The invisible masks we wear

Years ago, I remember coming to the end of a holiday and realising I needed to get some gifts to take back for the folks at home, nothing extravagant, but something to share my experience of the place with them.

Letting my eyes roam the walls and shelves of the tourist store I saw some miniature Venetian Masks.

Now, I’m guessing that many of you, like me, have never been any closer to a Venetian Masked Ball than that! Nonetheless, you’ll likely have seen a movie portraying these elaborate occasions, amazing costumes, and beautifully crafted masks that people wear! You might even have attended one!

Regardless of whether we’ve attended a masked ball or not, the truth is we all wear masks most of the time! Granted, they are invisible, but that we wear them is universal and undisputed.

Much of my work is about handling the invisible masks we wear.

What do I mean?

Whenever we have to communicate we find ourselves presenting in ways we think the situation demands. In other words, we reach for and put on a mask, or persona!

These masks differ according to the circumstances, sometimes they protect us, sometimes they impress.

We wear different masks in a whole number of different places and at different times. We have masks for work, friends, family and strangers; how we present to a work colleague can be very different to how we do with a customer, and different again for our boss or mother!

Importantly, masks in themselves are not bad!

Problems arise from the ways we use them, sometimes using them to avoid, to dominate or manipulate the people around us.

Problems also arise from how we view them. When we over-identify with our masks we can easily lose sight of our own authentic, true selves. That underlying reality of who we are when all the external and internalised demands have been stripped away. That unique and complex reality that is hidden at the core of our identity.

So, here’s the thing: we all need our different masks or personas, but for healthy and integrated living we need masks that connect us with and emerge from our most authentic selves!

A well-crafted persona isn’t built only out of what we think others expect of us, but also from our own inner resources and reality.

Getting in touch with them requires three things:

First, recognition that we live in a world that’s heavily invested in telling us what we should aspire to be, from media to employers, even friends and family, and discouraging us from a healthy introspection and self-reference.

Second, time and space to listen to the promptings of our own heart and imagination.

Third, cultivating the confidence to act on and test our own promptings and intuitions about what we can offer to the world around us.

And finally, a challenge: Take a good long look at the masks you wear and ask, ‘who do these really serve?’ Do they present the truest version of me?

Embracing Conflict as the ‘Motor of Constructive Change’

Six Ways to use Conflict as the pathway to a brighter and better future!

We’ve all heard and perhaps repeated ourselves the old adage ‘Where there are people, there are problems’. Conflict is a normal, albeit unwelcome, aspect of human relations. The fact that it is commonplace should spur us on to use it constructively, but the fact that it is mostly unwelcome and uncomfortable usually means we shy away from the hard work of engagement, preferring instead a quick fix!

Most us will have heard and spoken about conflict resolution, but it’s not so distant cousin ‘Conflict Transformation’ isn’t so well known. Which is a shame because the insights developed by it’s originator, John Paul Lederach, offer amazing opportunities to transform conflict into the motor of constructive change.

Here are 6 questions that can help you view conflict as the catalyst for positive change and development within your organisation, as well as your personal and professional relationships:

What do I want to do with this conflict?

More often than not people want to ‘move on’ from conflict. It is uncomfortable, threatening, usually perceived as uninvited and undeserved. The goal for most is ‘resolution’ to the problem. They want closure to the presenting issue and a return to perceived normality. However, using the conflict to build something better and more desirable for all concerned, releases its potential for constructive change.

Where do we focus our attention?

Conflict Transformation is essentially relationship-centred. Importantly, it focusses on the patterns and systems of relating that generate the presenting crisis, whereas conflict resolution habitually focusses on the disruptive relationships which present the crisis. In this sense a transformative approach has a broader scope, here the behaviour of individuals involved in the crisis is ‘revealing’ of the context and deeper, unspoken, patterns of relating that have caused the problems in the first place. You’re challenged to ‘Name the Elephant in the Room’, and not settle for a quick fix that risks a repeat performance.

What’s our purpose?

Anybody who’s ever had to deal with nettles knows that donning the gloves, seizing the nettles and pulling them up doesn’t solve the problem. It might remove a prickly challenge for a while, but they’ll be back. To eliminate the problem, you need a systemic response that goes to the roots. If your purpose is to find a solution to the ugly problem of conflict, you can achieve some respite. But why settle for respite? Why not use conflict as an opportunity to deal with the disruptive issue AND promote systems of constructive change that promote better relating?

What kind of process do we want?

Once you’re clear about your purpose, what of your process? One that deals with the disruptions as and when they appear will be of limited value if your purpose is to see the disruptions as symptoms of an underlying dis-ease within your web of relationships. You’ll be better served by a process that addresses both the presenting issue and your longer term strategy. These are not ‘forced choice, either/or’ questions. A both/and approach creates a win-win situation for all affected by the conflict, both in the present and in the future.

How much time are we prepared to invest?

Conflict can cause acute pain, distress and anxiety for those involved. It’s natural that people will want relief from that as quickly as possible. More often than not those responsible for sorting the problem will content themselves with a short-term solution. Longer-term solutions require more time, and will mean that the reality of anxiety and distress is not so speedily resolved. But, and it’s a big BUT, the causes of that pain will be more accurately identified, thoroughly understood, and effectively addressed. That has to be worth the wait and effort.

What does conflict mean to us?

Ask a person on the street how they view conflict, you’re likely to get a negative view. Often Conflict is something that’s unwelcome and needs to be avoided or ‘de-escalated’, in the common tongue, ‘calm down’. If we’re to harness conflict as a dynamo for constructive change, we need to stop viewing it so nervously. Conflict is seldom idle, it exposes inequities and reveals dysfunction. Handled courageously it energises change, promotes truth telling, and forges better and more durable patterns of relating. Conflict is all too often the untested motor of constructive change!

Six things to consider for de-stressed relationships

There are many stresses associated with the daily round of working life. A common problem that often adds stress is that of relationships. Bringing a variety of diverse personalities together can bring out the best and worst in people … it can be a real challenge managing people’s sensibilities, as well as the deadlines.

People are different in predictable ways

I’ve been working with Personality Type for over twenty years helping groups and individuals to appreciate the differences in people, it’s fascinating work. And its greatest payoff is helping individuals and organisations to see that people are indeed different in predictable ways. That is often the life-saver as they seek ways to manage the stress of relationships constructively.

Modify to Manage

Understanding what makes people ‘tick’ is not always easy, and we can have some nasty experiences of inter-personal conflict that leave us ‘licking our wounds’ from time to time. I’m fond of reminding people that there are no short cuts to success. But there are ways we can enhance our awareness and equip ourselves as we learn to understand others. When we get a handle on the predictability of behaviour, both own and our colleagues’, we can modify that behaviour effectively and manage our relationships better.

DISC can help accelerate your people reading skills

DISC is a personality profiling tool that I work with. It’s simple to explain, and simple to use. Developed in the 1920s by Dr William Marston, an American Psychologist, it concentrates on the observable differences in normal behaviour. The great news is you’ll be seeing the differences as soon as you’ve read this article! Start by thinking about the people you know, and ask the following questions:

Do I have colleagues who are assertive, to the point, and want to know the bottom line? Someone who’s more forceful, direct, and strong-willed than others  – This is the D style

Which of my friends are great communicators and friendly to everyone they meet? Someone who seems to be more optimistic, inspiring, friendly, and talkative – This is the I style.

Who do I know that are good listeners and great team players? Someone who’s steady, patient, loyal, and supportive – This is the S style.

Which team members enjoy gathering facts and details and are thorough in all activities? Someone who’s particularly precise, methodical, and analytical – This is the C style.

Those are the four basic styles. You’ll probably have noticed that people, including yourself, often display characteristics of the different basic style descriptors – what we’d call ‘blended’ styles.

Some things to remember on a ‘bad day’!

When we’re stressed we’re feeling that things are out of control, and so we try to take control in ways that we feel comfortable and confident with. But it’s really important to remember that our virtues, when over played, become our vices! We often overplay when stressed. So …                                                                                                                                         

D styles can be too forceful, impatient, don’t listen, try to dominate and take over

I styles can be too impulsive, disorganised, and easily distracted

S styles can slow things down, lack motivation, and be reluctant to change

C styles can be too intellectual, talk too little, tending not to share or show feelings

Some tips to bring out the best in ourselves

D styles – put more energy into personal relationships, try to be less controlling/domineering,

I styles – think things through more, be less impulsive, concentrate on following through and finishing what you start

S styles – try to be more open to change, be more flexible, pick up the pace, and be more direct with others

C styles – focus less on facts and more on people, be less critical of others, put more energy into building relationships, and take some risks

And finally, a message to take away …

People are different, but they’re different in predictable ways. We can all modify our own behaviour and our expectations of others. Let your best-self manage your plans and relationships, reduce the stress of inter-personal conflict, and promote mutual understanding.