Review – Leader Effectiveness Training

Leader Effectiveness Training

by Dr. Thomas Gordon, published 1977, 2001

Introduction

I find this book to be interesting as a potential “handbook of general management practices” and as such, I made extensive notes throughout the text as I read. There are many sections of the book that I copied in whole into my notes. My plan for this review, unlike other reviews focused on pithiness and synthesizing my impressions into a summary, is to keep more of these notes and direct transcriptions from the book in tact so that I have a good resource in the future.

What is leadership effectiveness?

How to influence people without using power is the key to leader effectiveness.

A revolution has started– a human relations revolution of great significance. People want to be treated with respect and with dignity; people are demanding to have a strong voice in their own working lives; people are less willing to be coerced and exploited; people want the right to achieve self-respect in their work and have work that is meaningful and rewarding; people are rebelling against inhuman working environments in very human ways — by jobhopping, absenteeism, apathetic attitudes, antagonism and malicious mischief.

While workplace regulation and government interference don’t help the capitalist or manager in this regard, the shift in workplace expectations is cultural and -psycho-intellectual-progressive (not political-progressive!) and gone are the days, real or imagined, of early industrialism in this country in which the business had all the power and could dictate, like a “captain” how would would be performed or else. Today, the dignity of the organization’s members is paramount to leadership effectiveness and great managers both a.) leave their associates feeling heard and understood and b.) offer them agreeable reasons to do the company’s work that serve their own self-interests.

Seems simple enough, so why does workplace and managerial conflict persist?

People come naturally to these built-in patterns of negative responses; they learned them when they were children. The leader inherits each group member’s “inner child of the past.”

[…]

Because group members at first perceive most leaders as probable controllers and dominators, that’s the way they will respond to her, even though the leader may have no intention of using power and authority.

It is vogue to ask of people to “leave your personal problems at home.” But this proves naive because it is the same person having problems at home who comes to work– there is no way to cleave one’s personality into two halves, work and personal. Further, people wish to believe that personality dynamics are mysterious or pertain only to events and developments occurring in the present, adult life. However, just as it is the same person at work and at home, it is also the same person who is an adult now but was a child in the past! A manager need not become people’s personal therapists, but they do need to understand that many of the negative, “childish” behaviors they witness in workplace conflict are in fact a result of unmet childhood needs and failed coping strategies developed in childhood adversity and trauma.

Being the leader doesn’t make you one, because leaders don’t automatically get the respect and acceptance of their group members; so in order to earn the leadership of their group and have a positive influence on the group members, leaders must learn some specific skills and methods.

How leaders acquire followers

There is a set of principles rooted in human evolutionary biology and the logic of economic scarcity that informs social organization development and leadership roles therein:

  1. Every individual is engaged in a struggle to survive by meeting needs and relieving tensions
  2. Means are necessary to survival
  3. Most means are acquired through relationships with other people; therefore people and the groups they form become the means of survival
  4. People seek out relationships in which others are seen as the means of survival
  5. People join groups with the goal of satisfying their needs and ensuring their own survival
  6. People follow a leader and permit them to direct their activities whom they believe will help them get what they need and want to survive

Organizational needs are primarily for increased productivity and efficiency, while the group members needs are sometimes those that motivate them to resist pressure for increased production and efficiency.

An effective leader cannot be only a “human relations specialist” nor only a “productivity specialist”, they must be both.

A job must provide opportunity for growth, responsibility, recognition and advancement if it is to be satisfying; it is not enough to simply remove dissatisfying items from a job.

Expecting people to show up for work just to earn a paycheck is not enough. People also want a sense of personal satisfaction and meaning from doing work they consider important and doing it well.

The principle function of a group leader is to facilitate problem-solving; in somewhat different times, it is to maximize productive work time and achieve mutual need satisfaction.

Effective leaders must behave in such a way that they come to be perceived almost as another group member; at the same time they must help all group members feel as free as the leader to make contributions and perform needed functions in the group.

Group members draw away from leaders who make them feel inadequate or lower their self-esteem.

When leaders achieve this “another member” status, they actually increase the contributions they can make to the group, because their ideas will get evaluated like those of other members.

An effective group leader, then, does not need to solve problems, but to see to it that they get solved.

A 6-step process for effective problem solving

  1. Identifying and defining the problem
  2. Generating alternative solutions
  3. Evaluating alternative solutions
  4. Decision-making
  5. Implementing the decision
  6. Following up to evaluate the solution

Observant leaders can use “signaling behavior” to become alert to the existence of a problem:

  • being unusually uncommunicative
  • sulking
  • avoiding you
  • excessive absenteeism
  • being unusually irritable
  • not smiling as much as usual
  • daydreaming
  • tardiness
  • looking downcast or depressed
  • being sarcastic
  • walking slower (or faster)
  • slouching in their chairs

Once alert to a problem, a leader can follow the problem-solving process to resolve it and thus allow the team member to return to their productive functioning within their organizational role.

As a rule, people don’t get down to the real problem until after they have first ventilated a feeling or sent some opening message.

It has not been an evolutionarily-successful social strategy for human beings to be directly confrontational. As a result, most people learn in childhood to show they are hurt or have a problem without specifying what it is upfront. This necessitates the leader engaging in an exploratory process to help the person with the problem feel comfortable revealing what their problem actually is.

The “helpee” usually will not move into the problem-solving process unless the listener sends an invitation– opens the door for the helpee:

  • “Would you like to talk about it?”
  • “Can I be of any help with this problem?”
  • “I’d be interested to hear how you feel.”
  • “Would it help to talk about it?”

Active Listening as a tool for building trust and leader engagement

Active Listening involves establishing equilibrium between the expression of the person needing help and the impression being received by the one trying to help them. Frequent and continuous feedback of the results of the receiver’s decoding is what “Active Listening” is all about. Listeners need only restate, in their own language, their impression of the expression of the sender. It’s a check: is my impression acceptable to the sender?

At least two ingredients are necessary in any relationship of one person fostering growth and psychological health in another– empathy and acceptance. Empathy is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of the others and understand their “personal world of meaning.” Acceptance is feeling good about what a person is doing.

The 12 Roadblocks to Communication

There are 12 common roadblocks to effective, empathetic communication between leaders and followers and almost every leader makes the mistake of running into one of these roadblocks at some time or other in the course of carrying out their leadership duties.

  1. Ordering, Directing, Commanding
  2. Warning, Admonishing, Threatening
  3. Moralizing, Preaching, Imploring
  4. Advising, Giving Suggestions or Solutions
  5. Persuading with Logic, Lecturing, Arguing
  6. Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming
  7. Praising, Agreeing, Evaluating Positively, Buttering Up
  8. Name-calling, Ridiculing, Shaming
  9. Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing
  10. Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting
  11. Probing, Questioning, Interrogating
  12. Distracting, Diverting, Kidding

What makes these roadblocks ineffective tools of communication?

Implicit in these 12 categories of listener responses is the desire or intent to change rather than accept the sender, acting as vehicles for communicating unacceptance. A climate of unacceptance is very unconducive to personal growth, development and psychological health.

Listening helps keep the responsibility for problem-solving with the member. The 12 Roadblocks tend to grab responsibility away from the owner of the problem and deposit it in the hands of the leader.

Part of demonstrating acceptance is being willing to hear the WHOLE person, not just the part of the person we enjoy being around or working with. Feelings, even negative feelings, are part of everyone’s total reality and existence and will be a necessary part of an effective leader’s daily experience.

Contrary to the “feelings don’t belong here” belief, there is evidence that expressing feelings actually increases a group’s effectiveness and productivity. Openness in expressing feelings serves very much the same function for a group as pain does for one’s organism.

Leaders should treat feelings as “friendly”, not dangerous. Feelings should be welcomed because they are cues and clues that some problem exists.

Negative feelings can be quite transitory. People purposely select strong negative feelings as codes to communicate “I want to make sure I get your full attention” or “I want you to know how bad you’ve made me feel.”

However, don’t confuse the simple expression of a negative emotion as the start and end point of the problem to be explored. Sometimes people don’t know what the real reason is for their discomfort and need help finding it, and other times they just aren’t comfortable saying what it is.

People’s problems are like onions– they come in layers.

This is not unlike a child’s temper tantrum, and, as parents know full well, the best strategy is to wait for the feelings to dissipate.

Leaders do a lot of teaching– giving instructions, explaining new policies or procedures, doing on-the-job training. Yet very few leaders have received special training to carry out this important function.

Little or no learning is going to occur until you acknowledge the team member’s feelings and help him work through them somehow. Your teaching has to stop until you get evidence that he is again ready to learn. This is the most important principle of effective teaching. Just as you can’t be a leader without followers, you can’t be a teacher without learners.

Getting learners more actively involved and participating in the learning process is the mark of an effective teacher.

It’s also naive to believe that problems can simply be ignored or avoided.

The price unassertive leaders pay is that the problems rarely go away; they suffer in silent marytyrdom or build up feelings of resentment toward the person causing the problem.

The difference between “I-Messages” and “You-Messages”

You-Messages carry a high risk of damaging relationships because:

  • they make people feel guilty
  • they may be felt as blame, put-downs, criticism or rejection
  • they may communicate a lack of respect for the other person
  • they often cause reactive or retaliatory behavior
  • they may be damaging to the recipient’s self-esteem
  • they can produce resistance, rather than openness, to change
  • they may make a person feel hurt and later, resentful
  • they are often felt as punitive

People are seldom aware their behavior is unacceptable to another. Their behavior is usually motivated only by a desire to meet their own needs, not by a deliberate intent to interfere with the needs of others. When you send a You-Message, you communicate “You are bad for doing something to meet your needs.”

I-Messages are less confrontational because they represent a plea for help from one person to the other. Most people are willing to be of service to others when asked for their help.

The Three Components of a Complete I-Message:

  1. a brief, non-blameful description of the behavior you find unacceptable
  2. your honest feelings
  3. the tangible and concrete effect of the behavior on you (the consequences)

BEHAVIOR + FEELINGS + EFFECT

When people resist changing, it is generally useless to keep hammering at them with subsequent I-Messages; what is called for at such times is a quick shift to Active Listening.

The “diagnostic model” is the fashionable management belief that a leader’s job is to figure out what kind of person each of their team members is and then to speak “their language.”

The assumption implicit in the diagnostic model is that it is the leader who assumes responsibility for producing changes in the group members, and the more leaders know about their team, the cleverer they will be in selecting methods for changing them. This is ultimately a method of manipulation.

This is the “language of control” versus the “language of influence” in the confrontive model, where the leader cares more about knowing how people feel than why they feel that way.

With the confrontive model, leaders need only understand their own feelings and how to communicate them in a nonblameful way; then they need to put listening skills to work so they and their group members can work out mutually acceptable solutions. This is simpler than trying to “figure people out” to manipulate them into doing what you want done.

The role of meetings for effective leaders

There are two kinds of meetings, each with a distinct purpose: informational and problem-solving.

Informational meetings are for such purposes as personal growth, continuing education, keeping informed about what other group members are doing (including the leader). Should problems arise, they should be put on the agenda for the next Problem-Solving Meeting. Problem-Solving meetings have 6 types, following the six step process for problem-solving outlined above.

An organization without many problems is one that is not growing, changing, adapting. Expect problems, and embrace them as vehicles to making organizational progress!

Leadership effectiveness requires regularly scheduled meetings for problem-solving and decision-making with your management team. “Show me an ineffective organization or group and I’ll give you a leader who either does not have management meetings at all or who conducts them poorly.”

Guidelines for effective management team meetings:

  1. Frequency of meetings; it is important to meet at the same time, day and place on a regularly scheduled basis, with or without the leader
  2. Duration of meetings; meetings should start and end at rigidly enforced times, and include a break if meeting for longer than two hours; it is better to have multiple meetings than one that is too long
  3. Priority of meetings; ideally the meeting should have priority over other organizational responsibilities and people should be prepared to be fully present during the meeting
  4. Alternates for members; if a member can not attend, he can designate an alternate with authority to act on his behalf
  5. Place of meeting; conference rooms with sufficient privacy, quiet, seating and comfort are preferable to offsite lunches or dinners
  6. Physical arrangements; white boards, chart pads and other note-taking instruments should be present, members should be seated and have tables for writing on and refreshments for relaxing; the meeting leader should not necessarily sit at the head of the table
  7. The recording function; the leader should not be the recorder as they must be free to perform other functions; the recorder can be a designated person or a rotating responsibility; the recorder should capture decisions, plans for dealing with unresolved problems, problems emerging from the discussion to be placed on future agendas, task assignments and follow-up actions; a brief formula is a statement of the problem and who is to do what by when; meeting notes should be distributed to attendees after the meeting
  8. Developing the Agenda; the group should own its own agenda, not the leader; the agenda can be collected and formed before the meeting or at the beginning; discussion should wait until the agenda is complete
  9. Establishing priorities for the agenda; the most critical items should be discussed first
  10. Rules for speaking; effective groups usually function informally; the leader can be most helpful not in setting rules, but in ensuring each attendee has a chance to provide input
  11. Kinds of problems appropriate for the group; typically appropriate problems are those which require data from the group to solve, and whose solutions require the group members to implement or which effect the members of the group
  12. Kinds of problems inappropriate for meetings; never use group time to solve problems affecting only some of the members, that are too unimportant for that level of the group, that require study and preliminary data gathering (without conducting this first), or that are outside the authority of the group
  13. Rules for decision-making; ideally, all members of the group should agree on the solution and the problem should be discussed until all members are able to voluntarily buy in; voting should only be used to help the group understand which direction members are leaning, not to settle upon the solution and make a decision; when time does not permit further discussion, decision-making can be delegated to one, two or three members acting as a subgroup
  14. Confidentiality of Group Meetings; the procedures of the group should be kept in confidence to encourage open sharing, and only the decisions of the group should be shared publicly, not how they were arrived at
  15. Disposition of Agenda Items; every agenda item should be disposed of by reaching a solution, delegating the problem for further study outside the group, delegating the problem to an individual or subgroup for a recommendation, being placed on the agenda of a future meeting, taking the problem off the agenda by the person submitting it, or having the problem redefined in new terms; no problem should be left hanging
  16. Record of the Meeting; notes should be distributed promptly and cover all decisions made by the group, the disposition of all agenda items and all task assignments with due dates including WHO does WHAT by WHEN
  17. Procedures for Continual Evaluation of Group Effectiveness; the group can improve the functioning of its meetings by periodically reflecting upon itself and evaluating its own performance by written or oral evaluation and feedback

Some leaders pride themselves on having a problem-free workplace. They ask and expect people to “forgive and forget” or, worse, to not bring up problems in the first place. They pay a heavy price for this attitude of enforced ignorance.

The absence of conflict may be symptomatic of an organization or group that is not functioning effectively– not growing, changing, adapting, improving or creatively meeting new challenges. The number of conflicts in groups (including families) is not at all indicative of how “healthy” they are. The true index is whether the conflicts get resolved and by what method they get resolved.

I have heard executives proudly describe their groups or organizations: “We’re just a big happy family around here– we get along, no problems.” I am always suspicious of such leaders, as I am suspicious of husbands and wives who say, “We’ve been married for twenty years and we’ve never had a fight.” Usually that means that their conflicts are not allowed to surface and be faced.

Beware also of team members who avoid bringing up conflicts in order to earn rewards and avoid punishment.

In relationships with leaders who rely heavily on reward and punishment, group members selectively send messages that they think will only bring rewards, avoiding messages that might invite punishment.

These leaders, too, believe they are operating without problems or conflict, but are usually unpleasantly surprised to learn something major has simply been hidden from them out of view!

It gets a lot of mocking treatment amongst pundits and the entertainment industry, but it’s nonetheless worth reiterating the The No-Lose Method of Conflict Resolution: we will work together to find a solution to this problem that respects both our needs. For organizations which fear reward and punishment-based leadership, this can be an effective means of building trust that problems can be talked about because they will be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

An additional concept is the “Principle of Participation” which states that those who are responsible for helping to shape a decision, feel responsible for seeing that it works. Utilizing the PoP, leaders can avoid the temptation to dictate solutions to problems that are brought to their attention and instead get their team members involvement in finding a resolution that they will actively support.

The Periodic Planning Conference Concept

People who believe they ARE the organization will want to contribute to its success, this means people need:

  1. Work that is meaningful and provides need-fulfilling experiences
  2. Their ideas and contributions are valued and needed
  3. Guidance for how to grow and develop so they can enjoy the satisfaction of being more competent over time
  4. A feeling of freedom and self-determination through improving their own performance

The Periodic Planning Conference (PPC) is an instrumental practice in soliciting their ideas, providing guidance and giving them a sense of self-determination in improving their performance such that ultimately work becomes more meaningful and need-fulfilling because the person is creating their own work.

The PPC is an alternative to the annual performance appraisal and is instead a regularly scheduled conference, generally every six months, with each group member. It may be as short as a half hour, averages two hours but may involve several meetings stretched over a period of days.

Items for discussion:

  • Group member’s ideas for improving performance in the next six months
  • Ideas for developing new skills
  • Plans to institute changes in carrying out functions of the job
  • Discuss ways the group leader can help the group member accomplish their goals in the next six months
  • Discuss with group leader ANY problem or concern impacting their job performance, job satisfaction or future with the company

It focuses on FUTURE performance (what can be done) rather than PAST performance (what has been done). It has no scores and focuses on job functions rather than personal characteristics or qualities. It is a two-way conference.

The rationale:

  • It is the leaders’ responsibility to help the individual member improve their performance
  • Provides useful organizational by-products:
    • Identifying qualified candidates for each level of management
    • Providing means for systematic follow-up and development of people
    • Focus on job performance instead of personality traits (de-personalize management)
    • Help people to help themselves grow in the job and the org
  • Builds a relationship between leader and group member where free discussion can exist and problems can become visible and addressed
  • Focuses on the future, engages with positive behaviors to make improvements
  • Group members become more engaged in their work by suggesting solutions to their own problems
  • Provides an opportunity to resolve conflicts when they arise, creating a mutually rewarding relationship

Important assumptions to discuss and keep in mind during a PPC:

  • Companies face competition and must make constant progress to avoid being surpassed by competitors; for the company to grow, people must grow; most people don’t like standing still
  • There is ALWAYS a better way of doing things
  • No one is EVER working at 100% of capacity
  • Change, growth and modification are an inevitable part of effective organizations
  • People are strongly motivated to accomplish goals they set themselves, not goals set for them by others
  • People are happier when given a chance to accomplish more

Steps to prepare for a PPC

  1. Prepare your people
    1. Explain the deficiencies of traditional performance-rating systems
    2. Explain the rationale of the PPC and its assumptions
    3. Listen to the feelings of team members
    4. Influence them to try the new PPC system on an experimental basis
  2. Get mutual agreement on job functions; what is the team member expected to contribute to the organization? What do they do in return for their wage/salary?
    1. What do you do to contribute to the organization?
    2. What do you do that warrants the organization paying you a salary?
    3. Why does your job exist? What is it supposed to contribute?
    4. When you feel you are doing a good job, what are you actually accomplishing for the organization?
    5. Procedure
      1. Explain the definition of a job function as opposed to a job duty
      2. Ask the team member to develop his own list
      3. Developer your own list as the leader
      4. Review them together
  3. Get mutual agreement on how performance is to be measured
    1. Reduces misunderstandings
    2. Points out what data will be needed for the group member to evaluate their own performance

Conducting the PPC

  1. Set the date for the PPC in advance, preferably by 1 week minimum
  2. Ask your team member to prepare goals in preparation for the conference
  3. Provide an opportunity to ask questions about the PPC
  4. Explain that the focus of the PPC is on the future, not the past, and that the team member is expected to “carry the ball” in presenting goals
  5. Explain your own goals for the work group, so the team member understands the larger context

Potential questions to prompt the team member in preparing for the PPC:

  • What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?
  • In which of your job functions do you feel the need for improvement?
  • What are your goals for doing a more effective job?
  • What help will you need from the organization to attain this goal?
  • What is your program this year for improving your performance or the performance of your work group?
  • What benchmark will let you know that you have improved?

Key points to remember about the PPC:

  • It’s the team member’s ball. Get his ideas and feelings out first. Active Listening.
  • Remember to keep the discussion forward-looking, the past is gone.
  • When it’s your turn to talk, be candid, honest and open. Send I-Messages.
  • Secure agreement on the goals to be accomplished. Keep their number to a workable size. Use Method III.
  • As a leader you want to have a clear understanding of how your team member plans to reach each goal– what actions are planned.
  • Share ideas when you think there is an opportunity or need
  • Maintain a climate that is warm, friendly and informal, but task-oriented.
  • Setting goals is a commitment to change, some may resist sticking their necks out
  • Review and put into writing goals agreed upon, with a copy for each participant (and, can share with the group)

Implementing the decisions of a PPC

  1. Provide data needed to evaluate progress
  2. Provide material, financial or personnel resources required to accomplish goals
  3. Make yourself available as a counselor or facilitator of problem-solving (use the Six Step process)

Expected benefits of the PPC

  1. Team members respond to trust by becoming more responsible and less dependent
  2. Higher motivation in your team members
  3. Greater self-fulfillment and satisfaction from team members
  4. You will spend less time supervising and overseeing
  5. Witness continuous improvement in job performance; doing things better will become the norm

Deeper issues for leaders

Just as the adults before us are grown versions of the children they once were, and a person at work is the same person he is at home, leaders must reflect on how their choices and actions will extend and reverberate beyond the narrow confines of the workplace. These personal philosophical inquiries may be of benefit for the leader in contemplating his place in society at large and, more importantly, what kind of impact he wants to have on that society:

  • What kind of person do you want to be? How you behave as a leader will shape you as a person
  • What kind of relationship do you want? How you behave as a leader will determine the kinds of relationships you have with others
  • What kind of organization do you want? Organizations are made of people in relationships, so the kinds of people and the types of relationships they have determine the type of organization they form
  • What kind of society do you want? An open society requires open leaders running open organizations where the members are allowed to exercise their own talents and wills
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Review – Your Self-Confident Baby (#parenting, #RIE, #infancy, #children, #respect)

[amazon text=Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities&asin=1118158792]

by Magda Gerber, Allison Johnson, published 1998

I read YSCB and Janet Lansbury’s [amazon text=Elevating Child Care&asin=1499103670] in rapid succession; while this review will focus on the original work by Magda Gerber (founder of RIE in Los Angeles, CA), I may touch upon a few thoughts and ideas from Lansbury’s book as well.

The advice and ideas espoused in this book rest on two central premises:

  • Major premise; your baby comes built in with the tools it needs to learn and navigate its environment, and will create its own learning problems and discover its own solutions when given freedom to explore the world at its own pace
  • Minor premise; good parenting is less about what you put in early on and more about what you don’t, especially with regards to worry, anxiety and active interventionism

This doesn’t seem that controversial, but if you ask me it flies directly in the face of what I have routinely observed in both American parenting and Asian parenting, for example:

  • American parenting; your baby may be capable of great and wonderful things (which you implicitly choose for it), but like a Calvinist, you will only know for sure if you actively work to develop these talents and capabilities in your child. Failing to do so means risking that your child will turn out to be not one of the Elect, but a poor loser, or worse, quite average and content
  • Asian parenting; babies are stupid and a constant and confusing source of pride and worry for their parents, and if they are not condescended constantly almost from the moment they are born, they risk becoming ingrates, drug users, or worse, free thinkers, rather than guided automatons with eternal respect for their revered elders

American parents spend a lot of time getting wrapped up in the competition of their lives, which they impart to their children. Infant development is like a race– how quickly can the child progress from one stage to the next? And what burdens of guilt, anxiety, anger and frustration can the parents-as-pit-crew take on along the way to ensure the process is stressful and obsessive without wasting time reflecting about the race and why it must be won?

So this Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) approach, developed by the Hungarian Magda Gerber after a chance encounter with a pediatrician named Dr. Emmi Pikler in 1950s Hungary, is not just an antidote, but a holistic approach for individuals and families looking to foster authentic self-discovery in their children and connection built on mutual respect amongst kin.

But it is NOT a silver bullet! Raising children is still a real challenge, it still involves difficulty and even moments of self-doubt.

Gerber offers these basic principles:

  • basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer and a self-learner
  • an environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing
  • time for uninterrupted play
  • freedom to explore and interact with other infants
  • involvement of the child in all care-giving activities to allow them to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient
  • sensitive observation of the child to understand their needs
  • consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

Gerber cautions parents to slow down, to develop the habit of observing before intervening. Many child troubles — frustration during playtime, an unintentional fall, conflict over a piece of property with another infant — can be resolved by the child on its own if they’re given the opportunity and support to meet the challenge with their own solution. Similarly, it is not the parent’s duty to entertain or preoccupy the child, children become present-oriented and externally directed primarily through the influence of their anxious parents. If left to their own devices to play and explore at their own pace in a safe environment, they will learn to focus and entertain themselves through their own creativity and exploration at length.

Another suggestion is to “sportscast” the infant’s life during caregiving activities such as feeding, diaper changes, bath time or preparation for bed. By narrating what is happening to the child and why, and what will happen next, the child learns about the meaningful sequence of events in its life and can begin to build expectations about the future and acquire a measure of predictability about its life and routines which creates security, comfort and trust in the parents and caregivers. Young children’s minds are “scientific”, they’re always trying to understand the cause-effect relationships behind observed phenomena and one of the primary cause-effect relationships they are exploring as they develop is the sequence of activities across time. Much like raising a dog, following a predictable routine reduces stress in the infant’s life and allows them to focus their attention and learning on other things than the fear of what might happen next to them.

According to Gerber, quality time means total attention and focus on your child. Holding your baby while you watch TV, or read, or run an errand, is not quality time and the child can sense that it’s not the priority. Quality time is watching your child play, uninterrupted, or reading to him, or giving sole focus to feeding him, or diapering or bathing him. Because of this, Gerber encourages parents to reflect on even the routine caregiving moments, because over thousands of repetitions over an infant’s life they will leave an indelible mark on the relationship and come to represent a sizable proportion of the total “quality” time spent together– do you want your child, even in their limited perceptual state during infancy, to see their diapering as a disgusting task you as a parent have to get over with as quickly and cleanly as possible several times a day, or do you want your child to see that you love them and are interested in them even when doing mundane things like changing their diapers?

Further, this approach has a transformative effect on the parent, as well. By treating the relationship respectfully and seeking to include the child in caregiving activities by narrating what is occurring and being present in the moment, the parent is slowly but surely training themselves to see their child not as an obligation to which things must be done, but as another person like themselves with needs and values and a personhood just like other adults they interact with. They will be modeling for their child the very behaviors they wish for them to adopt in how the child is expected to behave toward others.

This book is chock full of so much wonderful, important information for parents, caregivers and anyone interested in the world of small children. It’s too hard to try to summarize all the advice and concepts and it wouldn’t be worthy to try. Instead, I will simply observe that this is another philosophical work that goes much beyond how to put on a diaper or how to create a safe playspace, and instead says much more about how we can build a peaceful and encouraging society for all people to live in, adults and children (future adults) alike. And to the extent this approach is not recognized and its advice goes unheard and unheeded, it explains clearly why we witness the social problems and family and individual dysfunctions we do!

Here is a brief list of some of the more pithy wisdom I enjoyed from Lansbury’s “Elevating”:

  • As parents, our role in our baby’s development is primarily trust
  • Our relationship will be forever embedded in our child’s psyche as her model of love and the ideal she’ll seek for future intimate bonds
  • The secret to connecting is to meet children where they are
  • Grieving people want and need to be heard, not fixed
  • A nice bedtime habit to start with your child is to recapture the day… You can also mention what will happen tomorrow. This connects the past, present and future and gives her life a connected flow
  • Since our lifespan is getting longer, why not slow down?
  • We don’t think twice about interrupting infants and toddlers, mostly because we don’t think to value what they are doing
  • Babies are dependent, not helpless
  • “Readiness is when they [the baby] do it.” “When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it himself.”
  • Instead of teaching words, use them
  • “Don’t ask children a question you know the answer to”
  • Purposefully inflicting pain on a child can not be done with love

4/5

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Review – Totto-chan (#nonfiction, #books, #Japan, #education)

[amazon text=Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window&asin=1568363915]

by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, published 1981

What a wonderful book! I’ve never read anything quite like it, although it reminded me quite a bit of various Hayao Miyazaki animated films I’ve seen in the past. “Totto-chan” is a memoir in the guise of a novel. The author’s childhood self is the main character and the events described actually took place while she attended a creative school called Tomoe Gakuen in pre-war Tokyo. This proves to be an interesting narrative device because the story is told from the emotional and experiential point of view of a child, but with the knowingness and articulateness of an adult. The obvious fondness or at least understanding of the author toward her younger self serves to enhance the overall sensation of empathy the story engenders, for that is the primary theme of the school and what the children were learning there.

Led by the visionary headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi, the Tomoe school’s philosophy is built on trusting children to be themselves, “let nature lead” as Kobayashi put it. The story is filled with anecdotes of Totto-chan and her classmates being entrusted to figure things out for themselves, with adults and authority figures like the headmaster and parents simply listening and providing confidence that the children will succeed in coming up with workable solutions as they learn to navigate the world around them. Mistakes and slipups (such as Totto-chan falling into the school’s cesspool) are treated with dignity and patience. Instruction and structure come in the form of simple guidelines (for lunch, students were asked to bring “something from the hills and something from the sea”) with the belief that the children will be motivated to find their own solution with a limited amount of information.

The effect on the children is a unique sensation of freedom and capability, of openness and consideration of themselves and the needs of others. Seemingly without encouragement, the school spontaneously forms a meaningful, interested sense of community and ownership by the students toward their school grounds, neighborhood and classmates. Left to pursue their studies and interests at their own pace, some students excel through deep study and careful focus of a particular subject while others enjoy sampling disparate bits of knowledge and experience without a plan. All students appear happy and enthusiastic about their lives, even those students who come to the school with severe developmental handicaps. As the author says, this liberty allowed a lot of children who were misfits in the standard schooling regime to find a sense of ease and belonging and to go on to live productive, independent and connected lives as adults.

The story gives the reader a glimpse of an educational philosophy and pedagogical approach that is at once intuitive and mysterious: why shouldn’t every school demonstrate such empathy and concern for its students; and how DOES Mr. Kobayashi manage to have such patience and a sunny disposition toward the antics of small children that are considered so “obnoxious” by nearly everybody else? The epilogue of the story summarizes some of the research travel Kobayashi performed in Europe for several years leading up to the founding of the Tomoe school and it becomes clear that there is a dedicated, principled purposefulness to every single event in the story, which the author as an adult reflects upon in the present with a “Oh, so THAT must have been what Mr. Koboyashi was trying to teach us there…” To a cynical mind it may seem almost exploitative to be so cunning in one’s schemes, but if the ultimate goal of the approach is to develop in the students the maxim “Trust yourself”, how nefarious could this stratagem actually be?

The school seems like a very “social” place and less like an academy– numerous field trips, “sports” days, music and exercise classes and camping overnights pepper the plot and while there is a library and scenes of students doing self-directed physics studies with alcohol burners and beakers, they always take place in Tomoe’s disused railroad cars-cum-classrooms. It’s a challenge only to those readers with a constricted view of what education and learning necessarily mean. For Kobayashi and his students, every experience brings teachable moments and the question begged and answered is why reading about flora and fauna in a textbook is a superior approach when one can go outside for a walk and study the variety of life up close.

From the view of paranoid American parenting, the children disrobing with their teachers and swimming naked together in the school’s small pool will seem like a perfect opportunity for secret child abusers amongst the faculty to get their jollies. But the lesson here seems to be that every choice in life brings with it risks and if bathing suit-less swim time is a useful means for helping the children (especially the physically handicapped) to appreciate and accept their differences and similarities such that they can have confidence about who they are and act with kindness towards everyone else, the risk of something monstrous or mean-spirited in such an environment might be a better risk to take than watching certain individuals grow up feeling alienated from themselves and others for lack of such experiences.

Indeed, those same paranoid parents would be wondering how a child could ever develop a moral sense without correction and punishment from adults. It is enjoyable, then, to witness the many moments when Totto-chan attempts to do something underhanded or less than honest (with herself, her parents or her friends) but recognizes the moral inconsistency of her actions on her own and eventually makes amends and moves on. It makes you think that children are capable of so much more than they are given credit for, typically, and that maybe the moral failings of children reflect not their immaturity, but the perverse incentives of the adults who guide them.

This is a humorous book, as well. There were many moments when I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and recount a passage to someone nearby, they’re just too good not to share. And thankfully, there are moments of profound tragedy and despair. I say thankfully, because it is in these recollections that we are truly reminded of how precious life is and what a wonderful gift a school like Tomoe is.

One of those tragedies is that the Tomoe school burned to the ground near the finale of the Pacific War as Tokyo came under increased firebombing by the US Air Force. It’s a stark reminder of the injudiciousness and unfairness of war, even though it is recounted without particular frustration or anger on the part of the author (a testament to the empathetic spirit of the school itself!) But there is also a lesson in the resilience of the creative spirit, as Kobayashi’s only response is to ask, “What kind of school shall we build next?

The good news is that we don’t have to suffer war or burn our schools down to ask that question ourselves.

I think this book can be enjoyed by children, parents, families, teachers and social theorists and anyone concerned with building a more empathetic society built upon respect for the individual and the instinct of trusting oneself.

5/5

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Review – Nonviolent Communication (#peace, #psychology, #books, #review)

[amazon text=Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life&asin=189200528X]

by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., published 2003

What is all this hippie nonsense?

A common question, this is the best introduction I’ve found so far, via a lecture given by the author.

 

The NVC Process

To practice the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process involves four components, which are:

  1. observations – the concrete actions that affect our well-being
  2. feelings – the emotions we experience in relation to what we observe
  3. needs – values, desires, etc., that generate our feelings
  4. requests – the concrete actions we’d like to see others take in order to enrich our lives

The NVC process is not a new way to manipulate other people; it involves giving and receiving a level of respect and empathy common to ourselves and others which entails:

  • expressing honestly through the 4 components
  • receiving empathetically through the 4 components

Obstacles to needs-based communication

There are many pitfalls that trap us in our efforts to communicate our unique needs. One common communication style which serves to hinder compassionate communication is moralistic judgment, an impersonal way of communicating the focuses on the “wrongness” of the actions of others rather than on revealing what a person thinks and feels inside of themselves. In truth, analyzing and judging the behavior of others is actually a reflection of our own needs and values. For example, “The rich are so selfish!” might be an attempt to communicate something closer to, “When I witness poverty, I feel sad; I value living in a community where everyone seems to have enough to take care of themselves.” The danger of moralistic judgments is that the act of classifying can promote violence by creating adversarial, us-them attitudes toward others– people become obstacles to satisfying our needs and values rather than potential partners.

Another problematic approach to communication involves making comparisons, which are simply another form of judgment. When we make comparisons, we block compassion– for ourselves and for others. It is another way to build walls and separateness.

Compassion is similarly difficult to achieve when we engage in denial of responsibility by using language which obscures the connection between our own thoughts, feelings and actions. In Nazi Germany, officers responsible for the Holocaust and other atrocities relied on Amtssprache, or “office talk/bureaucratese”, to deny responsibility for their actions because everything they did, they did because of “superiors’ orders” or “company policy” or “just following the law/doing my job.”

There are many ways in which we can deny responsibility for our actions by attributing their cause to factors external to the self:

  • vague, impersonal forces; “I did X because I had to”
  • condition, diagnosis or personal history; “I do X because I am Y”
  • actions of others; “I did X because Y did Z”
  • dictates of authority; “I did X because Y told me to” (Amtssprache)
  • group pressure; “I did X because everyone in group T does X”
  • institutional policies, regulations or rules; “I did X because those are the rules around here when people do Y”
  • gender, social or age roles; “I hate X, but I do it because I am a good Y”
  • uncontrollable impulses; “I was overcome by my urge to do X”

History is rife with examples,

We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think and feel

Two other ways we create obstacles to life-enriching communication are by stating our desires as demands, and speaking in terms of “who deserves what”.

A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply

Similarly, speaking in terms of “deserving” creates the impression of “badness” or “wrongness” and promotes behavior based upon fear and punishment-avoidance (a negative philosophy) rather than goal-seeking and personal benefit (a positive philosophy). In other words,

it’s in everyone’s interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefitting themselves

Implementing NVC: nuances and complexities

At this point you might be thinking, “NVC sounds interesting, but how do I actually use it?” Even the first element, observation, can hang people up.

The reason that the NVC process stresses observing without evaluating is that when people hear evaluation, they are less likely to hear our intended message and instead hear criticism which puts them on the defensive rather than being receptive to what we have to say. However, the NVC process doesn’t require complete objectivity and detachment from emotional realities, only that when evaluations are made they are based on observations specific to time and context. In other words, evaluations must be about specific actions taken within specific time periods. For example, “John is a great guy” is a generalized evaluation whereas, “John helped the little old lady cross the street yesterday afternoon” is an observation without evaluation.

Another element of NVC that new adoptees struggle with is separating feelings from non-feelings (thoughts). It is a common construct of the modern English language (and many others) to use “feel” in place of “think”. Red flags for feel/think confusion are the use of the following after the word “feel” when making a statement:

  • words such as “that,” “like,” and “as if”; “I feel like a failure” or “I feel that you shouldn’t do that”
  • the pronouns “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “they,” and “it”; “I feel it is useless”, “I feel I am always running around”
  • names or nouns referring to people; “I feel my boss doesn’t like me” or “I feel Jeff is doing a great job”

In NVC, there is a difference between expressing how we feel, and expressing what we think we are (self-evaluation):

  • feeling; “I feel disappointed/sad/frustrated with myself as an X”
  • evaluation; “I feel pathetic as an X”, which is better stated, “I am a pathetic X”

Part of developing our ability to accurately express feelings entails developing our feelings vocabulary, and learning which words connote states of being or evaluations of capability, and which words can authentically convey an emotional response to such values or needs.

The other critical component involved in accurately expressing out feelings is taking responsibility for their cause. The common misconception is that external factors cause internal emotional reactions. The reality that, while external factors may provide a stimulus, the direct cause is our internal values, beliefs, expectations and needs; when they are satisfied, we have one set of feelings (positive) and when they are violated or negated, we experience a different set of feelings (negative).

When we receive a negative message from another person, we have four options for choosing how to react to it:

  1. blame ourselves
  2. blame others
  3. sense our own feelings and needs
  4. sense others’ feelings and needs

Accepting responsibility for our feelings involves acknowledging our needs, desires, expectations, values or thoughts. We commonly mask these things by using unaccountable language such as:

  • use of impersonal pronouns such as “it” or “that”; “It makes me so X when Y” or “That makes me feel Z”
  • use of the expression “I feel X because…” followed by a person or personal pronoun other than “I”; “I feel X because you…” or “I feel X when Z…”
  • statements which only mention the actions of others; “When Y does X, I feel Z”

The simplest remedy is to adopt use of the phrase “I feel… because I need…” which connects our own feelings to our own needs. This can improve our communication with others, as well, because when people hear things that sound like criticism they invest their energy in self-defense, whereas when we directly connect our feelings to our needs we give people an opportunity to behave compassionately toward us.

If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met

The liberation cometh

Emotional liberation is the state of being achievable through disciplined and consistent practice of the NVC process wherein an individual is able to freely and safely express his authentic feelings and needs to others, and to similarly be free and secure in receiving these authentic feelings and needs from others. The movement from emotional slavery to emotional freedom typically involves three transformational stages:

  1. emotional slavery; we see ourselves as responsible for others’ feelings
  2. obnoxious observation; we feel reluctant as we realize we no longer want to be responsible for others’ feelings
  3. emotional liberation; we take responsibility for our intentions and actions

Implementing NVC: the final step, making requests

The fourth component of NVC, making requests, is in some ways the most challenging of all. To practice effective request-making it is important to be in the habit of utilizing positive language as it is hard to “do a don’t.” Thinking of a way to express your request in the form of “Would you be willing to do X?” instead of “Please stop Y” serves to remove incentives for resistance and fighting and gives the other person an opportunity to make a positive contribution to your well being.

Similarly, the focus should be on making specific, concrete, actionable requests rather than something general, ambiguous, vague or abstract.

We often use vague and abstract language to indicate how we want other people to feel or be without naming a concrete action they could take to reach that state

Being clear about what you’re requesting from another person makes it more likely they’ll be willing and able to comply with your request– how can a person satisfy your needs if they don’t know what they are and don’t know what they could do to help you with them? Don’t make people guess!

Additionally, expressing feelings without providing a request can confuse people and lead them to believe you are trying to pin guilt for your emotions on them, rather than prompting them to take some corrective action. For example, “It bothers me that you forgot to do X” is not a clear request for a person to do X and may be interpreted as “You make me feel bad!” which is antagonistic and inspires self-defensive reactions.

Whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return

Another guideline for making requests is to ask for a reflection– ask the person you just made a request of to reflect the request back to you to confirm you have been understood.

After we’ve communicated a request, we’re often interested in knowing how our the other person has reacted. We can get a better understanding of this by soliciting honest feedback through one of three ways:

  1. inquiring about what the listener is feeling
  2. inquiring about what the listener is thinking
  3. inquiring as to whether the listener is willing to take a particular action

A key here is to specify which thoughts or feelings we’d have to have shared; without specificity, the other person may reply at length with thoughts and feelings that are not the ones we’re seeking. Particularly challenging situations arise when making requests of a group.

When we address a group without being clear what we are wanting back, unproductive discussions will often follow

Keep in mind that there is a difference between making a request and making a demand. The difference is that when a person hears a demand, they believe they will be punished or blamed if they don’t comply. This leaves them with two options:

  • submit
  • rebel

Notice how “respond with compassion and seek resolution” is not one of the options. If the speaker criticizes or judges the listener’s response, it is a demand, not a request. A request implies that a person is free to disregard it if they don’t want to comply; that’s their right as a free individual with their own needs and wants.

Making a request implies we are prepared to show empathetic understanding of another when they are unwilling to comply with our request. However, if someone doesn’t comply with our request, we don’t have to give up. We do have an obligation, though, to empathize with their reasons for not complying before attempting to persuade.

Conclusion

This is a powerful and transformative framework for not only communicating with others but better understanding one’s self and one’s own needs. The world would be a much different place if it were more widely understood.

4/5

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