Thursday, September 28, 2006

Be an Adult

This second effective habit also sounds much easier to achieve than it is, regardless of how old you are. "Adult" in this context is a term I have taken from the heyday of humanistic psychology and the Transactional Analysis movement in particular. (see TA looks at all communicative interactions as occuring in one of several possible combinations of three basic psychological states -- Parent, Adult and Child. Communicative interactions between two people can be characterized as Parent - Parent, or Adult - Child, or Child - Parent, etc.

Very simply, the Child state is generally an emotional state. It also tends to be self-centered. The Parent state is judgemental and evaluative. The Adult state is rational and non-emotional. (Think Spock or Data.) Of course these are archetypes and in reality we slip in and out of these states when we interact with others. The most important idea for me, is that to the extent that we can stay in an Adult state, the more effective our communication will be in professional settings. It is particularly important for directors or other administrators to have this facility.

An example would be a situation when at teacher angrily says, "I hate this textbook and won't use it anymore!" This would be a Child statement. A program director could respond in several ways:

1. "Well, I hate your constant negativity."

2. "That's tough! You have to use it anyway."

3. "I understand that you don't like this text. What other options do you think we should consider?"

Response 1 creates a Child - Child interaction while response 2 is Child - Parent. Both of these encourage the teacher to continue to communicate in a Child state. Response 3 is closest to Child - Adult. Of the three, the adult response by the director is the most likely to bring the level of interaction to the desired Adult - Adult state. The more consistently the director can remain in an Adult state him or herself, the more likely it will be that others will follow suit. Over time this tends to minimize the negative impact that Child and Parent states can have on communication.

I usually find it fairly easy not to respond as a Child, but it is sometimes hard to avoid being pulled into a Parent state. I think this is because often people in work settings tend to see the director in the role of a parent and actually want him/her to take that role. It gives them a kind of sanction to vent their Child-ish emotions or allows them to vicariously vent their Parent judgements at other staff members through the director.

One of the problems that can occur with being an Adult all the time is that you can end up either sounding like a dull robot or a psychiatrist ("When did you first realize that you hated your textbook?") One way to avoid these problems that sometimes works for me is humor, albeit of an Adult kind. To work well at humanizing a director, humor should not belittle, embarass or hurt others and if it is self-deprecating, so much the better. Sometimes humor directed at "the System" is effective at creating a sense of "we are all in this together," which can help defuse destructively emotional communicative interactions.

So far my impression of the communictaion climate in the ELP is that it is very Adult. If that continues, I won't have much need to inflict my humor on anyone......

Next time: Share Leadership

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