Sunday, June 8, 2014

What's in a Name?

This weekend Ma'ikwe and I are conducting Weekend VI (of eight) of our Integrative Facilitation training in North Carolina and the teaching theme is Challenging Personalities. We work with the ways that people present with difficult styles and are pejoratively labeled by others. We all do it… and it's done to all of us.

Many are rightly uncomfortable with labeling (pigeonholing people based on type), yet it's water that facilitators must swim in, both because you can't stop it from happening and there's important information embedded in the assignments. We're not teaching students to use labels; we're teaching the to understand them.

We're teaching students to look more deeply at what it means that a person acts in certain ways—both in terms of what's going on for the person, and how their behavior tends to be disruptive or bothersome for others. Labels are useful as a shorthand for this package, even as we're aware that a person is not the same as their behavior, that the type is not an exact description of the behavior, and that there are dangers in relying on a pattern to predict future behavior.

In the class we ask students to identify the personality types that are most difficult for them to facilitate, and the ways in which they are perceived by others to be difficult. I believe the most useful way to view this is that all of us have behaviors that are challenging (though everyone is not reacting to the same things), and all personality types have a positive side as well as a darker one. In fact, the surest way into a productive engagement with someone about the ways in which their behavior is disruptive, is to start by acknowledging some advantages to what they've been doing.

For example:
o  The Bully may be terrific at getting things done, though it's problematic that others feel run over as collateral damage.

o  The Unprepared comes to meetings with an open mind and that's a plus, despite the frustration the group experiences in taking the time to catch them up.

o  The Timid does not misuse plenary air time, or speak off topic, though it can be time consuming drawing out their opinions, or creating sufficient safety for them to speak.

o  The Appeaser can be invaluable as a bridge builder between people not hearing each other, though it can be pulling teeth to get them to state their opinion.

o  The Repeater is dedicated to getting their viewpoints considered, even if you didn't need to hear it the third or fourth time. On a more subtle level, repetition may indicate that the facilitators are not doing a good enough job of showing speakers that they've been heard.

o  The Goofball can inject some much-needed leavening into a dense conversation, though at other times their antics may be a distraction that diffuses focused energy.

Our aim in exploring this topic is to get students to understand the power of labels (both good and bad), the ways in which everyone's behavior—including our own—has both beneficial and deleterious consequences, and how to work constructively with patterns of behavior that the group finds irritating.

While it's challenging work, I have the personality to take it on.

No comments: