Archive for category Understanding clients

Story crafting

Loom by seemann via morgueFile

Pulling the threads of the narrative together

A paper recently published in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance explains an approach to narrative-based careers counselling originating from a systems theory framework through ‘three levels of story crafting questions’.

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Self creation or self discovery?

Pushing Buttons by Luke Dorny

Who put that there?

What metaphor do you use to describe the development of your sense of identity or self knowledge?

Do you think about increasing self awareness as an act of self discovery? As you find out new things about yourself, are you just uncovering what is already there? Are you seeking to reveal more about your ‘true self’ so that you can make choices that are more consistent and authentic? Is your core self something that is determined by your past and mainly fixed?

Alternatively, do you think about increasing self awareness as a process of defining who you are and making choices about who you want to be? Are you involved in an on-going process of self creation, shaping your identity through your choices and experiences? Is your core self something malleable and open to infinite change?

The metaphor you are most drawn to (discovery or creation) can affect your sense of meaning, your well being, your ability to set personal goals and your response to failure.

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The alternative self

203/365 by Brandi Eszlinger

She doesn’t look a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow

A few years ago I went to see Our House the musical based on the songs of Madness. The music was good. The choreography was good too. But what I really liked was the story, which was quite imaginative for a jukebox musical.

It tells the story of Joe Casey, who does something stupid to impress a girl and then faces a choice: stay and risk getting arrested or run away. At this point the the storyline splits in two, following the consequences of these options and the different versions of Joe that emerge as a result.

The idea of exploring alternative versions of ourselves and finding out what we could have become if we had made different choices is very appealing in fiction. Sliding Doors, It’s a Wonderful Life, Melinda and Melinda and many others.

I recently came across a paper which nicely mashes up two of my favourite themes: counterfactual thinking and identity development into the concept of alternative selves. It explores the impact of these alternative selves on our sense of identity.

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Do companies have personalities?

Corporate Personhood by Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t

I guess this corporation has a split personality.

When clients talk about the kind of organisations they would like to work for, what words do they use?

Creative?

Friendly?

Responsible?

Supportive?

Generous?

Blue-chip?

Successful?

Dynamic?

Well-known?

Stable?

The list could go on and on. However, according to one group of researchers, when we evaluate an organisation we tend to use four main dimensions to categorise them.

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Bolster the jockey – being rational in a hard world

I would like to thank Karen DeCoster (@notchuraverage1), a career and technical education specialist at Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for contributing this post — David
Christmas Photo by theirhistory

This jockey may not require bolstering

Several months ago, a series of discussions on the LinkedIn Group Careers Debate caused me to re-examine my counselling beliefs and methods, particularly as they apply to helping individuals  struggling with career indecision.  For the most part, I use a direct and sometimes confrontational approach in assisting individuals such as the panicked college junior who can’t seem to settle on a major,  the millennial who describes being miserably “stuck” in a job that she hates or the chronically unemployed 50 something professional who is resistant to change.  While no single methodology can guarantee success in counselling indecisive individuals there is one that seems to fit well with my direct approach.

In graduate school, one of my first classes was a course in which we examined various theories and procedures used in counselling.   Two theories particularly resonated with me:  Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and William Glasser’s Reality Therapy (now called Choice Theory) in that order.  Over the years, there were a few others but as the saying goes, you never forget your first.

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The complexity of self-esteem

Amarse a uno mismo / selfloving by Ana Vigueras

How'm I looking? Lookin' good!

Self-esteem can play an important part in career success. This has been on my mind quite a bit in recent weeks. I have been doing a lot of work with people involved in organisational restructuring. Even when they are not facing redundancy, they are often having to deal with the prospect of applying for roles within a new structure or working under radically different conditions. When someone decides that all or part of what you have spent the last few years working at is not worth doing, it can severely dent your feelings of validity.

I have also been teaching on an introductory management course, where the issue of self-esteem came up in relation to staff motivation and performance management.

It is traditional to focus on the dangers of low self-esteem, which is usually linked to under-performance, lack of initiative, social withdrawal, fear of change, even depression and self-harm. Consequently, much of the advice around is about how to raise your self-esteem.

But there are dangers in too much self-esteem.

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Overcoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of social rejection

The Prophecy by Riccardo Cuppini (Rickydavid)

What happens if your crystal ball is full of gloom?

Way back in 2009 I wrote about the social rejection self-fulfilling prophecy. This relates to the unfortunate fact that, if you expect someone you meet for the first time not to like you, you tend to behave more distantly towards them. This increases the chances that they won’t like you. The reverse is also true: if you assume that you will be liked, you tend to behave more warmly and thus increase your chances of being liked.

People who have high levels of social anxiety tend to fall into the trap of negative expectations. They are particularly sensitive to the possibility of social rejection. This threat triggers an avoidance approach which makes them behave defensively in unfamiliar social settings, leading to less than warm responses from the strangers they interact with. This, in turn, confirms their fears and insecurity about social rejection. A vicious circle.

This self-fulfilling prophecy can be a major handicap when it comes to career development. It means you are less likely to engage in appropriate professional networking, cutting off potentially useful sources of information, insight and advice which could boost your career. It makes you less likely to create a positive first impression during an interview. It can also affect your ability to establish important relationships in the crucial first few days of a new job.

How do you break out of this trap?

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Approach or avoidance matching

silent sentry by woodleywonderworks

Do you think they're motiviated by a promotion or prevention focus?

A few weeks ago I wrote about regulatory focus theory (approach and avoidance motivations) and its possible impact on your career satisfaction.

To summarise quickly: approach or promotion focus is about trying to achieve positive outcomes, whereas avoidance or prevention focus is about trying to preclude negative outcomes.

Different types of goals and situations can induce either prevention or promotion focus. Benign environments tend to lead to promotion focus because people feel more inclined to take risks, whereas threatening environments tend to encourage prevention focus so that they are less likely to make damaging mistakes.

Having said that, most people will have a default approach they take to new situations. Generally, people feel more motivated about their goals if they can pursue them in a manner which fits with their regulatory focus. So, promotion-oriented individuals will feel more engaged if they are allowed to pursue goals in a positive, eager manner and prevention-oriented individuals feel better if they are allowed to be careful and vigilant.

A recent study by Righetti et al. (2011) looked at how the regulatory focus of someone trying to achieve a goal was affected by the focus of someone who was advising or supporting them.

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A matter of perspective

MIstakes Were Made (but not my me)

Can you justify yourself if you don't read this?

Over on Careers Debate we are having an interesting discussion about narrative approaches to career coaching/counselling.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book which looks at how we reconstruct our memories and perceptions in order to keep them consistent with our self image.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the various ways in which we delude ourselves in order to maintain a favoured self-perception. They discuss how this desire to avoid cognitive dissonance leads to extremes of self-justification in all areas of life. They provide examples from the realms of politics (obviously!), international relations, law enforcement, psychology, alien abductions, scientific research and marriage guidance.

It is an interesting book, if somewhat depressing. Personally, I think it should be compulsory reading for any politician or business leader. There is enough thought-provoking material in here to sustain several heated discussions. However, one particular set of research studies caught my attention because of their potential link to narrative work with individuals.

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In the moment. When is mindfulness most useful?

Free Child Walking on White Round Spheres Balance by D. Sharon Pruitt

Be aware of where you are putting your feet and they'll be less likely to end up in your mouth

Mindfulness is a cultivated state of mind in which you pay attention to the present moment. The modern usage of mindfulness is based on, but differs from, the Buddhist concept of sati (awareness). It is often linked to the practice of meditation but is now being investigated in relation to a number of different areas.

The idea of mindfulness came to prominence as a technique for stress reduction in the 1970s. Since then has been applied to a growing number of areas, such as pain management, education, behaviour management and cognitive therapy. In fact, I’m even going to be referring to it in a workshop on time management this week.

In the dim and distant past, a comment on a post discussing the concept of ‘Flow’ caused me to speculate about the difference between the notions of Flow and mindfulness. Last week, on the Advanced Guidance Skills course, I discussed mindfulness with some of the participants. This was in relation to the need to be acutely aware of what is going on moment-to-moment within a guidance or coaching discussion, where there is a constant danger of getting swept up in thinking about what you will do next with a client.

It was, therefore, interesting to come across an article in the Journal of Management (Dane, 2010) which seeks to clarify the relationship of mindfulness to other states of mind and which tries to identify the types of situation in which mindfulness might be useful and when it might not.

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