Helping people into their 'discomfort zone'

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					  Communication stress styles
                           Resource Pack
                  Learning zones
                                                                         Comfort Zone.
                                                                         Confidence in
                                                                         own experience.
                                                                         People stay
                                                                         here, don‟t
                                                                         change don‟t

                                                                        Discomfort Zone
                                                                        (learning zone).
                                                                        People uncertain,
                                                                        most likely to
                                                                        change and most
                                                                        likely to learn

                                                                        Panic Zone
                                                                        People freeze, will
                                                                        not change and
                                                                        cannot learn.

                                                                        behaviour –

Helping people into their ‘discomfort zone’

We have all experienced change situations where we have gone from a feeling of
comfortable stability into a feeling of panic. It is useful for anyone involved with change
and improvement to remember when it happened to you and understand those feelings.

The comfort zone is where some people are quite happy to stay. It may be a way of
thinking or working, or a job that someone has been doing for a long time. In a comfort
   there is a sense of belonging
   things feel familiar and certain
   the work is controllable and predictable
   people feel comfortable and competent
   there is no threat to self esteem or identity

However, in the comfort zone people generally don‟t need to learn new things and therefore
don‟t change.

As a Leader, the best strategy is to help people out of their comfort zone but not into a
panic zone by encouraging them into the discomfort zone. It is in the discomfort zone that
people are most likely to change and learn how to do things differently.

To encourage people to leave the comfort zone you need to help them feel „safe‟.

You can help people to feel safe by creating the right environment and culture. This will
include ensuring there is no blame, and developing a culture of mutual support and respect.
Then ask them to question the current situation and see it from another point of view such
as customers and other members of staff.

Other methods to help people feel safe include:

• create a compelling and positive vision of how things could be
• provide access to appropriate training and positive role models
• provide coaches, feedback and support groups
• ensure systems and structures are consistent

For more information read Senge, P. (2000) The Dance of Change: sustaining momentum
in a learning organisation, Nicholas Brealey

                    Communication Stress Styles
In her book „New Peoplemaking’ Virginia Satir observes that people tend to react to stress,
being out of their comfort zones and threats to their self esteem with one of the four
different defensive communication styles:

     Placating
     Blaming
     Computing
     Distracting

They sometimes become so accustomed to using these communication styles that they
don‟t even realise they are protecting themselves and warding off their partners/colleagues
as if they are their potential enemy.

They may become so used to using the style automatically, that the style itself becomes the
problem. It pays to be able to recognise these patterns in ourselves, our colleagues and in
our partners, and to recognise the insecurities underlying them.

    To get rid of defensive communication styles, people must face the very thing
    they are afraid of and be open to acknowledging their fear and other threatening

                   Placating (doesn’t show their anger and power)

Characteristics   Eager to please, apologetic, can act syrupy “yes” person, when I
                  am Placating I can act like a martyr.

Verbal            “Whatever you want.”
messages          “Without you, I‟m nothing.”
                  “Don‟t make waves. Don‟t rock the boat.”
                  “Never mind about me.”

In extreme they   “I feel like a nothing; without him/her I am dead. I am worthless.”
might feel        When Placating I am scared and hurt.
Guiding           I‟ll demolish myself before you do (or to preserve the
principles        relationship).
Symbol            Runs like a rabbit

Adjectives to     Ingratiating, apologetic, long-suffering, weak, clutching,
describe this     dependent, victimised. At the extreme, depressed, prone to
behaviour         illness.
To move out of
their defensive   The Placator needs to speak on his or her own behalf.

                  Blaming (doesn’t show their pain)

Characteristics   Fault-finding, when blaming I can be controlling, nit-picking,
                  criticising relentlessly and speaking in sweeping generalisations.

Verbal            “You never do anything right.”
messages          “If it weren‟t for you, everything would be all right.”
                  “You‟re so stupid (sick, bad, crazy, evil etc.).”
                  “You‟re just like your mother (father etc.)”

In extreme they “I feel lonely and probably unloved.” The blamer is angry because
might feel      he/she anticipates not getting what he/she wants, including
inside          approval.

Guiding           Given a problem or a threatening situation, the best defence is a
principle         good offence, or, demolish the enemy before he/she can demolish

Symbol            Strikes like a rattlesnake

Adjectives to     Controlling, violent, disagreeable, hostile, tyrannical, nagging, nit-
describe this     picking, fault finding and at the extreme, paranoid.

To move out of The Blamer needs to acknowledge their pain, or their anticipation of
their defensive pain or disappointment about not getting what they want, to arrive at
communication what is possible – what can work for both.

                        Computing (Is afraid of their emotions)

Characteristics   Calm, cool, collected, super-reasonable and rational, when
                  computing I carefully choose the right (often abstract) words,
                  expects people to perform and to conform (to “shoulds”), avoid
                  admitting mistakes, deny feelings, tend to cite facts, statistics,
                  authorities and tradition.

Verbal            “Upset? I‟m not upset. Why do you say I‟m, upset?” “I‟m fine.”
messages          “Everybody know …” “Obviously …”

In extreme they “I will not be vulnerable.” The computer is afraid of all emotion.
might feel
Guiding         Given a problem or any stress, the only thing to do is deal with role
principle       expectations, facts and statistics. (You can‟t get me if I don‟t show
                I‟m vulnerable.)

Symbol            Acts like a computer, or a turtle in a shell

Adjectives to     Militaristic, legalistic, compulsive, obsessive, rigid, principled,
describe their    insensitive, unfeeling, lacking in sympathy or compassion – at the
behaviour         extreme, a robot.

To move out of    The Computer needs to stop being afraid of emotions, to get in
their defensive   touch with the whole range of their own emotions. They are
communication     probably closest to being aware of their own anger, which goes with
style             disapproval of people who do not perform/conform. Only by getting
                  in touch with his own emotions can s/he empathise with someone

                  Distracting (is afraid of reality)

Characteristics   Talkative, irrelevant, frantically active and unfocused, when
                  distracting I may be avoiding direct eye contact and direct answers,
                  and am quick to change the subject or ignore the point being

Verbal            “Problem? What problem? Let‟s go to the movies.”

In extreme they   The Distractor can be frightened and distrustful, believes “Nobody
might feel        really cares. There is no place for me. I don‟t know what to do.”
Guiding           If I ignore the problem, maybe it will go away, or improve by itself –
principle         or God will take care of it.

Symbol            Hides head in sand like an ostrich

Adjectives to     Distracting, erratic, inappropriate, talkative, frantic, hyperactive,
describe their    purposeless, and – at the extreme – out of touch with reality.
To move out of    The Distractor needs to get in touch with her own strength and learn
their defensive   whatever skills and information she needs in order to grapple with
communication     reality as it exists, instead of his/her illusions, or the way s/he would
style             like it to be.

The Placator in effect, says, “I don‟t have any power myself; I have to please you to
survive.” Both the Placator and the Blamer assume that the survival of the self depends on
the other person. The super-rational person assumes that the basis for survival of people –
on things. The Distractor assumes that the self has no predictable basis for survival.

                   Levelling (the Congruent Style)
                  The leveller assumes that they will survive using their own resources and
                  combines the qualities of the other four styles in a positive or humanised

   The placator humanised is your capacity to be sensitive, loving, caring and to have
    empathy for others – not out of fear but because you want him or her to be happy.

   The blamer humanised is your own capacity to be assertive on your own behalf without
    demolishing your colleague/partner.

   The super-rational humanised is your ability to analyse, problem-solve and plan while
    taking into consideration both your own and others feelings and desires.

   The distractor humanised is your capacity to have fun, your ability to balance pleasure
    and purposefulness, to say, “I‟m not going to deal with that tonight because I want to
    enjoy myself. I can deal with it tomorrow – and I will.”

    The leveller says:

   “I can say how things are for me without blaming.”
   “I can be sensitive and caring without placating.”
   “I can use my intelligence as well as my feelings, and I can look to keep pleasure in our
    relationship. I will tell you what I think and feel, without blaming or placating you, without
    denying my feelings or yours, and without ignoring the problem. And I will invite you to
    do the same”
   “My behaviour and responses reveal what I am thinking and feeling; I won‟t wear a mask
    or hide behind a smile, a glazed look, a blank or icy stare, or total impassiveness.”


    Mature, alive, creative, integrated, healthy, and competent.

The descriptions used in these four styles reflect a generalisation that men often don‟t
acknowledge their pain and women tend to be afraid of their anger. Men tend to be super
reasonable blamers, more in touch with performance and conformity (“shoulds”), because
our society emphasises male career effectiveness. Women tend to be irrelevant Placators
because they are afraid to show their power or their anger. Generally, women have been
conditioned to believe that their success in life depends on being loved, protected, cared for
and approved by a man. We‟re talking about typical patterns; they don‟t hold for everyone.

Also, some people show one style and feel another – are placating on the outside, for
example, and blaming on the inside.

The fact is, many of us mix and match these defensive styles, either in sequence or at the
same time. It‟s very easy to be a Blamer, for example, and it‟s easy to alternate styles.
Moreover, most of us, at one time or another, have tried all of them. However, here‟s a
situation where practice does not make perfect – except with levelling congruent style, the
only one that gets the blue ribbon.


What is good about it:
Loving, Empathic, Caring, Sensitive


What is good about it:
Speak on one‟s own behalf, which we all need to be able to do, without blaming


What is good about it:
Use of own logic and reason, as long as it includes feelings as well as thoughts


What is good about it:
Ability to play, to have fun, without avoiding reality as a lifestyle

   Self              Task                     Placating

                                              Dropping needs of self


Self                Task                      Blaming

                                              Dropping needs of others


   Self             Task                      Computing

                                              Dropping needs of self & others


 Self               Task                      Distracting

                                              Dropping self, other & task