are we all cheats?

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The Olympics begin tonight.

The lead up has been tainted by the drugs debate. Competitors willing to take performance enhancing aids in an attempt to win at all cost.

I’m guessing many athletes and sporting competitors enter their sport because of a personal drive. An inner desire to perform at their best, to test themselves to the limit. Then it seems some switch to an external drive. An overwhelming desire to win medals, records, titles by whatever means. External objects, which act as testimony to their achievement, for which they are prepared to cheat to gain. Cheat others, but also cheat themselves.

Honesty and integrity sacrificed for a shiny object or piece of paper which draws admiration and congratulation from other people.

When do internal goals trump external ones and vice versa? How does external recognition become more valuable than internal truth? What causes that shift? Or is it there within certain individuals from the start?

Maybe this isn’t just about athletes and drugs? Maybe we are all vulnerable to lying to ourselves and to others so that we can be recognised, admired, valued, loved?

Maybe others have personal ambition trumping the perspective others may have of them – they don’t care what people think, they will just do their best for themselves. People who rob pension funds for example, so that they can buy yachts?

Maybe we’re all cheats?

our very public privacy

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I invite you to imagine yourself in a large theatre, standing on a stage in front of an audience of 200 strangers. You are about to speak out, frankly, about your most private moments.

Ready to go? Happy? Begin…

No?

Oddly, public transport seems to provide a safe environment for us to do this. To share our most private moments. A train carriage, packed with 200 strangers for example.

In only the last week I have witnessed three examples whilst travelling on a train.

Maybe it’s the imagined intimacy of the one to one telephone conversation, the background hum of the train on the tracks? Maybe it’s the intensity and the emotion of the content of the exchange, taking us into ourselves?  I don’t know, but somehow these people become so absorbed by their conversation that their awareness of their audience is seemingly totally lost. They find a freedom and a frankness in front of strangers; all sense of potentially prying eyes and ears, any sense of vulnerability, of exposure, of visibility seems to desert them.

Whether it be a lady initially informing her husband she will be late and is having to stand, descending into a row about him never listening to her and a very honest view of his sister’s shortcomings; or a young woman, speaking to a (presumed) friend, recounting her night out, which culminated in her boyfriend hitting her; or a conversation face to face between two standing passengers, conducted at unnecessary volume, one initially exploring a ‘client’ emotionally falling for her (I’m sure there are ethical limits here) and culminating in a sharing of bluntly truthful views on their respective partners and their children…

Maybe we should be more cognisant of our surroundings and the words, thoughts and feelings tumbling out?

Or maybe we could benefit from such honesty, such openness, such trust in our everyday lives?

truth or consequences

truth-or-consequences-sign

I have long been curious about relationships and honesty in organisations.

We have many relationships in organisations.  Leaders and led, managers and managed, teams, colleagues, friends, co-workers… And it seems to me we are typically comfortable talking about ‘stuff’ in organisations. Comfortable having conversations about ‘stuff’ in these relationships. The target, the project, the objective, the goal, the job etc.  Oh sure, some are tricky conversations. The performance management one, the looming deadline one, the efficiency might mean redundancies one…

However, in organisations in particular, we find it hard to speak the truth about deeper thoughts and feelings. About emotions. Especially the truth to power. Or the truth to a colleague. Or the truth to a line manager. Or the truth to a team member.

It seems to me that largely this is because of consequences.

Consequences real or perceived.

I heard a story the other day of a senior leader seeking to speak the truth to power.  They were encouraged to do so by their most senior leaders, so at a conference they spoke up, to the MD.  Expressing a deeply felt concern. They were subsequently embarrassed and throughout the remainder of the conference they were made an example of.

Such bravery is to be admired, but there are normal everyday conversations in organisational relationships which fall foul of the perceived consequences from speaking up.  Not just about important organisational stuff,  but about deeply personal stuff. Admitting a vulnerability, or a personal emotional difficulty from life’s roller coaster ride, inside or outside work, seems to be a truth too far. Expressing a gut feel doubt, or exploring a sense of frustration, disappointment, confusion, anger in our organisational relationships seems a harder truth than ‘you’re fired’. Seeking to explore different thinking, or values, or drivers or beliefs seems somehow a luxury that might be frowned upon or considered not real work.  Activities to be judged in our organisational world of relationships. Activities with consequences.

I wonder if we need to be more overt about consequences, or the lack of them? So that truth, vulnerability, feelings, difference can be encouraged to flourish? These are important things in our organisational relationships and if they can be nurtured, cultivated, grow and blossom without fear of consequences hanging over them like a watering can full of weedkiller… I wonder what might be possible?

would you hire Archie?

Hierarchy

Think of four people you know. Friends, work colleagues, neighbours.

Now, including yourself, place these five people in a hierarchy. Who is top, who is bottom? What is the sequence? Who is above whom and what criteria are you consciously or unconsciously choosing as you create your list?

If the other people were to create a list, would it be the same or different? Where would they put you on the list? How much does that matter to you?

What if you were now to share the five lists with each other? The lists you and the other four people had compiled. Could you? How easy would that be? How comfortable? Would you be seek to justify your choices? Would you want to explain? Would you be honest? Would people expect there to be a reason, a logic? Would you be focused on how people were placing you in their hierarchy? How might your relationships be impacted by this exercise and revealing your view, your hierarchy?

We are naturally hierarchical. We compete. We try to get ahead. We judge success, we judge our position in the community, in society through hierarchies. It may be house, car, qualifications, money, job, pay grade, job title, grades our kids get at school, social ladder, societal groups we belong to, the universities our kids go to…

In most organisations there is a discrete hierarchy. An organisation chart. A boss, a team. Leaders and the led. Managers and the managed.  Pay, rewards, benefits, maybe where your office is, or the door you enter by, the technology you get given, or where you can eat? These are all symbols of the hierarchy.

Yet how easy would it be to create that hierarchy amongst friends, colleagues, neighbours, when they knew you had created it?

Strange that we live by criteria, structures and frameworks we find hard to own. Difficult to be honest about. Struggle to take responsibility for. There is both comfort and discomfort with hierarchies. Yet they are seemingly in our human psyche. A need to know where we stand in the group and a fear of what that might mean and the judgement that comes with that.

So would you “hire Archie”?  Could you?

when a mask might reveal, not conceal…

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I had the pleasure of attending The Lab recently, where in the midst of some great experiments into being human, we explored working with masks.

If you have seen the excellent ventriloquist comedian Nina Conti you will know part of her act involves applying a partial mask to an audience member. Nina then controls the mouth parts with a remote,  so that the individual seems to be agreeing to do something outrageous, or says something inappropriate, even though their body language suggests horror, or disagreement, at the prospect.

It is a clever representation of the power of a mask. The act demonstrates a freedom and what can be possible if we don’t feel seen, whilst juxtaposing the obvious visibility of the individual’s body squirming at what they are saying, through Nina. Simultaneously, the act allows Nina, as the ventriloquist, to say and do things she might never do herself.

In our Lab experiment we saw people assuming the whole character, mannerisms, language, opinions of their ‘character behind the mask’.

A mask, in a sense, gives us permission to be someone else. To reveal a part of ourselves we may normally keep subdued or hidden. It also gives us permission to conceal ourselves behind the mask. Be it gender, ethnicity, geographic origin. We sometimes use non-visual masks too. Hiding behind our organisational or societal status or role.

I wonder what we are capable of if we could wear a mask at will?

What truth would we be able to speak?
What feeling could we emote?
How much more ourselves we might be?
How much might we conceal?

 

the hidden art of hiding

hiding dyslexia
In recent months I have spoken to a number of people with dyslexia.

One common aspect of our conversations has intrigued me. The tension that is created between a need for some support, balanced with a desire not to be marked out as different. I want some help, but I don’t want to be seen to want help.

Those I have spoken to have talked of their shame. A sense that in some way they are inadequate. Unable to do things that others find straightforward. Many hide their dyslexia for this reason. Preferring to find their own coping mechanisms. Choosing roles and work where the challenges arising from their dyslexia aren’t exposed.

Whilst my dyslexic confidants have shared their fear of judgement, their desire to hide their ‘condition’, they have also shared heart wrenching stories of the efforts required to cope. To stay afloat. Many are desperate for some simple supports.

The reality here of course is that these dyslexic individuals have other strengths, other capabilities which are more developed and stronger than their non-dyslexic colleagues. Just as with any human being, we are all different. All unique.

We all hide too.

Sometimes we hide a part of ourselves from those around us. Often we hide a part of ourselves from ourselves. Yet we think that the hiding is hidden.

Honesty and truth seldom bring blame, judgement, criticism. When they do, it is those criticising, judging, blaming who are the individuals who are really hiding. Hiding behind judgement, criticism and blame.

We need to come out of the shadows.
To learn to be, in all our unique glory.
To stop hiding.

image by: Sally Green

 

what is your psychological contract of self?

psychological_contract self
Psychological contracts are often referred to in the context of the employer and the employee – what is the expectation, commitment of both?

It sometimes explores qualities of trust, honesty, respect, fairness, compassion. It will often cover the visible expectations and agreements, such as pay, hours, work, training, but more usefully might look under the waterline, beneath the visible iceberg, so to speak. Here might be give and take, inputs and outputs, responsibilities and rewards which are less clearly in play. Concepts such as control, power, innovation, recognition, commitment, respect, loyalty, tolerance and much much more.

At a meeting the other day we were discussing psychological contracts. We were to be a team, so the question posed was, ‘How did we want to be with each other?’

We were to discuss what we were looking for from other members of the team, what we were seeking from the team leader and what we would bring to the team. What our commitments would be in terms of contribution and what we were seeking in return.

As I reflected, I wondered how I could even begin to answer this, as my thoughts and feelings were initially directed inwards, at me. I wondered what my psychological contract with myself was?

Did I respect myself? Did I have compassion for myself? Did I have faith in myself? Was I in control of myself? Did I fully trust myself? Did I appreciate my own being? Did I own my own power?

What are my perceptions of myself, what do I believe about myself?

How am I getting in my own way, either unaware of, or maybe breaking, my own psychological contract even before I entered the room. Surely this is where I should start before considering any team working agreements?

What is my psychological contract of self?