Wednesday 19 October 2022

I remember... (or do I?)

As I was cycling up the fell this morning, I was passed by a Land Rover.  There's not much traffic up there in the early morning, and I know most of the regulars and their vehicles, so registered this as a stranger. When I got to the top, the open fell, I glanced around, wondering whether it was parked up somewhere, for the driver to go for a walk, or whether it had, perhaps, gone on to the farm where the road ends.  I couldn't see it, so assumed it was either ahead of me in a dip, or at the farm.

And I cycled on, up the fell and  back.  And as I was coming back towards the road, I met one of our neighbours, Charles, who lives half way up the hill, on his quad bike, leading the Land Rover, off-road, over the fell.  Doubtless there was some farming related activity they were engaged in.

So I thought 'Ah, the Land Rover must have been looking for Charles, gone past his house, and had to turn back to find him.' And then I realised: the Land Rover had passed me before I had passed Charles' house.  There was no reason to think that it had not gone straight there. I had only assumed that, because I had previously assumed that it was ahead of me on the road, when I got to the top of the fell. 

And this interested me, because I could see that I had nearly laid down a false memory. Had I not recalled that the Land Rover could have gone straight to Charles', and retained the idea that it must have been ahead of me and therefore had to turn round to go to find Charles, that would have been the truth as I remembered it. 

Why this interested me in particular is because I have recently been involved in a couple of situations where people's account of what transpired were very different, and serious allegations of bad behaviour ensued. 

In one case, the person on receiving end of allegations commented that she was the victim of someone putting words into her mouth that were never even contemplated let alone uttered.

In another, someone was accused of standing by when someone else was being bullied, when what he had observed was an awkward conversation between a socially unskilled manager and a team member. 

It is very easy to assume in such cases either that a complainant is exaggerating, or even vexatious; or that we should believe the victim. But I wonder if in at least some cases, the problems with memory that I mentioned above, may apply.

I can readily see that if I have felt upset, discriminated against or bullied (on the one hand) or if I have had a difficult conversation with someone who visibly got upset (on the other) my memory of the incident may not be 100% accurate. I might even remember as verbalised what I actually thought the other was (clearly, obviously...) thinking. And so I might, with no bad faith at all, give an account that was both subjectively honest and objectively incorrect; and further be very indignant when anyone challenged my account. 

At a personal level, that clearly suggests proceeding with a degree of humility and a somewhat tentative approach to making truth-claims about the past based on my recollection. And if engaging with others about such incidents, I think that an approach that explores the differing stories that people have about the incident is valuable. Which reminds me, Shifting Stories was recently re-printed: so consider this a plug! (as well, I hope, as a thought provoking post).


With thanks to  Jordan McGee  and  jean wimmerlin for sharing their photos on Unsplash

Sunday 16 October 2022

Neurodiversity and the Thinking Environment

Some time ago, I was introducing the idea of listening without interruption to a group of professors on a Professorial Leadership course.  I invited them to spend a few minutes at their tables taking turns to listen to each other think out loud about the questions: Who am I? and What do I want these colleagues to understand about me? - and to listen without interrupting or asking questions, but rather with real attention dedicated to the person speaking.

Overall, it worked well; most reported that it was a much better way of getting to know each other at the start of the programme than their usual experience; however, one professor told me that it didn't work well for her and wouldn't for other neurodiverse people. But time was against me having a further conversation with that professor at the time, and to my shame, I didn't follow it up later, so never knew precisely what she meant.

However, more recently,  I have been working more closely with someone who identifies as neurodiverse, and specifically as having ADHD; and I have also been talking with other Thinking Environment practitioners about their experience, and have some initial findings, which I share as much to provoke comment (and further learning for me) as to offer some clues to other practitioners with regard to some issues to consider.  These relate specifically to people with ADHD, not other neurodiverse people who will have a range of other issues worthy of consideration.

The first thing is that two of our favourite questions can be overwhelming; and in both cases that is because they are multiple questions.  Of course, when that was pointed out to me, I remembered from my early days of being trained in sales, and then working as a sales trainer myself, that we always tried to avoid multiple questions. Yet in a Thinking Environment, these two are often very productive:

What do you want to think about, and what are your thoughts?

What more do you think... or feel... or want to say?

I understand why we use these questions and why they often work; but it is worth considering if we should - at least for some people - separate them out.

Another question that can be overwhelming is: What might you be assuming that is stopping you from achieving your goal? (and all its variants).  In that case, it is the range of possibilities that is overwhelming; so whilst the question remains a good one, it can be helpful to preface it with permission to find it difficult: 'the next question I am going to ask you may feel a bit overwhelming; so take your time, and relax into it, and then answer when you are ready...'

For the role of Thinking Partner, the requirement to memorise the thinker's exact words (in order to build an Incisive Question, using  the further session goal and the limiting assumption) can be very challenging too, for some people with ADHD. It may be appropriate to flex our usual expectation of no note-taking in that very specific circumstance.

Further, some people with ADHD have felt excluded and marginalised by their previous experience of meetings and interviews, which may undermine their confidence and make them particularly worried that they may be starting with a deficit, so appreciation and self-appreciation are valuable.  

The good news is that some people with ADHD have reported the experience of the Thinking Environment as being very positive indeed. 'I felt smart, and welcomed, for practically the first time!'

I continue to think and enquire about this: if you have any relevant thoughts, feelings or experiences, please get in touch.  You can leave a comment here, email me, or use any of the contact details on my website.

Sunday 9 October 2022

What is it about, then?...

 This blog post is about the Youtube video: It's not about the nail.  If you have not seen it, watch it now (it's less than two minutes long), or the rest of this post won't make sense - and you will miss a work of genius (the video, I mean, not this blog post...)

I showed it to a colleague a while back, and she laughed, as everyone does, and said how true it was.

I remarked that I imagine that different people see it so differently. And she looked askance. Clearly in her (at least initial, instinctive) view, there was only one way to understand it.  And I suspect many people see it like that; but that there is more than one 'only one way.'

That is whichever interpretation people put on it, they see that as the obvious (and implicitly only) interpretation.

In broad terms some of the interpretations I have heard are these.  Some people see it as illustrating how idiotic some people can be: so wrapped up in their inner world, in self-reflexivity and a need to be understood and validated, that they cannot see, let alone address, simple and obvious problems, the solving of which would cause them and others great relief.

On the other hand, others see it as illustrating the obvious truth that there is simply no point trying to fix someone else's problem; at the very least, without listening to them thoroughly first, and even then, only by invitation.

And then some get into the sex stereotyping conversations: women, as the nurturers, need to receive empathy and form emotional connection before moving onto pragmatic problem-solving. Whereas men, as the hunter-gatherers need to take action and prove their worth, before engaging in the softer business of relationship-building. 

And whilst it is easy to denigrate such stereotypes, it is also true that stereotypes often have some foundation; but are then over-generalised. In this case, it is interesting that Myers Briggs report that, across cultures and countries, on the Thinking/Feeling scale, the responses from females are 60:40 in favour of Feeling; and from males, 60:40 in favour of Thinking.  So maybe women are a bit more likely to address the relational aspect of the situation first, and men more likely to try to fix - on average.  But that still leaves 40% of each sex with the minority preference - which is one reason why stereotypes are so problematic.

And why I find peoples' response to this video so interesting is for that reason too: it can be very revealing of their stereotypes, and discussing others'  differing responses is often both entertaining and enlightening.