Ever Been Stuck?

Of course you have been.

Family Systems Theory considers three indicators of “stuckness.” The first indicator is like tire-spinning, the trying experience when you (or a committee) keep trying harder and predictably producing banal results. Trying to stand up is a lot more difficult than standing up.

A second stuckness is when one thinks in either / or categories, like “I win, you lose.” Binary belief systems produce teeter-totter relationships where if someone is “in” then the other is “out.” Reminds me of couples in conflict. Religions do binary thinking a lot, as do political parties. Makes quitters of even the most faithful. In marriage its called divorce.

The third stuckness is cramping answers into predictable questions, rather than recasting questions in fresh contexts and perspectives. “Business as usual” is all about this — thinking we know the questions, so our task, we figure, is to find answers that fit, rather than “appreciatively inquire.” (Appreciative Inquiry is a great way to focus on new questions.) Of course, its usually more about the question than the answer.

For more Family Systems Theory wisdom see, Edwin Friedman in “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” (pp. 40-46).

Thinking About Making a Life Change?

The last couple of days I have been working with mature students in graduate education at Carey Theological College on the UBC campus. This is my “day job” where I am the professor of marital and family studies. One of my several tasks at the beginning of an academic year is to interpret the psychosocial assessments of first year divinity students. These tremendously capable people are in the midst of making personal and vocational life changes, many of them in midlife having succeeded at other professions. One is a chaplain with the Canadian forces, one is a building contractor, some are in education and health sciences, one is a police officer, and all these folk are looking for work success in something new.

I gave them three psychosocial assessments. The first is the Strong Inventory for assessing vocational interests. A classic test, this is outstanding for figuring out your personal preferences in the myriad of alluring opportunities. The second is the California Psychological Inventory, a personality assessment that measures the test-taker on more than 25 personality variables. This one can feel a bit intrusive – it may tell you more than you might want to know about yourself. The third assessment is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Inventory and this assesses (surprise!) how you handle interpersonal stress and conflict.

And I have a deal for you: since I have done a bunch of these and I have already paid for several more sets, I am willing to reduce my costs so that you, my client friends, can get the benefit. Normally these tests cost out at more than $200 and I will offer them to you for $150. And that’s a deal.

For more information on my work in psychosocial assessment, please see a previous blog entitled “Life/ID: Identifying Your Life.”

“I’m So Glad You’re Not a Nice Person”

To be nice is to avoid risking, to feel more than think, to neglect passions, to act as if “commitment” is endurance rather than delight, to swap unique self-ness for the sort of peace that can’t be kept, to try to believe what others believe when you don’t want to and can’t anyways, to apologize for being whatever (e.g. successful, attractive, capable), to sustain relationships that should be shaken, to listen loudly to hollow fears, to not engage while all the while seeming to, to not see the humour or the art or the childlikeness in lots of everyday things, to make vital what’s redundant, to not know and express personal needs, to not be grateful from the heart, to not recognize when the situation is hopeless but not serious.

I learned this from a client friend today. She received this “not nice”  compliment – it was not mine to give or to receive. I just heard about it.

Pain Causes Change

Issac Newton’s first law of motion is that “everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.” Psychologists know that pain causes change.

People and organizations change painfully. Recently, two organizations have contacted me to work with them as a change agent in their stuck organizational system. It is clear that shifting priorities, revamping goals and objectives, clarifying values, transitioning staff, getting leaders to listen to more than their own convictions, building a productive relationship ethos – all of this and more – is painful.

Sometimes in therapy it is important to provoke the pain of change rather than placate or remove immediate discomfort. In working with church-place and workplace organizations, I propose 7 steps of systems change.

Step 1: Valuing the experience of pain and the gains that dissatisfaction can produce. This is human reality.

Step 2: The discovery of attainable goals that are honestly believed, often articulated and creatively lived. This is the mission.

Step 3: The presence of a change agent (this is the leader) who can shift the organization from homeostasis (no change) to morphogenesis (more change). This is the leadership factor.

Step 4: A logical, planned and scaled process that is responsive to adjustment as needed. This is the change contract.

Step 5: The informed participation of the respected community as an active partner in the desired goal. This is the empowered followership.

Step 6: The active presence of a courageous and challenging leadership team (alone, a leader is helpless) with vision of the mission, balanced with a sense of humour, and a focus on the everydayness of ordinary life. This is the missional team.

Step 7: A commitment to celebration and continual renewal while appreciating that our attainments are always partial.

[Someone shout “Amen!”]

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