According to Alun Jones (1999) “ Listening to others requires the ability to listen to one's own inner voices and recognize how they might guide exchanges. By avoiding conducting conversations in ways dictated by our own fears, worries and fantasies we can listen, and in so doing allow shifts in awareness. Silent suffering can change to expressive suffering allowing a person to reach an autonomous self and so an authentic voice. The seriousness of a situation can be grasped and so life appreciated for what it is. Decisions can be made, business finished and relationships esteemed or otherwise. Through the format of brief therapeutic conversations, listening has a role to play in helping people with serious illness discover their autonomous and authentic voice.”
But what about the individual who becomes so frightened about being thought to be something that s/he thinks they are not? What if in the course of helping another person to change, the helping isn’t helping at all, but an invasion of identity privacy? What happens when two people accommodate each other’s need to help eachother so much that in the end they only serve to offend when an unexpected assertion is introduced? What if the power relationship between the two people asserts one identity over the other? Who is in control of identity within the workplace environment and how does this relate to assertiveness? What is assertion and how could it be handled to authenticate change? Would this change facilitate better listening skills in the asserted actions? Is assertiveness the reason why people are able and not able to change or is it a sense of identity?
Michael Mahoney (1991) offers a number of exercises that may help an individual clarify his or her current sense of personal identity. One of his favourites is a sentence-completion task that he learned in a workshop with James Bugental.
" The Client is provided with a writing instrument and eight blank sheets of paper and instructed that he or she will be given the beginning of a sentence. the task is to complete that sentence eight times (once on each sheet) with the first completions that come to mind. The only constraint placed on the completions is that they should not be temporary states (such as moods or transient sensations). The (individual) client is then given the beginning of the sentence "I am..." When one has completed that sentence eight times, one is then asked to sort one's responses as follows.
"Imagine now that you are facing your own imminent death. Your energies are drained and you are tired. Imaging that holding on to each facet of your identity requires some energy, and that you must begin letting go of some of them. Look back through your eight statements and separate them into three groups: (1) those aspects of your identity that you would let go of first, (2) those that you would hold onto with your dying breath, and (3) those about which you cannot decide. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you do this."
Many people will complete that sentence with their name, occupation, personality attributes, roles in relationships and so on. Being asked to reflect on which of those facets of identity are most central to them can be challenging. Likewise, being asked to image one's imminent death is not a welcome exercise for most people and, like the personal epilogue, it is contraindicated in individuals who are at risk for suicide."
In this situation the exercise would need to be modified and conducted under the professional direction of an experienced psycho-analyst.
The above questions and extracts offer a thinking about an individuals listening ability when faced with a challenge that may be forcing them to change their identity. Fear is what happens to people when they feel that their sense of identity is being 'attacked'. Who is attacking the identity may be a question of assertiveness. The response of a paralysis approach to dealing with an attack against identity may be a decision not to listen to the attacker. This refusal to change may be a result, not so much of a refusal, but the assertiveness approach being administered by the change agent. Therefore maybe a first consideration, when working with individuals who may be considered to be 'change resistant'?, could be about their sense of identity and what strategies might be needed in order for an individual's identity to be better understood by those seeking to change the way those identities are managing to survive the working environment.
Alun Jones, 1999, Journal of Advanced Nursing Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 826–831, April 1999
Dr. Michael. J. Mahoney, 1991, Human Change Processes, Psychotherapy - Selected Techniques p314 - 315 (available on Amazon.com)
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