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