Friday 18 November 2016

On becoming a grandfather

Despite a very rich week, work-wise, I can't think of anything to write about this week.  I attribute that to the birth of my first grandchild, James.

He was born on Wednesday, and I was lucky to be able to call in at the hospital before travelling down to Winchester University, to run a two-day event with the inspirational VC, Joy Carter.

James' arrival, though long-expected, was still a momentous event in the life of our family. Naturally his mother and father are delighted - and besotted. It has been lovely to see, too, how our other children have been equally delighted  in their new roles as aunts and uncle.

Jane and I, too, are excited at the new role we have as grandparents, and I feel I ought to write something profound and inspiring about that. But the truth is, it is too soon to do so. Euphoria - and perhaps exhaustion - mean that I can't move beyond the simple feeling of joy. So that will have to suffice for this week's post.

Friday 11 November 2016

Inside Out: Emotions in Hollywood and Science

On Monday I went to an excellent event run by the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

The event involved a screening of Inside Out, followed by presentations by Profs Tony Manstead, Stephanie van Goozen and Andrew Lawrence, with Dr Job van der Schalk as ringmaster.

Inside Out was excellent. If you have not seen it, here is one of the scenes I like, which really demonstrates emotional contagion in action:

Following the film, the talks covered a wide range of areas. A number of points struck me.

I was interested in Tony Manstead's points about the functions of emotions, and the distinction between the intrapersonal and the interpersonal functions. At the intrapersonal level, emotions are often a signal that we need to act, often preparing us for an emergency response: fight or flight. At the interpersonal level, they enable learning, links to other people and communication. A particularly interesting example was the 'is it safe to cross?' experiment with toddlers. The toddler is on a surface that appears to disappear, and is invited to crawl towards his or her mother. When the mother's face communicated fear, none of the toddlers ventured to cross. When the mother's face communicated joy, 74% of them did so.

Stephanie van Goozen talked about the development of emotional problems in children. These can range from being rejected by peers to aggressive behaviour. She pointed out that these may arise from difficulty in recognising emotions in others, and difficulty in controlling one's own emotions. This, of course, resonates with some of the underpinning ideas of the Emotional Intelligence movement (as does the idea of emotional contagion, already mentioned). She highlighted two phases in the developing child's life when problems may develop: early childhood and puberty/adolescence.

Andrew Lawrence introduced us to some of the neuroscience that sits behind all this, including explaining how to parse fear in a human being (fmri scans and tarantulas are involved...). In particular he highlighted the key role of the amygdala, which is central in the processing of emotions, and how well connected it is to many other areas of the brain, which are related to many other important processes. So emotional responses to stimuli have wide ranging effects on perception, memory, interpretation, and so on.  All of that, of course, resonates particularly with the issues I look at in Shifting Stories.

So a very rich afternoon - much richer than this brief summary suggests - with plenty of food for thought, as well as a lot of confirmation of the underpinnings of various aspects of my work.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Table d'hôte, A la carte or Open Space?

I am considering the merits of different approaches to training workshops in different contexts. Some of my workshops are table d'hote: I run a workshop according to an agenda that works, with input, exercises, discussions etc in a pre-determined order to meet defined learning objectives. Workshops on specific skills, such as my Influencing and Negotiating Skills workshop are very much in that mould.

Other programmes are more à la carte: we offer learners a choice of topics, speakers, and approaches at the start of the programme, and construct the programme according to their expressed needs. The programmes I run for Professors at various universities follow this model. The idea is that they are better placed to decide what they would value discussing than I am. And that approach, of course, also ensures a high degree of relevance and ownership

And I am also a fan of Open Space approaches, where the participants generate the agenda. I have blogged about Open Space before (eg here, and see the tag Open Space for other posts). This approach seems to work particularly well when the topic is large, and the agenda is about exploring possibilities, sharing expertise, and generating ideas for collective action, rather than learning pre-identified knowledge or skills.

All of which reminds me of John Heron's model of facilitation, where he identifies three decision-making styles (Hierarchical, co-operative and autonomous). Here I have applied them, I realise, to what Heron calls the Planning dimension of facilitating an event: who decides what is going to happen.

He also identifies five other key dimensions, and any one of those three styles can be used in any of the five dimensions.  The five are: meaning, confronting, feeling, structuring and valuing. The six dimensions (these five, plus planning, as mentioned previously) address six key questions:

  • How shall the group acquire its objectives and programme?
  • How shall meaning be given to and found in the experiences and actions of the group?
  • How shall the group's consciousness be raised about resistance and avoidance?
  • How shall the life of feeling within the group be handled?
  • How shall the the group's learning experiences be structured?
  • How shall a climate of personal value, integrity and respect be created?
All of which makes me reflect that whilst I am aware of making conscious decisions about the table d'hôte, à la carte or Open Space options, I am more likely to act out of habit in some of the other dimensions.

So a memo to myself: re-read Heron's book, and deliberately experiment with some different combinations of style and dimension...