Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sharing my secrets

Bruce Muzik talks about his experience of challenging perceptions and prejudices he absorbed from birth in Apartheid South Africa. Here's how he took off those distorting lenses and experienced his native country in a new way.

It started by sharing his terrible secret:

He gives a good insight into how generalisations about other cultures and communities arise and are perpetuated.

His main purpose is in motivating others to take steps to remove numbness and increase aliveness.

In management studies we consider various ways in which people interact and cooperate. There are psychometric instruments to help us distinguish personality and style differences. Emotional intelligence guides us in ways to manage ourselves and our interactions with others. Team roles enable us to consider various functions that have to be fulfilled in completing a project and the distribution across members of the group engaged in the work.

Bruce Muzik encourages us to come back to ourselves and work on the inner kinks that block energy and a full sense of aliveness. I don't think he's encouraging people to be naive and blunder into the boss's office with the words 'I hate you and all you stand for'. He does suggest ways that might improve working relationships and trust.

One of his coaching examples might shed some light on the mysterious suicide of Welsh football manager, Gary Speed, who did not seem depressed and had no major conflicts with family and friends in the days before he died. Perhaps he nursed a secret that became unbearable?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Me and my shadow

As I see it, the ultimate purpose of taking psychological inventories and analysing our style is to improve how we relate to other people. Merely learning to label ourselves and other people adds little to the sum of human knowledge.

Daniel Goleman's work on emotional and other non-standard forms of intelligence encourages us to distinguish between awareness and management of self and relationship with others. Our personal style shows up in patterns that may or may not blend well with others and have a positive impact on communication and relationships.

Jung's archetypes, the inspiration for work on modern style inventories, included the notion that we come to terms with some of our weaker dimensions as we go through life. He noted that the weakest trait was our shadow side and likely to rise up and bite us on the backside at awkward moments in life. If we don't recognise the shadow, develop self awareness and do something about it, we may be stuck with patterns that are destructive and don't serve us well. The intention is not to get us to change personality, but work to our strengths. If we have a wider choice of responses and behaviours, we may defuse unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings.

My colleague, Kieran Duignan, is breaking new ground with what he calls Behavioural Diplomacy, building on the work of Scott Benjamin. He has developed a questionnaire (to be used with clients and their close network) to illuminate those dark corners. His portrait of behaviour patterns may not make comfortable reading to clients. With time and changing circumstances, client motivation may shift and bring them to the table ready to work on managing themselves and relationships differently. Mergers and acquisitions with their job insecurity or changing demands from new management can be one catalyst for a shift in motivation.

Richard Fisch, co-author of a seminal book on change, who died last month, founded the Brief Therapy Centre at MRI in Palo Alto California. He took a revolutionary approach to mental health research, focussing on the problem that the client was most concerned about rather than telling the client what he believed was wrong with them (current practice in psychology at the time.) This solved problems of 'resistance' or lack of motivation for change, as sessions dealt with major concerns brought by the client. Reading some of Fisch's case examples, there are some clear shadows or areas that don't work in his client's dealings with others, of which they seem totally unaware. Fisch is able to frame them as skill deficits and work successfully with the client to change patterns in the service of their desired goal.

In discussion with Kieran Duignan on his work on Behavioural Diplomacy, I reflected on my experience in some organisations where senior male managers with sub-optimal patterns sometimes appoint a woman in a floating role to act as a buffer between them and humanoids. The senior managers showed minimal interest or awareness in their own style, but felt the need for someone to deal with what they regard as trivial, routine and time consuming people issues.

Many years ago I talked to the Managing Director of a major UK agency supplying temporary secretarial staff to offices around the country. His partner, an Executive Secretary, was launching a work-to-rule of people in her position to campaign for better recognition and reward for their services. Thus, for example, when the chief executive told her to respond to a client requesting a meeting "Tell him to p*ss off, I'm going to play golf", she would do exactly that, rather than relaying a more diplomatic message to the caller.

Perhaps the Executive Secretary of decades ago has transformed into non-Board roles such as Strategy Consultant or Development Analyst, but always held by women. Maybe senior women who are criticised for being too aggressive or lacking sufficient people skills are those who don't have a buffer to deal with those pesky humanoids.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Truth, Justice and the American Way

This week UNESCO voted with a majority of 93 votes to recognise Palestine as a separate entity for the purposes of the organisation's work:

The United States voted against, along with 13 other countries including Canada, Germany and Australia.

107 countries voted for the motion including France, Russia, China and Austria.

The United Kingdom abstained along with 51 other countries including Denmark and Georgia.

Comments from the source of these numbers:

'Most of these are no surprise, although it is worth noting the division in Europe, with Spain, France, Ireland, Austria, Finland and Greece voting “yes,” Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden voting “no,” and the UK, Italy and Denmark abstaining. It’s also probably worth noting that the US didn’t manage to get a “no” vote from such solid supporters as countries like Latvia (which voted “no” to bringing the motion to the General Assembly earlier this month but abstained today) and Tuvalu, Nauru and other island states that almost always support the US in international forums. Another formerly stalwart US supporter who voted for Palestine is Iceland. I remember chatting with an Icelandic diplomat during the Bush administration who had told me that after one particularly egregious instance of Washington dictating terms on what should have been a bilateral decision between Reykjavik and DC the US could no longer count on their automatic support in international forums.'

The United States has since cut off $60 million funding to UNESCO. The spokeswoman at the press conference stated that the USA criticised this unilateral move, which undermined their efforts at brokering a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Wikileaks (strongly attacked by the US government as a hostile force working against democracy) released the Palestine Papers earlier this year, revealing the true nature of this 'peace process'.

They revealed that the Palestinians had made concessions requested of them repeatedly, only to be greeted with indifference by the Israeli/US parties to the negotiations, who then demanded more:

Other papers revealed communications between Israel and the US describing policy to keep Gaza on the brink of economic collapse, without tipping it over to the abyss completely:

Noam Chomsky has been critical of US support for Israel, posing as an honest broker in peace negotiations, when its role is firmly partisan. Part of the problem is the economic benefit to the US arms industry that flows from the huge amount of aid given to Israel. The US government has promised $30 billion in military aid over the next decade. He also believes that the US contributes to a PR offensive to soften public opinion to accept an attack on Iran. The principal rationale is the allegation that Middle Eastern people want such a military offensive, when the idea comes from Middle Eastern dictators (allied with the US) rather than ordinary people:

What do you do when you want to enforce policies, but find yourself in the minority?

Bully and coerce by withdrawing funding. Go on the offensive with mis-information.

Who abstained?

Countries that rely on good relations with the USA... such as UK, Denmark and Georgia. It's easier to remain neutral than vote against and risk public ridicule.

When Israel voted against the motion, other delegates laughed.

The United States and some other western governments have taken action to starve Wikileaks of funding. They have targetted online payment conduits, banks and other financial institutions to ensure that money does not flow in for further revelations.

Professor Chomsky believes that the US government reveals itself as defiantly anti-democratic in its foreign policy action. He also thinks that the scare tactics about the threat to security by the leaks is a smokescreen. He cites the example of a study from a medical journal in Falluja (attacked by US forces in November 2004). They found levels of cancers, leukemias and other diseases higher than in the aftermath of Hiroshima. This was not covered in the US media, which focussed on Iran and Afghanistan:

From a Palestinian viewpoint it seems fruitless to continue negotiating with two parties, who have huge economic interests in delaying a resolution or allowing concessions from their side. It makes more sense to take another route and seek acceptance by a UN body responsible for humanitarian aid and cultural heritage. Trust networks within the UN have built up over time and recognise some of the attempts made by Israel to erase Palestinian territory, homes and culture. UNESCO has censored Israel several times for its treatment of Arab sites of archaeological significance (to little effect.)

It will be interesting to see what happens when the UN resolution is tabled to recognise Palestine as a separate state.


Israel has today decided to speed up building 2000 new settlement homes in the West Bank and withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians are appealing to the UN to intervene.

The USA and Israel have long criticsed Middle Eastern governments and held Israel as a prime example of democracy in the region.

How strange that their response to democratic election processes is to punish people for 'voting the wrong way.'

Perhaps the world does not share a common perception of democracy and dictatorship.

Update 2

Canada has also announced a cut to its UNESCO funding. It would be fascinating to have heard this week's conversations across North America between US and Canadian diplomats and politicians.