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Posts Tagged ‘social support

Hate is such an aggressive word

Some time ago, I worked with people who used the word “hate”, a lot.  I was mesmerized.  I “loathed” doing my tax return. I “loathed” broccoli (I like it now – good with a lemon sauce).  But “hate”?

Hate is an active word.  Hate is a doing word.  When we hate something, we want to do it harm.  I didn’t want to do my tax return harm.  It wish it wouldn’t bother me.  But I didn’t want to do it harm.

I also never used the word loathe for people, either.  I sometimes said that “I can’t stand so-and-so”.  I didn’t want to be around them and avoided them if I could.

More often I would say something like “I think so-and-so annoys me because <reason>”.   Once, my reason was that “he seems to think he is my equal.”  My interlocutor agreed with me.  “I think that’s why he annoys me too.”

With that out of the way, we could relate to this “johnny-come-lately” without visible annoyance and without allowing our sense of his impudence to impede a constructive relationship.

Hate is a funny thing – it comes from anger

Hate is closely linked to anger, of course.  Some people make a career of anger.  Others have had so much go wrong in their lives that they’ve lost hope of being treated decently.

For that is what anger is about.  Disappointment and dejection that people who we treat well, treat us badly.

So my colleagues had probably had hard lives.  At the time, I was young, so I thought they should get on with being positive.  I sure they could have done.  With age I have become more compassionate and recognize that they might have had a lot of shit-happen.

Anger is a funny thing – very dangerous but easily resolved

If hate is a contorted emotion, so is anger.  It is so easy to help someone who is angry.  Agree with them.  Let them know that it is OK to be angry.  Watch them relax as their status is restored.  Then help them make a plan.

It is much harder to deal with your own anger.  The triangle of disappointment locks us in.

  • We like so-and-so.
  • They disrespect us and don’t care what they do to us.
  • We can try talking to them about what they are doing to us but we run the risk they confirm they don’t care!

We are left with 4 choices.

  • Living with an uncomfortable double bind where we know they don’t care about us but we all pretend that they do.
  • A dishonest hypocrisy where we know our relationship is rubbish.  But we keep up a pretense and do the minimum.
  • We walk away but wonder forever if we could have restored the relationship.
  • We bring up the problem and have our worst fears resolved.

This choice of 4 bad choices is why social support is so necessary.

Social support cleans up anger in families and organizations

In well run families and work organizations, uncles and aunts and other senior members of the organization step in to resolve conflicts.

  • They alert people to the effects of their behavior on others.
  • They broker apologies and restore status.
  • They suggest equitable separations when a relationship must end because it no longer has an honorable foundation.

Sadly, when we are made angry we don’t tell many people.  We are already suffering from an acute sense of shame and aren’t going to advertise our loss of status to the world.

Unless the uncles and aunts and elders of an organization or community are alert, a lot of anger gets buried.  Pressures and tensions build up and eventually they explode.

People have personal policies for dealing with anger

  • Some people raise the problem immediately.  Their policy is that if you choose to disrespect me, you will live with it.  It is a case of Strike 1 – you know I am unhappy.  Strike 2 – I ask you for an apology.  Strike 3 – If you don’t make good, we share the discomfort -I won’t absorb it alone.  Some people do this explosively.  Some people are brilliant at making a joke.  Both are asserting themselves and making it clear that you should deal with them respectfully or accept loss of status yourself.
  • Some people never raise the problem.  They try to absorb the tension themselves.  They really shouldn’t because the other person might just be clumsy.   But they’ve made a habit of absorbing tensions and will continue to do so.  Watch out for those quiet ones.  It’s not good for any of us that they absorb all the pain.
  • Some people won’t raise the problem but retaliate in due course.  “I don’t get mad but I get even”. I know people who pursue someone else for years until they get even.  One fellow I know would sit in his office doing nothing and keep someone waiting in his outer office for the same time (or more) that he was late.  He would agree to give references and then spike them with faint praise.  His aggression was never overt.  The other person might never know.  But he felt better.  I looked on in wonder.  A lot of energy went into this.  Why not just say “you are late!”?  Well, for the obvious reason that the relationship might break up altogether.

Only the transgressor can truly resolve anger

The trouble with anger is that its resolution is in the hands of the transgressor.  If the transgressor does not apologize quickly, then we are in a lose-lose situation.  It doesn’t matter how you deal with anger – you are still in a lose-lose situation and yours style is just a matter of preference.

Pick your style

Maybe we should just live an “extreme life”?  Deliberately work with people who make us angry for a longish period until we settle on a style that makes the best of lose-lose situations – though there is nothing best in them.

A positive style for dealing with your anger

Or we could be like Ben Zander, the orchestra conductor who lectures on positive psychology:  apologize and invite.

Apologize to the person who made us angry and invite them join in.  Would that work for you?

Lost: can’t see the opportunity

When I was young, I loved career choices.  The world was my oyster.  Choices were everywhere, and I was in command.

Some people aren’t so lucky.  They don’t feel like that.  Our somehow they’ve gone through a bad patch and they feel lost. As I have got older, that has happened to me a few times.

What can we do about that?  How can we get back that omnipotent feeling that “everything is waiting for you”?

There seem to be three key things to remember.

1. Look after your emotional health

Negative feelings feed on themselves.  When we are feeling down, lost or confused, we like to wallow.  This doesn’t make us bad or inadequate.  It is quite normal to want to wallow.  Physiologically, we are primed to focus on threat, and our worry captures 100% of our attention.

The corporate poet, David Whyte, talks of arriving at a ravine in Nepal and being scared witless by the sight of a rickety bridge.  Many decisions in life are just like this.  We arrive at a ravine.  We can see clearly that we want to be on the other side.  We are least wise enough not rush onto the bridge, but we are paralyzed with fear.  All our attention goes onto the ravine and onto the rickety bridge, instead of working out our options.

The funny thing is that we hang on to bad feelings, as if they are the bridge itself.  Yet this is the time to get a grip.  At the side of the ravine, we check our pockets and rucksack -knife (check), water (check), food (check), etc. etc.

In ordinary life we have to take the time out to exercise, clean the house, and think about what is going exactly as we want it to.  We must, we must, we must (!) sit down each night, write a short summary of the day, and then answer this question:

Why did I do so well?

I can assure you that you won’t want to do this.  You will want to worry and tell me how badly everything is going.  Just do it! and you will surprise yourself by what has gone well.

It is also more.  It takes our attention off the equivalent of the ravine and the long drop down. It focuses our mind on

  • What we can do
  • What we can do well
  • What delights us and
  • what the world finds delightful about us!

2. Start before you are ready

When we feel lost, we often feel very tired too. The idea of starting anything feels too much.  And anyway, if we haven’t sorted out our emotional health (#1), then we are enjoying our panic attack far too much to give it up.

But if you don’t intend to spend the rest of your life weeping and wailing and gnashing you teeth, you will have to begin to move out of the anxiety, before your are ready.

The way we do this is to focus in what we have at hand.  At the edge of the ravine, that is your water, your food, your map, your radio, etc.

In ordinary life, I look for what you love.  What brings the light to your eyes?  I can give you a magazine and ask you to flick through and point to a picture which represent what you want out of life. You’ll have done it in 1-2 minutes.

Or, I can ask you about when you have experienced flow – that feeling of total engagement where characteristically you don’t notice time, but you do notice being growled at when you were late for your next appointment!  That’s flow.  When do you feel flow?  When do you feel totally engaged doing something you just love to do?

Then we deal with the next thought that pops into your head which is  “I can’t”.  I have kids and a mortgage.  I can’t be an artist – I owe it to my parents to make a good living.  I have a student loan to pay off.  I don’t have the skills.  You are looking at the ravine again!  Hold the image of what you want to be, that makes your heart speed up slightly, that makes your eyes light up (you can’t see them can you, but I can). Hold that image.  Don’t let it go.

Now we aren’t going to do anything reckless.  We are simply going to look around our immediate circumstances for things relevant to getting to the other side.  So we take stock.  As we took stock of our map, our compass, etc. at the side of the ravine.  And we do sensible things.  If we were at the side of a ravine and had a radio, we would call in and say where we are.  If we are tired out, we’d work out if it is feasible to eat and sleep.  We secure everything we need to go to where we want to be.  At worst, we may retreat.

But we keep our eyes on what brings us alive?

3. Marshall resources and support

And now for the humdinger, are you the only person in the world who wants you to be on the other side?  Are you Rambo all of a sudden?

As soon as you have yourself secure and have established the all important “time out”, ask yourself who else benefits from you being on the other side of the ravine.  Who else will benefit?  Who else will be delighted?  Who else will enjoy getting you across (however you are going to do it – we’ll leave that bridge alone!).  These questions might make you feel anxious again.  That’s OK. That’s only because this project is something you really want to do and you are about to make it happen.

So, let’s marshal help and resources.  If we were at a ravine, it might be helicopter rescue (do it in style?).  It might be a long trek around. You might be able to walk down and through some shallow water and up. In the morning light, you might realize you can reinforce the bridge. Who knows?  Start bringing together what you need and a plan will emerge.

Once you start to methodically and systematically work on the problem, the universe will conspire to help you.

This can’t be true, I hear you say.  This must be nonsense.  Well not in my experience!  Read on!

Damn the universe, it makes life so easy!

When I first noticed the universe helping me, I did feel nuts.  I felt superstitious and I didn’t like the feeling.  How can this be?  But it happened.  The universe kept helping me.  When I knew what I wanted, and moved towards it, it came towards me.  This doesn’t work if I am dithering.  If I start one thing and I am still doodling or daydreaming about something else, I don’t get any help at all.  I must be totally confident about my priorities and have ‘left all other worlds behind’.

I would get moving on a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the phone would ring.  There it would be.  How could the other person know I wanted that?  It was freaky and just too easy!

Eventually I decided three things.

  • The world is a munificent place.  Stuff probably comes down my phone all day long, but I don’t notice when I don’t want it!
  • I have good judgement!  My sense of what is right or wrong is good.  I know which ravines are worth crossing and which ravines other people want to cross with me.

But sometimes I go through a bad patch when I am indecisive.  I dither.  Do I want to cross; do I not?  I am not ready to make a decision.    In part this is good judgment.  I don’t rush ahead before I know what I want.  But the reality is,  I am also frozen in fear.  Time to take “time-out” to de-clutter my emotional self and figure out what is going on. I know with a small investment, my head will clear.  I will keep my dreams clear, focus on what I have in hand, and be on my way again soon.

Everything is waiting for you

In poet, David Whyte’s words: everything is waiting for you, it really is (and would like you to hurry up!)

It is just that you have come to a ravine in your path.  You want to get to the other side.  You know you need to be there and you are rightly terrified by the rickety bridge and the long drop down.

The most important thing to do is to acknowledge your fear.  Don’t pretend you aren’t scared.  If you do you will either be paralyzed or you will be reckless.  Take yourself in hand, remember your goal  and focus your attention this minute on what you have in hand.

  • First, attend to your safety and the safety of everyone with your.  Take stock of my situation (maps, compass, radio, food, etc. if you were at a ravine), get yourself fed, watered and tell other people to where you are.  When your are physically able to think, focus your attention on what you want!
  • Then thoroughly enjoy exploring your options.  Bring in help if your need it and invite people to be part of the adventure if they want to be (which they probably do!)

Remember the three steps

1.  Keep yourself emotionally healthy: ask yourself daily – why did I do so well?

2.  Start before you are ready – tick off everything around you that is useful for pursuing your dream

3.  Welcome support – list everyone who will be enjoy watching and helping you pursue your quest

And do it for g…  sake.  It’s funny how the toughest of people are so bad at this.  Do it.  Whinging is annoying.

A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace. (John 3:16-21)

As a youngster, I was baffled by the Biblical advice that there is a time for all everything under the sun. A time to be born. A time to die. It seemed perfectly obvious to me. But then I was a literal child.

Positive psychology and the seasons

A big message coming out of the positive psychology school and the poets like David Whyte, who write about work, is that we must take each season of our life in turn.  It seems though that even positive psychologists struggle to understand the ups-and-downs of life.

Let me try by using the seasons.

It is autumn now in the UK

Summer officially ends in the UK this week. The trees have already turned. The paths are strewn with leaves of all colors and it is cold inside – because it is not cold enough yet to turn on the heating. If we were still farmers, our crops would be harvested and stored, and we would have fodder in the barn for the livestock to survive the winter.

Live life on its own terms

It is here that we find the message. We have to live in summer on summer’s terms. We plant and we reap and we store to provide for the winter.

And we must do the same in winter. We must live winter by the merits of winter.

I am still a ‘noobe’ in the northern hemisphere so let me talk about winter where I came from. Our winter was all of three weeks and days were a short 11 hours! So we lit a log fire in the evenings and gathered with friends and went to bed early to get warm. On weekends, we gathered again to have barbecues in the gentle mid-day sun. We might take advantage of the rainless days to do some maintenance. But mainly we didn’t. Winter was a time of rest and recovery before the growing season came around again.

Up here in the northern hemisphere, I think we are expected to be a lot more productive here. People use summer to play and the long winter nights to work.

Ups-and-downs of contemporary life

The old agricultural seasons help us understand the ups and downs of life and what it means to explore each for what it is.

Of course, we hate the downs. We don’t want them to happen. We are terrified they won’t end.

And the ‘ downs’ are real. I hate it when people tell us they are in our mind. People die. Economies collapse. We aren’t stupid or insane. These are real events. Very real. Very distressing. I hate the Nietzsche expression that what does not kill you makes your stronger. I don’t hate a lot of things but I really hate that.  Downs are real. Please, don’t insult me by telling me they are in my mind.

Winter is not the absence of summer

But they downs need to be understood in their own terms for what they are.  Just as we understand winter as winter not the absence summer. Winter comes before summer, and after summer, and must be respected for itself.

Happiness is respecting the winter of our lives

That is happiness. Happiness is respecting the quieter times, and the harder times, and seeing them as part of the pattern of life.

Then, and only then, do we have the heart and the courage to explore them, not to love them, but to do what is required of us, respectfully and gently, and patiently.

Then we can be in them without rushing them to end.  It is pointless to try to make them end. They will end in their own time, just like winter.

We’d do better to accommodate ourselves to their nature and live within them. And live well within them.  Just as we don’t have frolics in the sun during winter, we may not be bubbling with joy in the hard times. But demanding they end does not end them sooner. It just makes them harder.

The trick is to live winter on winter’s terms.  I am pretty clear that it is easier to do if you understand winter as something that precedes summer and follows summer.

Does the analogy of the seasons apply to our non-agricultural, frenetic, confused modern lives?

When it is less clear that our suffering “is not our fault,” or when it is not clear when our suffering will end, I’ve found it helps to find a mentor who might explain the objective situation.   It also helps to live through hard times in a group. Because much of our fretting is really a cry of “why me?”, when we are all in it together, at least we do not have to protest that the hard times are part of our personality.

When we are leading a group in times of suffering and distress, I’ve found 3 things help.

  • Bring together people who suffer in the same way.

    When they hear each other’s stories, they’ll sort out in their minds what is a feature of the situation and what is in their minds. But don’t tell them to cheer up or that it will all be alright!  Dismissing their hardship is insulting and confuses them more.

    • Assure them that you will be there for them and live your promise.

    Listen. Engage eye contact. Be interested in their story. When they hear themselves telling their story and they see you still listening, they’ll calm down, a lot. Life will still be hard but you won’t have made it harder. They know they have you at least.

    • And celebrate what goes well.

    Don’t pick on one small thing and say that the life cannot be hard if that one thing went well! That is also very debilitating.  They do not need their reality dismissed or tell feel an impossible distance from you.  Just give them the space to talk about what is going well.  That reinforces your relationship and you will hear more about what goes well. See! Easier for you too. 🙂

      Be a warm, companionable log fire in the winter of our lives?

      Understanding why bad times is part of happiness is tough, and living through hard times happily is tougher

      I hope using seasons helps you understand the issue.  And that the 3 forms of aid for your group are helpful. They are classical prescriptions from positive psychology.

      And of course we can ponder why we made happiness so hard to understand in Western thought when we began with the right advice in the Bible!  The philosophers can help us with that!

      It’s barely daylight

      Today, my mobile phone woke me rudely “It is time to get up: it is 5.30”.  Groan.  Another commute.  Another day.

      But I didn’t get up.  I’ve stopped doing that.

      I don’t want to stagger through life making someone else’s dreams come true.  I want to make my own dreams come true!

      Ah, dreams  . .

      Is it possible?  For dreams to be not dreams?

      Perhaps not in the blink of an eye.  And certainly not if I panic when I look at the gap between where I am now and where I want to be.

      But I can ask myself this question:

      Who would like to support me in my quest?  Who would take the greatest of pleasure in helping me along the way?

      I smile.  And I hope you do too!

      in a blaze of glory

      Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

      For the last two weekends, I ran a little poll here on your plans for beating the recession.  The full poll and results are at the end of the post.

      Of the two score or so people who answered, this was the modal response.

      I have only scenario planned the future INFORMALLY.  I am planning to 2010.  My business is YET to be affected by the recession.  I expect to grow 25% over a 2007 baseline.  I will find a RECESSION-BEATING strategy.

      So are we confident or fool-hardy?

      Let me add these three observations.

      • People who answer online polls are “geeks” or “geek-like”.  Maybe all of poll results are true.  We haven’t been badly affected and we understand what is going on sufficiently to improve our businesses.
      • A prudent economist friend of mine offers the following:  the stock market has dropped 50% since its peak of October 2007 (possibly more by today).  The average growth rate per year is 6%.  Assuming a good recovery, stock prices will recover their value in 50/6=8 years time (2016).  This simple arithmetic may be useful for people managing their portfolios or planning their retirement.  Notice that people in my survey (typically) assume 4x the average growth rate.  During coaching, some nudging towards practical plans might be necessary.
      • Before I left Zimbabwwe, and while it was already obvius that things were going wrong, my students ran a series of studies measuring and explaining “hopelessness” [not hope sadly but interesting nonetheless].  They measured “hopelessness” in various groups and NEVER EVER found clinical levels of hoplessness.

      Explaining hope and resilience

      Moreover, any one person’s sense of hopelessness could be explained by the level of social support they perceived from relevant others.  Here are some interesting results.

      • Wives of unemployed men looked to their churches for support.
      • Teenagers about to leave school after writing their O levels [school certificate/high school] felt more hopeful if they were supported by their families.

      And feeling supported by their family was strongly linked to the number of family members having work or income

      • Working men in factories depended heavily on the social support of their supervisors. The mood of employees who were well educated and qualified was very much less affected by their managers

      What did we take from these studies (and my little poll)?

      • People are naturally resilient.  They believe the best.
      • Social support is critical.

      In hard times, it is very important for the management system to provide support.  This is likely to have a chain effect.  The CEO needs to show belief in his or her direct reports and they need to show belief in their direct reports.

      • Social support outside the firm is also critical and managers can help themselves by supporting external support systems.

      Enourage people to remain within churches and sports clubs, help them stay in touch with their families and make it easy for them to do so.  Have we arranged for Hindu employers to have time off for Diwali?  Do we celebrate Eid?  Do we help people take time off for important events?

      Collective efficacy, solidarity and business results

      It is pretty likely that

      • collective efficacy (expressed belief in the importance and competence of our colleagues) and
      • solidarity (our willingness to support each other through thick-and-thin)

      add a critical 5-10% onto our collective performance.

      I wonder if there are any practitioners out there who are focussing on these ‘soft’ concepts and linking them to the ‘hard’ results of revenue in hard times?

      Here is my original poll.  Thanks so much for contributing.  Despite my experience during other crises, I was still pleasantly surprised that we are so confident.

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