Archive for July, 2011

Commons assault

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Every now and then something happens which makes me think about changing one of my tried and tested learning methodologies or examples. There has been such an occurrence this week.

When delivering sessions on Transactional Analysis and how to use it to develop rapport, instigate effective communication and manage conflict meaningfully, I often use Fawlty Towers. From the reactions of the groups I work with, it seems to be reasonably timeless and the majority of people enjoy its humour. In short, Basil plays a great Adapted Child to Sybil’s Controlling Parent, Basil enjoys the power of his Controlling Parent when dealing with the Adapted Child Manuel, Manuel then plays a lovely Nurturing Parent to his Siberian hamster, and Polly remains in Adult throughout most of the crisis happening around her.

From now on, however, I will have to include the Commons Select Committee which occurred earlier this week. It starred Rupert Murdoch, his son James Murdoch and a number of MPs from various parties. It also featured a walk on part (or stand up part) by Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s wife.

To set the scene …. Two of the most powerful media people in the world, who have had a huge influence within the British media for at least 20 years, have messed up big style. MPs, whose political parties have felt the need to seek their favour and work with them in order to gain their support in order to get into or remain in government, have suddenly been released from their self-imposed shackles and are free to express their opinions without a Murdoch backlash. They have an hour to ask the Murdochs questions about their big mess up.

The Murdochs don’t want to be there – they had been unavailable for the meeting up until a few days ago – but have agreed to come. Imagine what they feel like having to be under the cosh having  been able to dictate the rules for so long.  The MPs are wanting to exorcise their demons.   

So, off we go. The MPs want to ask the 80-year old Rupert a number of questions first. He starts to struggle with them. He is starting to expose his lack of leadership at the helm of his company. His son, who is sitting next to him, is feeling very uncomfortable for his father. Every now and then, James’ discomfort becomes too great for him, and he interrupts to ask if he can perhaps answer the questions on behalf of his father as he will be able to give far more detail. James is told that this will not happen, and that they will get to him in due course.  It is one of the best examples of the Drama Triangle (Karpman), one of TA ‘Games’, that I have witnessed. The MPs are the Persecutor and Rupert is the Victim. Every time James attempts to be the Rescuer, he also becomes a Victim. Time after time.

The MPs are queuing up with their questions and supplementary questions. The scheduled hour passes and it is apparent that this will go on much longer. But what did you expect? If you have been at the hands of the school bully for 20 years and then the school bully comes and says sorry and a person in authority says that you can take your retribution if you want to, you might take it. And if you can give him one metaphorical kick, and he can’t fight back, why not give him a few more?

And these MPs were, I think, trying to stay within their Adult ego states. But they didn’t do it very well. There was too much history.  They tried to dress their values and feelings up in Adult terms, but it didn’t work (“Mr Blair visited you hallway round the world before the 1997 election. Anyway, that does not matter”, and “Can you tell us how much all those characters have been paid off?”).  As a result Their Controlling Parent ego states were shining through like early morning sunlight through the slats of a blind. There they were, being Basil whacking his broken down car with a large branch – oblivious to who was watching.

Consequently, the majority of the questioning was disappointingly poor, even though they took 3 hours rather than the planned 1 hour. The Murdochs, on the other hand, remained in the Adult ego state remarkably well.

And then we had Wendi’s walk on part. Enter stage left a person with a foam pie, intent on presenting it unceremoniously into Rupert’s face. Wendi sees this. At this point we are about two and a half hours into the session and she is probably angry and upset on behalf of her husband. What an opportunity to off-load all that anger on to the pie man. And she does so with a right hook. In TA terms, he got stamped. The bell goes – end of the round. All parties retreat to their corners for time out (and to clean up the pie).

A parent who has just verbally laid into their child, and then extricates themselves from the situation, sometimes realises that they should have controlled themselves a little more. They go and be nice to the child to try and make up. Is that what happened to our MPs during the recess? Did the penny drop – either through self-reflection or because someone had the opportunity to tell them? Becasue when they came back, they tried to make up. How impressed they were with Wendi … what a hook … well done Wendy! How Nurturing they were – or were they Adapted, fearing that they might be next? Too late though, they had already shown their true colours.

And then it ended. And in comparison, the time the MPs had with Rebekah Brooks was very tame. But the main event on the billing had been a wonderful illustration of TA in action. Just a little disappointing that it turned out like a sitcom when it should have been so revealing.

Well, I think that’s ensured I will never have any opportunity of supplying services to the Murdoch empire.  And perhaps I should change my phone pin number while I remember …


Split your personality – improve your performance

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

One aspect of self-development that I have been working on with a number of individuals recently has been the aspect of how we do not always operate as ‘one’.  There are aspects of ourselves that we don’t always understand or access.  Failing to access such information stops us from being as effective as we could be.

This post develops the themes of Transactional Analysis (TA) and Emotional Intelligence (EI), so you may find it useful to access my previous blogs on these subjects prior to, during or after reading this post – links to which are through the theory titles above.

As a trainer, when facilitating a group, and someone (we will call them Sam) makes a comment, I sometimes think to myself, “What a daft thing to say”, or “Do you realise what you have just really said?” These are critical thoughts emanating from my Controlling (Critical) Parent ego-state – my beliefs and values. Up to that point I had been thinking and speaking from the Adult ego-state – my rational and objective thoughts. It is generally accepted that adults learn most effectively when the facilitator is non-judgemental (Malcolm Knowles, Andragogy), so I know that I’m best not to externalise my judgemental thoughts.  I also know that Sam has missed the point and so needs to consider their thoughts and other points of view. So, I say to the group, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?” This will then generate a conversation with other members of the group addressing the matter, with Sam being far more likely to openly listen to their peers rather than my views – be they from the Adult or Critical Parent ego-state. And I have maintained, and possibly improved, my relationship with Sam.

In that short scenario, in Transactional Analysis (TA) terms, Eric Berne (founder of TA and photographed above) would say that I had been operating in two different ego-states – the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’.  At the start of the scenario, my ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ were at one, but when Sam made the comments that led to my Critical Parent thoughts, the two split. My Critical Parent ego-state was my ‘Real Self’, but my Adult ego state retained ‘Executive’ power. This enabled me to be as personally effective as possible, and to assist the delegate as effectively as possible – as my ‘Executive’ ensured that my Adult ego-state was used in my external transactions.

The challenge, often, when we are exercising both ‘Executive’ and ‘Real Self’ is that there can be incongruence in our gestures, behaviours, mannerisms, etc.  These can be confusing to people if we do not monitor them carefully. If, for example, I was shaking my head as I asked the question, “What are anybody else’s thoughts on what Sam has just said?”, my ‘Real Self’ would be being demonstrated through my body language – and the Adult ego-state would not have full ‘Executive’ power.

This also links with the Personal Competence aspect of Emotional Intelligence. In order to achieve this successfully, a person needs to be aware of their emotions and then use them in order to stay flexible and understand themselves more effectively. This entails experiencing and noting our Child ego states (feelings driven), and then considering – from our Adult ego-state – what we can learn from our Child.

Many people are unaware of this division in themselves, and so cannot take advantage of it. Hence why some people – not through choice – ‘wear their heart on their sleeve’

Have you ever written an email when you are angry or upset, and then put it in the Drafts box, returned to it later and then thought, “Did I really write that?”. Most people then ‘tone it down’ before sending it and thank or congratulate themselves on putting it in the Drafts box in the first place – internal discussions between the ego states.  This situation occurs when you have written the email in your Parent or Child ego-state, and when you have returned to it you have re-read it in your Adult ego-state.

What I have been working on with these individuals is enabling the two to occur simultaneously.  People who can identify the ‘Executive’ and the ‘Real Self’ develop a system which is a bit like gauze or a dam. They have the ability to alter the thickness or denier of the gauze to externalise to others more or less of the ‘Real Self’ dependent upon what is appropriate. Using the dam metaphor, they can open or close the dam to let as much or as little of their ‘Real Self’ into the outside world as they want. As it is practiced and mastered, the person can then achieve this in increasingly challenging and stressful situations.

How do you separate your ‘Executive’ from ‘Real Self’?

When have you used it to great effect?


Is it pointless trying (except in rugby)?

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

How often do you use the word ‘Try’ when you are telling yourself or others that you are going to do something? And just as importantly, what are you really saying? For such a small word, it can have hugely debilitating effects.

The use of the word comes up in many coaching sessions I undertake – and that’s because managers and leaders have a propensity to use it. Think of the last time you used it, and then think about what you were really saying.

Sometimes when people use it, and they say that they are going to ‘try’ and do something, they are really sharing that they don’t really have the confidence or belief that they can achieve whatever it is. They are already giving themselves a way out, telling themselves that it’s alright if they don’t achieve whatever it is they are going to ‘try’ to do.

On other occasions it can be used more dishonestly – and sadly I have to admit to using it in this way myself.  For example, if my wife asks me to do something, and I know there is little possibility of me doing it due to other – as far as I am concerned – more pressing or important activities, I will respond that I will ‘try’ to do it (I’m hoping and assuming that this is not too much of a revelation for her, but I also know I’m reasonably safe as she doesn’t read my blogs … well, I don’t think she does …). And guess what – it usually doesn’t get done.

The common denominator between the two examples is that the task or activity we are considering will probably not be achieved. As a rule of thumb or a default position, I find that the more a person uses the word ‘try’, the less they will accomplish.

There was some American research undertaken a number of years ago that supports my rule of thumb. It found that where a manager says that they are going to ‘try’ to undertake something, they are approximately 50% less likely to achieve it than when they leave out the word ‘try’. Unfortunately, I can’t re-find the source (but if anyone has it please let me know!).

You have probably heard the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. According to Gregory Titelman’s book, “The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings”, it has been traced back to a book called ‘Teacher’s Manual’ by the American educator Thomas H. Palmer, and it was designed to motivate American children to do their homework. Palmer (1782-1861) wrote in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’: ‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ I wonder whether it had the desired effect?

A more positive quote, or way of looking at matters, can be found in the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help build the boy into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  ”No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

And Yoda is right. There really is no try. We do something or we don’t do something. And so many thousands, possibly millions, more goals would be achieved every day if we stopped talking to ourselves and others in terms of ‘trying’.  

There is, however, one situation where a ‘try’ is an achievement. This is in rugby. A ‘try’ is scored when a player touches the ball down behind the opponent’s goal line. Why was that word used? Well, a ‘try’ originally didn’t get any points. When it was first introduced, the only way to score points was by kicking a goal – and the ‘try’ simply gave the team the opportunity to kick for goal and for points. The game has moved on since then, but the terminology has not.

But do you need to move on with your terminology? How often do you ‘try’? Does it add to your successes or stop you from achieving? Listen out for the next time you say it. Reflect on it. If necessary, plan to use a different phrase in future and evaluate how it impacts on your performance.