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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 24-Nov-06


Friday 24-November-06

PEPI'd and pooped!

I've just come off a week-long course at the UK's National School of Government (kind of a business school for government workers at all levels) entitled 'Personal Power and Influence', or PEPI for short, and I'm completely pooped! Intended for higher level managers it's not something for the faint-hearted and there were comments that it perhaps should include something more of a health warning. Having said that, it was what might be described in the vernacular as a 'stonking good experience'.

The power and influence thing perhaps is more of a theme than a driving content. The real target is you, how you tick and how you relate to, and work with, other people. I've been fried, cooked and variously examined and I think I'm a better person for it. I do know I'll be more effective back in the workplace.

The basic frame of the course was a series of 'Community group' and 'Home group' meetings, interspersed with brief lectures on stuff like power, culture and personality factors and exercises such as the red-blue game and putting on dramatic performances. The real meat, however was the group sessions, which were kind of encounter groups in which people could (and did) say anything that was on their minds; the exercises were primarily vehicles to get people to behave in normal and stressed ways. The Community Group included everyone (18 delegates and 3 facilitators) in a big circle, with no obstructing table in between. The Home Groups were sets of 6 delegates with one facilitator around a table. Not unsurprisingly, the Home Group sessions were more intensely personal. The larger group also got surprisingly heated at times.

All sessions were facilitated by psychologists who provided both the necessary provocation to open people up and the safety control for when people started getting too wound up. 

For me, it started slowly. On Monday I was a bit bored -- I knew the lecture stuff and the discussions were pretty mild. I was there to be shaken and stirred and wasn't getting it. Others felt the same and we said so. I've done stuff like this before, however and knew things would improve -- and they did. On Tuesday it warmed up and by Wednesday it was distinctly heated. On Thursday it all started to make sense and Friday rounded it off neatly by lunchtime, allowing people to get away across the country. I was lucky as I live only five miles away and I'm now back home, capturing thoughts and musing upon learnings.

In many ways, it was like a week-long coaching, counselling and therapy session. Many skeletons were removed from cupboards and disassembled, and deep frustrations welled to the surface as people projected problems onto one another, only to eventually realize that their accusations were really externalizations of their inner issues. Likewise, coping mechanisms were explored and the blind self reflected back. Running from 9am to 6:30pm each day, the discussions then spilled into the bar and restaurant. All together, I reckon I spend around 65 hours immersed in it, pausing only to sleep. Sometimes it takes exhaustion before the subconscious lets go of its precious bones.

Although I 'know' some of this stuff, it is not the same as intense experience which digs into more subtle detail and really hammer the points home. A massive common point was that we constantly misunderstood one another and attributed negative intent when it actually occurred far less often. Personally, I was looking to create more 'presence' in my encounters and here are some individual points I learned to help this.

  • I need to put myself more into what I say, rather than presenting a dissociated model. From this site, you can see how much I value theories: they helps me understand and explain. What I hadn't realized that their use in conversation may give a logical reason but they also makes the point less owned, more open to attack and hence less powerful.
  • I tend to be more of an enthusiastic 'dog', wagging my tail and looking to please others. Whilst it is good to help people, it also positions me in a subservient position and is not always appropriate. I'm going to think more about this and find ways to be more of a more authoritative 'cat' when the time calls.
  • I have often framed myself as 'head in the clouds, feet on the ground', something that was reflected in the Margerison-McCann assessment we did, where I turned out to have strong 'creator-innovator' and 'thruster-organizer' preferences (I'm in business improvement, which means 'understand, innovate, then implement'). What was missing was the heart that gives it conviction and connection to others. 
  • Presence, I found, is also created by stillness of movement, a steady slowness of speech and management of pauses, as well as gaze and other body management. Mostly, however, these outward signs come from an inner quiet and relaxed intensity.

I showed them this website as a source of additional material and it was much appreciated. I also got many strokes and people were complimentary about my knowledge and contribution and it was even suggested that I could have been a facilitator on the course -- which was very kind and made me feel good, but didn't help me change, which was really why I was there. I particularly appreciated the more critical input that has given me the chance to learn and become more effective.

It's going to take a while to process everything that happened. I went on a similar style of course many years ago. I took a month to recover from that (it was an 'outward bound' style of course, run by ex-special forces people) and was still having 'aha's from it six months later.

And, as with such immersive experiences, I made many friends, discovering anew that when you are chucked into the deep end with people you find out how human they are and how fundamentally good and kind they can be -- particularly if you respect them and give them space in your world.

Your Comments

 As one of the course participants I would like to agree with what has been said especially your last paragraph which was the main learning point for me. Well said!

-- Monica McKinlay

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