Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top Ten Sleep Thieves

A colleague of mine Ramiro Ponce wrote this piece which I thought brilliant.

With his permission I am honoured to share it with you. Please share your insights and perspectives...

Next time someone desperately comes to you asking for some “sound advice” during hard times, beware. The person may be suffering from “Sleep Thieves”.

The” Top Ten Sleep Thieves”, as I call them, are derailed, tempting thoughts/behaviors we all have during hard times of perceived or real loss - times of anxiety and stress. Far from being abnormal, they are very natural ways in which our mind tries to deal with uncertainty when there are no clear signals or direction indicators “outside” about what’s best to do in the face of it (uncertainty).

Overcoming them usually requires increasing self- awareness, and some kind of re-framing of the context/situation, re-sizing it and daring to ask for help. Phrases like “There's life after “X” - fill in your organization-, “there are more fish in the sea” or questions like “what's the worst that could happen? are colloquial, practical ways to stimulate this re-sizing of the problem. Almost always immediate relief is experienced because we touch base with reality again.

The arguments presented in the "Reflection" part of the section below may be useful for you when you –as leader or team member - are confronted with questions which look for certainty in uncertain times. E.g. "Look, they're offering me this job, but I'm afraid to leave now. On the other hand, things here are just worsening. What should I do?" Because anxiety caused by uncertainty doesn't necessarily decrease with certainty, you must NOT answer the question, but rather stimulate the other person to look for the indicated context.

For example, you could answer: "Well, what would you say your scenarios are? Leaving / Staying? Things go wrong / things go OK.? Try mapping your options on a 2 x 2 table, analyze them and decide".

When the Thieves are active, day to day managerial interventions of this type can make all the difference between the success or collapse of the transition process in the organization. Of course the concepts underlying the “thieves” presented here are not new. But systematizing them in an accessible, practical, and usable way may add real value to you in your daily role as a coach, leader or team member.

Thieves and Reflections

1. Rush decisions: “I’d better leave at once…”
Reflection: What if things improve around here? Imagine scenarios, don’t decide immediately

2. Extreme “Love”: “I won’t be as capable as I’ve been here at any other place…”
Reflection: There’s life after “X” (this organization)”. Write down your skills inventory/look outside

3. Clogged brain: “I can’t even think…my mind is in blank” …”
Reflection: What’s the simplest scenario I can visualize? Start with ANYTHING.

4. Dejection: “What’s the use of going on?”
Reflection: Has giving up on oneself ever brought something good to anyone? Begin picking up your own pieces. Pay attention again to those “little things” (personal appearance, punctual again, and so on)

5. Hostility: “I won’t strain myself anymore... to hell with all this…”
Reflection: Is this the way I want to be remembered here? How you leave is more important than how you arrived.

6. Detachment: “This is business as usual…no need to be dramatic”
Reflection: It’s OK to feel and be even-tempered. It’s not OK to be indifferent and lower one’s performance.

7. Denial: “Me?... I’m just trying to help!”
Reflection: Dare to ask your team mates: How do you see me? Am I sometimes part of the problem? Ask for specific examples.

8. Bargaining (with life, God, your boss…): “If they only gave me more money, training, time…”
Reflection: Is there a chance to drive forward sensibly if you look always at the rear mirror? Go; move ahead, even if the scenario is far from ideal.

9. Temporarily going down: “Maybe it’s me, I’m not good enough. Oh my… oh my…”
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • How did I get out of similar situations?
  • Who can help me?

10. Control Need “I have to turn this around (on my own)”.
Reflection: Is this really under my control?
Look around you, verify common symptoms of loss in other people, find a shared positive goal.

Ramiro Ponce is ICCO Board Member, Executive Coach, Engineer-Psychologist and develops leaders and their teams throughout the Americas.

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