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Summer 2012: Nachlese/Afterthoughts[edit]

In this course, the students meet weekly for class on our school's virtual island in Second Life® and also discuss in a private Moodle forum using a weekly question as their starting point. Please feel free to leave your own comments and observations on this page. For technical issues, see this page.

Forum Discussion Week One: What Are You Learning?[edit]

  • I'm always quite excited when I read the first forum thread. This week's question (the first of the course) was "What are you learning in your internship?" — A wide open question, but a question that allowed the students to bring in a wealth both of knowledge gained and issues experienced by them. Here's a selection of what students have said:
«I am learning to work on my own.»
«I'm beginning to feel responsibility towards the company I work for.»
«I'm learning how to communicate with business customers.»
«I'm learning how it feels to be at the bottom of the hierarchy.»
«I've learnt how to break complex tasks down, work on them and put the puzzle back together again.»
«I'm learning from colleagues how to deal with the data jungle in Excel spreadsheets.«
«I'm experiencing difficulties with SAP and wish I had seen more of it during my studies»
«I'm learning how to delegate to others.»
«I'm learning to not trust others blindly but monitor closely when I'm ultimately responsible for the outcome of the work.»
«I'm learning not to sell myself for less than my fair value, especially in a male-dominated work environment.»
«I'm realizing that communicating with colleagues is one thing, communicating with my adviser another.»
«I learnt that theory and practice can differ wildly, especially when working with people: there's no "perfect" person, so the theory almost NEVER applies.»
«I understood how different business is conducted around the world.»
«I keep a working diary where I try to write down everything I learn.»
«I learnt how to deal with stress and unpleasant colleagues.»
«I've learnt that pay is not the most important asset to job satisfaction.»
«I experienced what it feels like to get fired.»
«I am learning to deal with people who have different tempers.»
«I learnt through watching my boss who is really a good "leader", which means that he delegates the tasks fairly and at the same time he cares for the team by supporting all colleagues.»
«I've learnt to deal with people just pushing tasks on me—though this interrupts my personal organisation it has helped me to be more flexible.»
«I'm learning a lot about time management»
«I've learnt how to work effectively under pressure.»
«I learnt that it is important to think out of the box when looking for creative solutions and found that I could do it.»
«I'm learning to accept feedback.»

Now, what's really lovely about these results is that they mostly didn't come as bullet point lists but in the form of little stories. This is most encouraging, since being able to tell stories about your work experience (and your internal experience during the internship) is one of the key points of this supervision course. But even without the stories, the spread of lessons learnt by this group of first-time interns is astonishing! I also notice (in the complete answers) that the students make many assumptions about how work is "supposed to be". It will be interesting to question those in the course of the term.--msb 08:21, 23 April 2012 (UTC)

From Week 1: First Presentation and Role Play[edit]

Fig 1. Sample Summary of RP

We made a start in the [Berlin] lunchtime session today with a short presentation followed by role play—worked reasonably well. Assertiveness in the work place was discussed. The client (intern) highlighted the importance of feeling out the environment (and the local habits and culture) before choosing a course of action. I pointed out that it is important to have several options of behavior: if you don't feel like you have any then you're likely stuck in a particular pattern which will make it harder to respond to changes. Also, people get used to your patterns of behavior (as do you to theirs).

In the role play (everybody did just great!), the superiors showed willingness to negotiate — the question is what will happen (what will you do) if this is not the case. Hence next week's forum question challenges you to share examples of assertive behavior: non-aggressive, non-manipulative behaviors that are meant to show the other party where your boundaries are (of body, of time, of attention etc.). The best situation, of course, occurs if the intern is eager to show what s/he's made of and the boss is skilled and sensitive enough to help him test his limits.

Fig 2. Students performing a RP

For the presentation: it was good to have little information on the slides and cover interesting information via discussion. In the image you see my summary of the intern's scene description for the role play, highlighting the (known) situation, the complication and the actors for this RP. We also discussed (a repetition for some) ways of giving feedback: subjective ("I think/feel"), objective ("facts") and meta ("meaning, future, interpretation"). Generally, what everyone thinks of first (critique, positive or negative feedback) isn't so useful: when it comes to communication, both sides need to establish first where they stand (as subjects). A slight (true) generalization: in my experience, German professionals tend to focus too much on objective feedback ("Sachebene") when working with foreigners. They feel lost on a relationship level ("Beziehungsebene"). Good managers know when to change mode and they know which mode they're in. --Birkenkrahe (talk) 13:15, 23 April 2012 (UTC)

In the evening session, we heard from an intern who'd worked abroad in the hospitality industry. The role play dealt with him having to manage a complaining customer. It was interesting from an assertiveness (limit-setting) point of view because there seem to be no options in this situation ("client is king" summarizes the expectations: the stronger the expectations the less the apparent flexibility in the situation). In truth though, you always have the same options - usually many more than you think. The the industry and the culture or the character of the other person determine the way you communicate your boundaries, but not the need or the right to do so. I'm looking forward to deepening these issues and add examples in the weeks to come! --msb 19:45, 23 April 2012 (UTC)

From Week 2: Examples of Assertiveness[edit]

Your discussion of non/assertiveness examples is fascinating to read! However, I think I need to clarify a couple of misunderstandings: assertiveness in the sense introduced here (communicating your own boundaries) is not the same as dominance within a hierarchy, or intimidation. These are actually aggressive, non-assertive behaviors. Assertiveness is also not the same as behaving "masculine". "Masculine" societies in the sense of Hofstedte are not automatically more assertive though they may appear as more aggressive (to outsiders).

Fig 3. Dealing with negative People. Source: H Kjellin, see
  • To behave dominantly within a hierarchy (no matter if the hierarchy is culturally sanctified or not—like in the Chinese example) is rather a weakness in terms of assertiveness. Why? Because in order to guarantee boundaries (e.g. social, cultural, professional norms) the boss needs the hierarchy, and when the hierarchy goes, there's little left. This is starkly different from commanding respect or communicating serenity, importance, influence, charisma: all of these are all indicators of "natural assertiveness". Examples: (1) there's no doubt in your mind that the old wise man knows what he's talking about. (2) when your boss speaks, she seems to create a space around herself that makes people want to let her speak...there are invisible boundaries here but they're not magical, they've been created by people's assertive behavior.
  • How to do another question. It requires practice and more. It follows that "masculinity" in the sense of Hofstedte is also not assertiveness. In fact you can be male or female and be equally assertive. Males and females have cliche behaviors of non-assertive behavior: males are aggressive and females are manipulative (that's a prejudice: I've met as many manipulative males as aggressive females). "Hofstedte-masculine" societies may appear more aggressive to others, e.g. this was definitely my impression when I worked and studied among the Dutch in the Netherlands, and Germans are considered more aggressive by the British (on average), just as Germans experience British sarcasm and habit as manipulative (on average).

Once again: great discussion—the arguments and examples were first class. The misunderstandings are natural—they often come up around this. Nobody likes to look at their own non-assertiveness, by the way...also as a response to the quality of the discussion, we'll deal this week with the next level of behavior: how to deal with negative people. To prepare this, I've uploaded a summary of both types of negative people and ways of dealing with them that comes from Prof Harald Kjellin and was presented by him at the Consulting Forum at the HWR Berlin in January 2012 (the work goes back to work on negotiation by Axelrod and many others) — see Fig. 3. --msb (talk) 16:20, 30 April 2012 (UTC)

From Week 3: Handling Negative People[edit]

The baby's body language is clear: "Don't bully me!"— Image: Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - St Rose of Lima

The discussion on "Handling Negative People" was a little hard-going at first. You seemed at first compelled to let us know how nice and wonderful everyone is, how devoid of negativity your workplace was. Which is great, don't get me wrong, and it may even be true! Or perhaps you're just still honeymooning...but if you indeed cannot perceive any negativity as documented in Kjellin's list in others, what about taking a look at your own behavior?

On being nice.[edit]

There was a noticeable pressure, consequently, on putting on a "nice face". While this is understandable, let me remind you what the purpose behind the anti-negativity tactics was: once you've applied your assertiveness skills (= expressed where your boundaries/limits are), you might be faced with an "operator" (of one of the twelve types). The suggested behaviors are designed to counteract them. At the same time, overdoing it turns you into one of the types yourself. The only way to learn how to deal with negative types is the same way in which we learn anything: by continuous practice and repetition. There's no point in waiting for "the big one" which makes special behaviors worthwhile. You may never meet a big bully, but instead a stream of small bullies who also sap your energy etc.

According to game theory (as explained by Prof. Kjellin in the video), when someone has behaved badly with you, it is better before simply going on, to exact some sort of (appropriate) revenge before returning to a trusted relationship. The ideal that comes through in many of your posts ("just keep going and try to stay friendly") is more likely to lead to depression or passive-aggressive (involuntary revengeful) behavior.

What if you only notice it later?[edit]

One of you said on the forum:

«When it comes to negative behavior that offends you and that makes you feel being treated unfair a quick reaction is indispensable in order to avoid a repetition. But many aspects that are mentioned in Prof Kjellin's Reference Guide, e.g. the charmer, are characteristics that you will notice later on. How would you then explain the situation without sounding ridiculous?»

I'm hardly ever able to produce an immediate reaction though I've got better at it over the's partly to do with the "nice boy" image (now "nice man") which used to be more important to me than it is other words: this need to deal with something after the fact is really a standard situation! I also wonder what others think... thing I can say is that the "sounding ridiculous" will always be there as a danger. In fact, the "negative person" counts on it to lower your defenses and to get away with it. So that fear is one of the first to let go. And you will, if it's worth it to you. When you feel really bothered or offended or sucked dry, you'll rise to the challenge. The best way if you choose to go the direct way (which involves explanation—generally: explain as LITTLE as necessary) is to talk about how the situation made you feel (assertiveness technique). Otherwise, if you can't or don't want to be direct or open (who can blame you) then go straight for the recommended tactic.

E.g. the charmer is highly manipulative—s/he knows what s/he's doing and always got away with it. Find their weakness (numbers; something that they're not competent in) and ask for exactly that...repeatedly. Don't waste time on explanation. In the case of these types, attack may the best defense.

Role Playing[edit]

For the role plays, to make them more interesting and richer in content, ask yourself the following questions beforehand (and if you forget, I'll ask them in session):

  • What did you want to get out of the situation you described? Or what do you want to get out of it?
  • What was the obstacle for you to get what you want? Or which obstacle do you foresee might stall you?
  • What are you curious about regarding the role-play itself? What would you most like to know if you had your druthers?

Next week's discussion is going to be easier...we use the recent election in France as the jumping off point to discuss "dress code". This will be our preparation for a wider discussion of workplace culture in the following week, from which we will move on to networking and knowledge sharing issues.

Defusing Outraged People[edit]

...when you're not the reason of their anger but become their target because you're in their way—this was one example we dealt with this week but didn't have time for a role play, alas. As a general rule, I suggested to resort to mirroring the other person's behavior - a technique called parallel talking - carefully of course. A little as in the sketch below, exemplary for many coaching situations I've experienced:

A: I'm so pissed off. They've really made me angry.
B: (picking up on the anger and mirroring it back) I can see you're pissed off. They really done it to you this time. This is an outrage.
A: That's what I'm saying. They're screwing with me (hits the table)! Bastards!
B: I know. You should quit. I don't think I've heard anything this bad EVER. Those ******** (indistinct strong cursing)!!!!
A: (after a pause, calming down because he sees himself from the outside) Well...
B: (keeps mirroring)
A: Well, it's not actually perhaps THAT bad.
B: Are you sure?

From Week 4: Building/Saving Work Relationships[edit]

In today's role-plays, we were looking at two very interesting issues:

  1. negotiating with a boss who's not happy and has begun to blame and judge you while giving unclear (possibly) contradictory instructions (perhaps because he's got no experience in supervising interns; or because he's a control-freak); in this case, you're face with a "threatening bully" (in Kjellin's list) and you should ask for very, very precise instructions as well as stay away from blaming and judging yourself (to avoid an upward spiral); in assertiveness terms you may find that proper emotional positioning ("I'm very frustrated") leads to mirroring by your boss ("I'm very frustrated, too") thereby putting you at the same level and thwarting power-play.
  2. getting other (regular) employees to spend time with you and teach you things in a company that's recently been acquired by another, much larger company. Because of the acquisition, the company and its employees may be in a kind of shock...which will, just as for an individual, slow down responses and can even induce collective psychosis of a low level—which means that, if this is a serious case of cultural distortion, you cannot rely on the usual social rules and regulations. Also, acquisition means that some or all processes of the old company are up in the air: there's no process security at all. Generally, an intern, at the bottom of the food chain, thrives on stable rules and regulations. In its absence, the intern must improvise which is easier with more experience. If you find that you make demands on your environment and the environment resists, you can also check your own behavior with respect to a fundamental truth: nobody will want to do something for you unless it benefits them. This means you need to identify their possible benefit—you can do that directly (asking) or indirectly (e.g. by being careful about their time, trying to ask them to tell you things during lunch etc.). In general, the more time passes, the more you'll find (unless you've screwed up seriously) that the relationships at work will deepen; people will trust you more and you're more likely to get what you want.

These are, of course, generalizations.

From Week 5: Two clean assertiveness issues[edit]

This week, we had a couple of very clear assertiveness role plays in the evening session—an opportunity to repeat what I said elsewhere (I think): there are three distinct scenarios—

  1. You feel bullied or attacked or perhaps you simply feel someone has stepped over your boundary. This is a case for assertiveness. The goal: to let them know what your limits are. Short of direct information, the key method is "fielding" by repeating your message consistently and simply (e.g. by saying "no", not defending, not giving reasons etc.); the first evening role play was of this sort.
  2. You're faced with a "negative person" (see above) in one of its many shades. Now you need to step up to the additional challenge and face the music by developing a strategy (which may not come to you immediately—this takes practice!) that matches the assault. Use Kjellin's list accordingly.
  3. Lastly, and we've seen an example of that in the evening, too, you may be faced with a reasonable person who meets you eye to eye, listens well, wants to help etc. In this case you simply negotiate, try to find a compromise together.

From Week 6: How do you network?[edit]

After reading the forum posts: It was interesting to see how many of you only thought of the official networking opportunities that the firm offers (or doesn't offer). And I'm surprised to read how social networking is getting a bad name in the context of work. One of you succinctly put it like this: «I really dislike networking for a professional purpose.» Well, good riddance. Networking is what most professionals, especially at upper levels, do almost for their living. I would say perhaps you didn't understand me well, but I had given you the key points of good networking by Hain — perhaps you didn't look at them. If you believe what this student believes, you may want to check them again, because networking boils down to good relationship building, a skill that no (successful) professional can really be without.

The other surprise is the lack of social media in your responses. My growing impression when I look at the world of work is that the increasing globalization leads to less physical quality time spent with less and less people, while (to get the work done) we have more and more virtual relationships. Unless you develop skills to enrich virtual relationships, too, you'll have a hard time in the international arena. Of course it is always to be preferred, and immeasurably richer, to meet up in person—but it just happens less and less. The complete, ugly truth is that networking aka relationship building got a hell of a lot more complicating in the last 10 years and is likely to get more so. However, much of this is intuition and experience, I cannot validate these claims with research—if you find something in favor or against, let me know!

From Week 9[edit]

My desire to comment on the sessions is still strong, but I've got typing problems, hence I have to be short. If you're interested please take a look at this presentation, esp slide no. 5 which shows how communication breaks down unless both partners of an encounter aren't in the "adult" poition. Important: check yourself how you reacted in stressful situations and if you perhaps have a tendency to behave as a "child" e.g. when meeting a superior who behaves like a "parent".