretending to have a ‘role’.  From there, I found myself listing the HR procedures for increasing belonging and the metrics to show how much value these procedures add to a company.

A manifesto for HR!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare is being in zombie-land.  I hate being in places where people have become cynical and at best are just “deteriorating as slowly as possible“.

Of course, I don’t really hate it ~ I am terrified by it.  We are terrified by anything which assaults our personalities.  I’m an INTFJ or a shaper/completer-finisher/resource-investigator.  I don’t do incoherent, lazy, out-of-it.   I may be misguided.  I may be slothful about many things.  But I will always have a purpose.  If I am going to be rudderless, I do it on purpose!

Our nightmare is not to have a role

This was my insight from the novel-writing exercise.   We are all terrified by the prospect of not having a role, or not belonging to our communities and workplaces.  We are very sensitive to rejection.  Even the nuances of rejection send us into a flat spin.

Many things that can lead us to feel that we don’t belong

A lot of things can lead to a sudden feeling that we are out of place.

  • Our general confidence
  • Policies of the firm which signal who is in and who is out
  • Cliques and favoritism
  • Mismatches with our own hopes and dreams
  • And storming – good old crises of confidence

Recraft your way to belonging

  • Heaps has been written in the last few years about recrafting jobs to meet our personal needs.  A waitress tenderly sweeping the floor of the cafe with good music playing in the background is recrafting her job just as the young guy who also works there recrafts his job by trying to sweep as fast and vigorously as possible.  Both put their personal stamp and sense of meaning on the job.
  • Poet David Whyte gives the same advice.  Begin with the ground, the hallowed ground on which you start.  Find meaning and belonging in what you already have and build from them.
  • Positive psychologist,  Christopher Petersen calls expanding from what we have “building a bridge while we walk on it”.
  • And for a good speech showing this is not just for me and you, but for the smartest and the brightest, listen to Dr Rao on Googletalk (YouTube).

Recrafting when we feel rejected

It is tough to recraft when we feel rejected though ~ for this reason.  We hate being rejected and we are loathe to admit that we have been excluded.

  • One, it hurts.
  • Two, we catastrophize and think that if this person rejects us, then everyone else will too.
  • Three, we worry that if we dismiss rejection, we may dismiss feedback that will help us manage future relationships.
  • Four, we catastrophize and think that if this relationship is not worthwhile, none will be worthwhile.
  • Five, we worry that the information that we have been rejected will be used against us!

Rejection put us in an emotional spin and bullies know it!  They’ll use rejection to keep you off balance.

That said, how do you work on finding the good in situation when you are feeling lousy?

Recrafting when we we are afraid

I would say we should do three things.

  • Make an objective assessment of the situation, as clinically as any staff officer in front of a paper map miles from the front line.
  • As you are not sitting behind the lines and you are actually in the thick of things, do as you would in battle. Move yourself, everyone else and everything you need out of the firing line.
  • Consider all the options including the options for negotiation and resumption of pleasantries.

This is really hard to do.  Believe me ~ being rejected by people like employers and teachers, on whom you depend, will frighten you almost as much as getting shot at.  In many ways it is worse.  You can allow yourself to be frightened by bullets as long as you act responsibly.  But to admit you are being “dissed” by your own side rips the guts out of you.

So you do the three steps: you take defensive actions, you try to be pleasant, you take time to make an objective assessment.  And guess what 90% of your energy is going into defending yourself from your own team!

Time spent on mending relationships in a firm

You are now being defensive and so is the next person and so is the next.  Guess what?  Anyone who wants to overrun this outfit, or take on this company, is going to win!

The firm is now in peril

This is my biggest nightmare.  It is quite clear once the spiral of defensive starts, the only thing allowing this firm to survive, is the incompetence of the opposition.  Anyone wanting to ‘take’ them would only have to distract the staff more for the whole ‘shooting match’ to fall apart.

What is the alternative to a firm where we are all watching our backs?

Inevitably, things do wrong in companies.  People do bump against each other quite unwittingly.  Feelings are hurt.  If we want to be successful (survive),we need to establish is a working culture where people are able to deal with shock and surprise without passing it down the line.

How do we stop defensiveness spreading?

Good HR departments, generally in larger firms work hard to keep a positive atmosphere  (I did say good.)

  • Good firms develop strong systems to minimize the management by whim. The reason they do that is to remove the objective threat to one’s employment that accompanies disagreements.  When there is no objective threat, then people can attend to mending their fences.  Good firms don’t allow people who are party to any “dissing”, in either direction, to take part in decisions about each others employment contract.
  • Good firms go to great lengths to manage the assimilation process ~ known as on-boarding or induction. They work with people through the forming, storming and norming stages and then take a watching brief during the performing stage coming back in when there are changes in a team or when someone leaves.
  • Good firms take some trouble to build diverse teams and to educate people why they need the very people who seem very different from themselves.  HR also takes some trouble to make sure that a team is not made of people who are too similar too each other and that the important bridging roles of team player and chairperson (the lazy roles!) are also present.
  • Good firms insist that everyone has an active career plan which is reviewed with you openly by committees chaired by senior members of the firm.
  • Good firms monitor diversity assiduously and keep a watchful eye on the formation of cliques.  HR is quick to intervene to minimize behavior that is rejecting and removes people’s attention from their own job.
  • Good firms design jobs carefully making sure that is is easy to get down to work (autonomy), that growth is possible in the job visible (competence) and that jobs allow us express ourselves meaningfully (relationships).  Work has goals, feedback built into the task itself, adequate resources, dignity, respect, physical safety, contractual safety, mentors and coaches.  We don’t want people so confused about how their jobs fit into the wider whole that they cannot think straight.

This is what I do for a living

My job is to make a system so that we are able to work together even when we are rubbing up against people.  I will see the effects of my systems in several ways:

  • People attempt to resolve difficulties without fear of their contracts.  People take the initiative; people don’t use the employment contract as a threat; negotiation of the employment contract is kept separate from other decisions; there is no fear in the organization or cynicism.
  • The output of people does not vary significantly when they move from group to group.   Nor does the output vary between people with different demographic characteristics.
  • The time taken for people to settle into the organization is known and the process is monitored and taken as seriously as quality on a Toyota assembly line.
  • Everyone has an active career path, we are mindful of who should be seriously thinking about progressing onto other firms, and we treat their onward progression as part of our competitive edge.
  • Deployment of individuals is not only done for and to individuals.  Teams are deployed so that they are balanced.  They are given time to bed down and their boundaries are respected.  Team work is not disrupted without investments being made in the time it takes to reestablish a team.
  • We have designed each job so that it has clear goals measurable by the incumbent, they can see how well they are doing and they can step-into the job in an orderly way sharing their successes publicly with others.

HR Metrics

To monitor my system, I have metrics on each process.  I also monitor HR Costs/Sales in each business unit and over time.  When people have the time to attend to their jobs, I would see small improvements in the ratio.

Take for example, the HR Costs/Sales ratio in manufacturing which is usually around 10%.  If people are able to do their job only 10% better, then the ratio will increase from 10/100 to 9/100 or done the other way from 10/100 to 10/110 or a 1% in Gross Profit.  That is generally going to be “pure” profit ~ that is, it is money that comes available for new equipment, training and even medical insurance and holidays.

When we are making more money because we aren’t worrying, then that is good profit indeed!

We do what concerns us and we are terrified by its loss

So it seems making a role for everyone comes from greatest concern -that we are going to have to sit around faking it.  That  led me to think that everyone wants a meaningful role.  Not everyone wants to sit around making meaningful roles. Who would make the money if we did?  While other people are off making things and selling things, it is my job to create an organization where we can get along without needless friction.

An emotionally healthy company requires good systems.  We must be able to work without fear.  Problems must be refereed as they arise and early.  And we must trawl our systems looking for emotional bruising that is getting buried.  If we continue to hide the casual rejection of people “because we can”, it will eventually cost us our livelihood. While we are all protecting ourselves from each other, our opposition will be taking over our business.

Simply, I am doing my job when you are able to do yours and I do this job because I cannot imagine what it is like to live defensively all day long!

PS I still don’t think I did the exercise properly.  It is very hard to imagine pain ~ even on a make-believe character that looks, moves and talks just like us!

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Test your positive thinking: make yourself the main character and feel pain

How deep is your positive thinking?

So you’ve resolved to live happily ever after?  And your friends and colleagues are mocking your for your new found happy ways?

The big test

Here is the big test for your commitment to happiness.

Imagine yourself in the most horrible circumstances

Write a short novel with you as the main character.  And write the worst things that can happen to you. Not the most horrible things in other people’s minds but the most horrible in yours.

Think of things that are so bad that your heart races and you feel as if you could pass out.

Now write yourself out of those situations.

When you can describe the worst and write a story that takes you out of those places, then you understand your hopes and values. Then you are truly thinking positively.

My first try

I am going to try this over a cup of coffee.  And you know what?  I know the first hurdle.  I know I don’t want to write myself out of a bad situation because then it is obvious I could get out of it!  And when I define the situation as bad, I don’t want it to suddenly be quite manageable (if disgusting and terrifying).  I wonder if I will ever manage this!

Tell me about your first try?


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