Friday, 21 October 2016

Continuing to explore The Dark Side

I am always interested in the theoretical underpinnings of the tools I use, so have been reading up on the Hogan Development Survey instrument.  I have blogged about this tool a few times already (see the tag Hogan for the other posts).

So, where do the scales used by Hogan come from? The HDS Manual states that each scale is designed to describe various personality disorders as they may manifest in working adults:

Excitable - borderline
Sceptical - paranoid
Cautious - avoidant
Reserved - schizoid
Leisurely - passive aggressive
Bold - narcissistic
Mischievous - antisocial
Colourful - histrionic
Imaginative - schizotypal
Diligent - obsessive compulsive 
Dutiful - dependent

I recognise that it may not always be helpful to make that explicit when working with the tool: if my feedback had started with: you have a high risk of displaying Schizoid, Schizotypal and Histrionic behaviours, it might have been a bit of a distraction from the learning...  

Moreover, I think it would have been inaccurate; for what the Hogan tool is doing, if I am correct, is exploring how these tendencies might manifest in healthy functional people under stress (or when over-relaxed) and not at the extremes suggested by the label 'personality disorder.'

I find it helpful to know the link, however; and not least because the Hogan labels are not always perfect: Leisurely has quite different connotations for me than the passive aggressive meaning implicit in the Hogan scale. The Hogan sub-scales are helpful here, of course: the sub-scales for Leisurely are Passive Aggressive, Unappreciated and Irritated. 

One other thing I noticed with interest is that the way the Hogan groups these is different from the way the NHS does:

I do not think that is problematic, as they are focusing on different issues, in their groupings; and, as already mentioned, the HDS is meant to be (I think) the non-pathological manifestations of the traits (‘working adults’), rather than the more extreme manifestations implied by ‘personality disorders’ in the NHS categorisation.

But it is interesting - not least to me; my high scores for Reserved and Imaginative (Schizoid and Schizotypal) now sit together in Cluster A, Odd; it is now Colourful (Histrionic) that is the outlier, in Cluster B, Dramatic… Food for thought.

Incidentally (and perhaps manifesting some of my tendency to go off on tangents that may leave people behind) Stoppard's Dark Side is a great radio play....

Friday, 14 October 2016

More Learning From my Dark Side

I have blogged a few times about the Hogan tools, and my learning from them. In particular, here I talked about the insight into myself generated by the famous Dark Side tool, and the fact that my dark side high-risk factors are an odd mix: high Reserve along with high Colourful and high Imaginative.

Well, Hogan is the gift that keeps giving. Yesterday, in a supervisory session with the excellent Jan Allon-Smith, another light came on. We were discussing my coaching (as you might expect in a coaching supervision session) and some particular questions I had about it, and Jan asked how the Hogan tools might inform my thinking.

It proved to be a very rich question, and I realised that my coaching, when I am not at my best, could be reasonably characterised as Reserved (in the ways meant by the Hogan use of the term). That led to a great discussion about what more Colourful or more Imaginative coaching might look like - and the recognition that sometimes my coaching does look like that, and I think it is the better for it. That is to say, it can be more fun, and more risky; and I allow more of myself to show through. 

That is not always appropriate, of course; and further, my Reserve is necessary to stop the Colourful or the Imaginative approaches from moving the focus from the coachee onto me, or from intimidating the coachee and failing to create that learning environment which is a sine qua non of coaching.  

So I am not going to jettison some of my Reserved behaviours: they go very well with a highly attentive approach to listening, as Nancy Kline's model (of which I am a big fan) advocates. But I think I had allowed them to dominate some of the more Colourful and Imaginative behaviours in my coaching (and to a lesser extent in my facilitation) and that had reduced the range of my repertoire.

I found this a very energising, exciting and slightly scary conversation - what de Haan would call a critical incident in our coaching supervision meeting.  Now the challenge is to integrate the insights gained in conversation with Jan to my practice: so if you have a coaching meeting booked with me, you may want to see if you see me as more Imaginative (though not, I hope eccentric, which is the risk) or more Colourful (though not I hope too dramatic, which is the associated risk with Colourful).

Friday, 7 October 2016

A World Without Down's?

I was very moved by Sally Phillips' documentary on Down's Syndrome and pre-natal screening this week: A World Without Down's

In the first instance, I was shocked by my own prejudice. I like to think of myself (who doesn't?) as without prejudice, but I noticed a small but discernible visceral reaction to the physical appearance of Olly, Sally's son, who has Down's. 

I was quickly won over, of course, by his infectious personality; and it made me reflect that I know nobody with Down's, and that my life is the poorer as a result. I know some people - including family members - with varying degrees of autism, and am aware how that has resulted in my being fully comfortable with such people.  But, as I say, I was shocked by my own visceral prejudice, based purely on unfamiliarity.

I was also profoundly moved by the interview with the young mother who had terminated her pregnancy at 25 weeks on learning that her baby (probably) had Down's. Her description of the moment when she could feel her baby moving within her, then it was injected in its heart, and then it stopped moving was terribly upsetting - not least for her.

To me, it seemed to cut through some of the easy rhetoric about 'My body, my choice.' For it was clearly not only her body that was at issue here: the heart that was injected and stopped was not her heart. Perhaps that was compounded by the fact that my daughter is currently expecting a baby.

But this notion of autonomous choice is very dear to us as a society. Sarah Ditum's review of the programme in the New Statesman exemplifies this. To say that Sally Phillips' programme was 'anti-choice' is enough to damn it, in Ditum's view.

However I want to think a little more about this notion of choice.  On the one hand, it seems very atomised. Each individual mother making a choice to terminate a Down's baby has a cumulative effect that reaches beyond them: that was the thrust of Phillips' concerns, though she herself was careful not to actually contradict the choice mantra, in the programme.  But the programme raised the question: who do we think is worthy to live in our society?  And it is not just about people with Down's but also autism (as pre-natal screening for autism is also nearly with us).

I think that the world would be a poorer place if we eliminate all those who are markedly different, or different in ways that 'we' find uncomfortable to deal with. Yet that is the foreseeable consequence of the sum of the individual choices that mothers are likely to make (as Iceland demonstrates). And there are other consequences too: as one mother put it on Twitter: 'We try so hard for inclusion/acceptance & NIPT makes it harder. That our kids are only here b/c tests failed?'

There is another aspect of choice that I think worthy of reflection, too. We talk of 'informed' choice; but as Sally made clear, no amount of information can tell you the reality of having a child with Down's; and still less how you will in fact respond to that reality. So the choice is inevitably made on the basis of assumptions, and as we heard very clearly in the programme, fears and prejudices.

Further, thinking of Kubler-Ross' research, and the transition curve, we are compelling women to make that choice at a particular moment, when they are going through the emotionally charged experience of learning that their child has Down's. But we know that the way she will react will change over time - but the nature of the choice demands a quick decision. Such a decision may well not be the one she would make given more time and more support.

That is why we do not offer people who are attempting suicide the choice of a quick and easy way to do so: we recognise that the choice to commit suicide is very often one that is made at a particular moment, and that with help and support the individual will be glad not to have been able to act on that choice. For, as with abortion, it is an irreversible one.

So am I anti-choice?  Well, I am anti- some choices. As we all are. We don't say of (say) bullying behaviour that 'it may be wrong for you, but you can't judge other people.'  We recognise that bullying behaviour is wrong, not just for me, but for everyone. The degree of subjective responsibility may of course be mitigated by particular circumstances, but the behaviour is still wrong and harmful.

Further, I believe that choices made from fear and based on partial knowledge and prejudice are likely to be less positive and life-affirming than choices that spring from love and courage.

So, of course, we cannot and should not pass judgment on the woman who shared her story of terminating her pregnancy at 25 weeks.  But I believe that objectively, that was a wrong thing to do - and a wrong choice for her to be offered.

This is a complex and fraught area: but I am grateful for Sally Phillips' powerful and thought-provoking programme for making me reflect more on it.

And I, for one, don't want to see a World Without Down's.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Open Space and Graphic Recording

The inspirational new head of the HASS Faculty and Newcastle University has launched a Faculty-wide discussion about the values of the Faculty. She is pursuing this in various ways, and in conversation with her a while ago, we agreed that an Open Space event might be a valuable part of the process.

We held the event last week, at St James' Park (home of NUFC)  and around a hundred academics and professional support staff came along for the day.  As ever, I was slightly apprehensive at the start of the day: a hundred people and no agenda...  But as ever, people were full of ideas about the important questions to discuss, and quickly generated a large number of options.

Then there was the slightly messy business of constructing the agenda: people signing up for the questions they personally wished to discuss and then arranging the timings of the sessions so that as many as possible could get to all the topics they had chosen. Some people find this stage of the process uncomfortable,as it is somewhat chaotic and, finally, arbitrary. I always enjoy it: seeing order emerge from the chaos.  And in my experience, the group always manages to produce an agenda that works very well.

We had also invited John Ashton along - a graphic facilitator, recommended by Eleanor Beer, with whom I have worked before. John started with a blank sheet of paper, which mirrored our process of course, and over the day built up a comprehensive record of all the many discussions that had taken place. A number of participants were intrigued to watch this process, and the resultant poster (and electronic copies of it) will be very helpful both in reminding attendees and informing others who were unable to attend, of the range and key themes of the many rich discussion.

What I particularly enjoyed about the day was the huge, and unexpected, range of topics discussed: from how to have fun to how better to engage with the city and region.  But you can see the full range of the discussion in John's graphic poster, below. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Learning to finger whistle

I nearly called this post 'What I learned on my holidays,' but reflected that I had learned other things, too, and also that title sounded a little like a junior school essay.

But what I want to reflect on is how I learned to produce that shrill loud, piercing whistle that one produces with one's fingers between one's lips.

I have wanted to be able to do that whistle for years, in a vague kind of way; but never enough to take any actual steps to learn the skill. However, as my dog grows older, harder of hearing and more confused (and you can keep your jokes about dogs growing more like their masters to yourself) it has suddenly become a more pressing need. I love to walk her on the fells, and let her roam freely - but I do need to be able to call her back, and increasingly my old-style whistle just wasn't loud enough.

Mike (my son) can do it, of course, so I asked him to teach me. He told me what to do, (something like this) and demonstrated it; and then I tried - and nothing. 'Now it's just about practice,' he assured me.

So I kept practicing. And eventually, some semblance of a whistle emerged from between my fingers.  

I had thought that once I had found that sweet spot, I would be able to replicate it, and increase volume, pitch and so on by further trial and error. But it has proved to be a more complicated business than that. Four weeks on, and I am still finding that sometimes I put my fingers to my mouth, and no noise emerges. Further, I don't know what to do when that happens. I don't know what makes the noise that does (unreliably) emerge higher or lower pitched. In fact, I don't really have any understanding of the skill I am practicing.

But nonetheless, practice works. The frequency of getting no noise at all is reducing; and the frequency of getting a really good noise is increasing (I'm up to about 90% of the time, now).

Which raises the fascinating question, for those interested in learning: how does that work? Why does practice work, when I don't know what is making the difference?  Clearly, I am gaining feedback each time I practice: either sound emerges or it doesn't.  But my inability to recognise what is making the difference means that I can't (consciously) try to to it better next time. Yet, nonetheless, over time, the more I practice, the better I get.

It seems to me that this experience raises serious questions for our models of learning: I am approaching unconscious competence without going through conscious competence: is that even allowed? And does it make (for example) sports coaching redundant?  

 Maybe the best way to learn a forehand smash at tennis is just to try lots and lots of them, without a coach telling you what to do differently each time. Perhaps your body will learn the skill more quickly like that?  I'd like to think not: I prefer to believe that some guidance and instruction really do add value. But I'd be even more interested to know what evidence there is to believe that, and what theory can be built around these different routes to acquiring skill. 'Muscle memory' is a label for this - a potentially misleading one, as no memory resides in the muscles; but even when not misleading, it seems to me to describe rather than explain...

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Daring Way

Back in July, we had a great CPD session run by Jacqui Sjenitzer (about which I reflected here)
Jacqui has been in touch to tell us that she is planning to run two workshops -  the Daring Way programme - in Penrith, on 11/12 November and again on 20/21 January. The details are at the link below.
If you are interested in BrenĂ© Brown's work on Shame and Vulnerability, or keen to step up to the mark in your own professional or personal life, these could be a great starting point.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Archetypes in Coaching Supervision

We had a very interesting exploration of archetypes in coaching supervision today.

The three archetypes we were exploring were Guardian, Teacher and Healer. Of course there are other archetypes one could identify and explore but we limited ourselves to these (which map well onto other coaching supervision models).

The Guardian is concerned with standards, ethical concerns, appropriateness of interventions in relation to the contract and so forth.

The Teacher is concerned with continuing development: what still needs to be learned, what theories or models might be helpful, and what development opportunities might be appropriate.

The Healer is concerned with offering emotional support and keeping the other safe.

All of these are appropriate concerns in coaching supervision (and coaching, of course); but it is useful to recognise to which one is more drawn, and which one neglects; or whether there are patterns such as starting with the intention of teaching, but then moving into healing (eg habitual rescuing).

And then the conversation got even more interesting as we discussed the shadows...

The shadow associated with the Guardian is the Omnipotent; thus one may feel he or she has the right (indeed the duty) to correct every perceived fault in others.

The shadow associated with the Teacher is the Omnisicient; thus one may feel he or she has  superior knowledge which has to be used to enlighten all.

The shadow associated with the Healer is the Panacea; thus one may feel he or she iss predestined to provide the perfect cure at any time.

Again, spotting preferences, habits and patterns is valuable.

I am not a great fan of Jung, and don't attach huge significance to his ideas about archetypes and shadows; but I found this a rich metaphor to provoke some different conversations and insights about both coaching and coaching supervision.