The painting above signifies ‘the glow’ that I experience when people work together. I mean to say that they are working in a team towards achieving a common objective. The orange is the glow and the green represents people. When people get together to do what needs to be done in a responsible way, I perceive a certain magic associated with their communal connection. By saying ‘responsible way’ I refer to the responsibility that I believe we have towards others around us.
The painting shows people working together to create a communal glow (or space) and also shows people that are not creating a glow. Community and communal in this context refers to Bakan’s (1966) notion of an inclusive and participative mind-set that is aimed at promoting the collective. I do believe that everyone has the capability to achieve a communal workspace. From experience I know that some people struggle to form these connections because they are either deploying protective repertoires (formed over a lifetime) or because they are faced with someone that deploys these mechanisms.
In my role as Critical Care Paramedic, I often heard people use ‘immediacy’ and ‘urgency’ as an excuse for being abusive towards someone. This is commonly presented as an instructor yelling at students or a higher qualified practitioner treating junior practitioners as if they know nothing. This is not unique to the emergency setting. As a manager and consultant in the office (administrative) setting, I heard people use words like ‘targets, efficiency and expenditure’ to be harsh and dismissive. Supervisors treat supervisees with contempt and often unleash verbal abuse. I have seen and experienced this in multiple industries in various countries.
How do we work on ourselves and with others to establish this communal connection? How do we convey urgency without being abusive? There are various different approaches to answering these questions. I am not suggesting that people are disallowed to become agitated, annoyed or frustrated. What I am suggesting is that we can be mindful of how we communicate these emotions so that they are not hurtful towards others (and I know that people can still feel hurt despite our best efforts).
As a consultant I approach this question from two angles: 1) a personal coaching 1-2-1 approach and 2) a group approach. I find it helpful to use the conceptual lenses of like Transactional Analysis (Berne, 1964; Britzman, 2016; De Board, 1978; Harris, 1995), Patsy Rodenburg’s three circles or energy (Rodenburg, 2009) and some principles of improvisation (Barrett, 1998; Johnstone, 1981) to work through scenarios. The following example of an ‘event’ in an ambulance service can be used to show how these principles can be used (All names are pseudonyms):
Mark (Instructor): What are you standing there for?
Geoff (Student): Sir I…
Mark: What? Sir what? Must I tell you everything? Treat your patient!
Geoff: OK. I check the scene if the scene is safe…
Mark: Are you stupid? Can you not see that the scene is safe? Do you think I will stop here if we are in danger?
Geoff: I’m sorry Sir…
Mark: No. Shut up! All of you are useless. If this was a serious case your patient would be dead. Go sit in the car – we will talk about this later. I will have to fix this mess myself.
Exchanges like the one above are quite common. Needless to say there was no glow created because there was no communion present. By looking through the conceptual lenses above I have learned the following:
Transactional Analysis: The instructor opens the conversation in the “Parent” ego state as if speaking to a “Child”. This pulls the student into the “Child” ego and an opportunity to participate in learning is stopped because learning is now ‘instilled’ whether he likes it or not. Had the instructor opened the conversation in the “Adult” ego state, the adult student was afforded an equal opportunity to respond in the “Adult” ego state.
Rodenburg’s circles of energy: The instructor is obviously in full 3rd circle. This pushes the student into 1st circle, which causes him to shut down. The ideal for the patient and student is to interact in 2nd circle from the onset that could have given the student more confidence and encouragement to interact in 2nd circle himself.
Improvisation: The instructor offers some challenging questions to the student. The student accepts the offer and wants to make a counter offer of his own. The student’s offer is shut down and the instructor changes the goalposts by firing of a new offer. The student tries to compensate but is blocked again. This cycle continues until the student is ‘banished’ to the car. Learning has not taken place and the instructor sets himself up as the ‘hero’.
As hopeless as this scenario seems, I have worked through it with positive results. I worked with the instructor on a 1-2-1 basis and showed alternative ways of interacting with students. He was showed how people react and given small exercises to test new approaches and together we were able to create an understanding of why he acted in this way in the first place. His development is closely monitored through small assignments and progress reports.
On a group level, a two-day workshop with students and instructors prior to practical rotations was used to bring the Adult-Adult dynamic into play. This was achieved through various exercises in which students and instructors work together towards a common goal. These goals range from arriving as a unit on scene to rendering the needed medical care to the patient. Small sets were then used to show that, with the help of the conceptual lenses above (and other theories), instruction on scenes could either shut learning and patient treatment down, or progressed it. The dynamic was also used to highlight that without an instructor there are no students and, inversely, if there are no students there will also be no instructors – great attention was given to minimising the overt power differentials.
I have used similar work-sets to address similar issues in the everyday operation of various businesses in different settings. These sessions can be achieved in part through virtual application like Skype and Zoom. Building on these initial workshops and contact sessions I also found it very helpful to follow up with a workshop on decision making under pressure and resilience.
Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existance. (Paperback ed.). USA: Beacon Press.
Barrett, F. J. (1998). Creativity and improvisation in jazz and organizations: Implications for organizational learning. Organization Science, 9(5), 605-622.
Berne, E. (1964). Games people play – the psychology of human relationships (Kindle ed.). London: Penguin Group.
Britzman, D. P. (2016). Melanie klein – early analysis, play, and the question of freedom (1st ed.). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-26085-3
De Board, R. (1978). The child’s world of the adult – the contribution of melanie klein. The psychoanalysis of organizations: A psychoanalytic approach to behaviour in groups and organizations (pp. 25-34). London: Routledge.
Harris, T. A. (1995). I’m OK – you’re OK (ebook ed.). London: Arrow books.
Johnstone, K. (1981). Impro: Improvisation and the theatre. London: Methuen Drama.
Rodenburg, P. (2009). Presence: How to use positive energy for success in every situation. London: Penguin Books.