It's interesting the difference a day makes.
Yesterday I expressed my frustration over my inability to change people who are meant to be change agents. Writing it down got most of the negative energy I was feeling out of my system. It also left me some space to think a little more about the problem. And another reason to be grateful for blogging--writing about it brought me some good advice from Tom Haskins and encouraging words from Brent MacKinnon, which also helped. So here's where I'm at now.
First, I think that Tom's right when he says that helping people to become conscious of how they've become disempowered is an important step:
Most disempowered professionals I've coached don't consciously realize how they lost their sense of "can-do" and "can-make-a-difference". They are doing the best they can in their own minds. Once they are aware of how they are getting disempowered in their relationships, they can make the necessary changes for themselves. Meanwhile they are caught up in a spiral, going nowhere quickly and becoming more convinced that no change is possible.
One way I make disempowerment conscious is to prescribe it. People realize what they are caught up inside of when I make it clear how to keep it going intentionally.
Tom goes on to list a series of beliefs that disempowered people tend to hold and suggests that to explore our disempowerment, we should consciously try reinforce those beliefs in ourselves to see how they act in our lives. Good stuff.
As I read Tom's post, I realized that I also had some answers to my problem in my own toolkit. Apparently I got so caught up in being negative, I lost sight of my personal resources. Something I think has been going on with my clients, too.
A few years ago I was working with some people to implement a major organizational change. In that process, we examined the issue of the victim mentality, a belief system that many of us have without really knowing it.
To explore that concept, I asked what kinds of stories people told about themselves--active stories or passive ones? With active stories, we say things like "I am in charge" or "I am responsible." When we tell ourselves passive stories, we focus on outside forces and external circumstances. Active stories start with "I" and passive stories start with "They." Active stories make us feel empowered. Passive ones suck away our personal sense of control.
Then, stolen from Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, I asked two questions:
- Do you believe that with respect to this situation, no matter how much power seems to lie in other’s hands, you still have at least 10% that is in your control or power?
- Can you work on that 10%?
In thinking about this problem, I'm realizing something really important that I know, but seem to forget. Sometimes I'm being dragged down into this disempowered thinking too. It's hard to resist, especially if I'm in a room full of people who have already given up. It doesn't help that my natural temperament is to focus on problems, always looking for what needs to be fixed.
But getting dragged down into the negative isn't helping anyone and in a lot of ways, I can't afford to take that role. Someone has to be the dream keeper. Someone has to keep believing that if we all do our 10%, then it will add up and create change. It's like what they tell you in the safety talk on planes--put on your oxygen mask first and then help those around you. I'm the one who has to keep finding ways to get to the mask first. I'm the one who has to keep working on her own 10%. Without that, we'll all be crying into our beers.
I'm hoping that if I can keep doing that, others will join me eventually. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but at some point. In my heart I believe this will happen. But if I'm honest, I have to say that some days it's easier to believe that than others.