Archive for January, 2010

Sources of Upset, Part Three: Thwarted Intention

January 26, 2010

This post is the last in a series about the three sources of upset between people.  The first two were:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations

The third source of upset, thwarted Intention occurs when we wish to take action and, for a variety of reasons, cannot do so.  Our inability to take intended action could originate with ourselves.  We could:

  • Lack the skills or knowledge to achieve our intended action
  • Not follow through with our intentions

Others could squash our intentions by intentionally or unintentionally blocking our action, perhaps replacing it with their own action.

Let’s look at how we thwart our own intentions.  Most often, we can avoid sabotaging ourselves with proper planning and forethought.  This includes asking such questions as:

  • Have we defined the task?   We often lack a clear objective or understanding of what it is we are setting out to do.
  • Do we have the right resources to accomplish the task as defined?  This includes having the necessary skills: yours and those of others assisting you.
  • Do we have the time to accomplish the task?
  • Do we have the will to see our intention to completion?

Once we are on the path to fulfill our intention, the ability to assess our progress and adjust our plan can help us to reach our goal.  Reassessment can include the decision to abandon our intention!  Be honest with yourself and ask: “If I continue on this course, what is the cost and probability of failure?  If I stop what I’m doing right now,  what is the cost to me, and how does it compare to the cost of continuing and failing?”  It can be painful to admit that you are not on the right path, but failure to consider even the harshest of options could result in greater pain and expense later.

Planning should also consider the potential reactions of other individuals and organizations, for they can also thwart our intentions.  A clear-eyed assessment of not just what others are doing, but what they will do in response to our actions, is important.

Referencing the four temperaments described in the preceeding post on unfulfilled expectations, you can see that individuals will be successful or challenged by what is described above, depending on their core psychological needs.  For instance:

Improvisers:

  1. Will be quick to take action, but such haste may lack proper planning and thus jeopardize a successful outcome.
  2. Are cool-headed and tactical.  They often find solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to others.
  3. Can be perceptive about what is happening in the moment.  They are usually flexible, and can use flexibility and awareness to adjust their solution or quickly abandon a doomed intention.
  4. May have such a focus on the moment that they miss the bigger picture and what lies ahead.
  5. Can be good negotiators with others who stand in the way of their intention.

Stabilizers:

  1. Will not proceed with action until they have analyzed what past experience says they should do.  They seek a clear, logical plan to follow.
  2. Are skilled at keeping the plan on track, bringing the right resources to bear on the process.  May hunker down and apply the rules more rigorously when faced with obstacles.
  3. Are usually very aware of the here and now, yet may be so focused on the plan and the rules as to be slow in adjusting to new information.
  4. Focus on tradition, thus their view of the future might be based upon what the past says is likely to happen.
  5. May react to others who block their intentions with rigid resistance, not flexible negotiation.

Theorists:

  1. Are often quick to strategize a plan, and quick to put their plan into action.
  2. Anticipate obstacles and ways to surmount them.  Alternatively, they may try to roll right over obstacles.
  3. Can be persuaded to change or abandon their strategy if new and trusted information comes to light.
  4. Focus on the outcome, and may not attend to the details of the plan.
  5. May appear ruthless to those who get in the way of their plans.  Others may perceive them as visionary.

Catalysts:

  1. Create a plan ranging from vague to detailed, but they are not likely to act until they have buy-in from others.
  2. Diplomatically seek a solution that includes everyone’s input and, ideally, agreement, when faced with an obstacle.
  3. Are generally very tuned into the mood and needs of the group, thus are able to shepherd others in an effort to achieve a goal.
  4. Focus on the process, and the meaning and significance of the intention.
  5. Can shift from inclusion to intensity if the values of the catalyst are threatened or disregarded.  In the extreme, think of a mama bear protecting her young.

As I concluded this three-part series on the three causes of upset, let me rhetorically ask, “Why?”  My answer: because only when we understand what underlies our emotions, our anger, our happiness, our sadness, etc., can we gain control over those feelings.  By understanding the cause of our emotions, we are taking the first step toward promoting those that are productive, and changing those that are not productive.  As we gain control over our feelings, we can begin to understand the emotions of others.  Our empathic understanding of others can then be used to help them gain control over their emotions.  Thus, the foundation has is laid for more satisfying relationships at home, at work, and in all social settings.

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Sources of Upset, Part II: Unfulfilled Expectations

January 12, 2010

In my last post, I proposed that all negative emotions, or upsets, could be attributed to three sources:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

Part one of this series described withheld communications while focusing on family gatherings and workplace dynamics.  I will again relate this information to our personal and professional lives.

Unfulfilled expectations occur when we expect something to happen, and it doesn’t.  The term expectation refers to some action that originates from others.  This is in contrast to intention (as in thwarted intention), which refers to an action that originates from ourselves.

For those of you familiar with Temperament Theory, you will recognize the following four descriptions in the work of David Keirsey, Ph.D. and, more recently, Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. I have found that what constitutes an unfulfilled expectation to each of us depends upon our temperament.

Individuals favoring the Artisan (Keirsey) or Improviser (Berens) temperament are inclined to act quickly, often with only a brief contemplation of that action, and with an expectation that others will, eventually, agree with the plan they initiate.  They have a strategic intelligence.  The freedom to act and having an immediate or near-term impact are core psychological needs for this temperament, making them excellent in a crisis or emergency situation.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when they are blocked from taking action and having an impact (thus unfulfilled).

  • They become frustrated, then work to persuade others to agree with and follow their action; or
  • They proceed recklessly without consulting others in anticipation of disagreement, and deal with the consequences later; or
  • They become angry, sarcastic, and then withdrawn; or
  • They quickly shift to another plan in an effort to get agreement on a new course of action.

Unless folks of this temperament are tied down and boxed in, they are not sitting still long enough to dwell on the anger of being unfulfilled. Instead, they move quickly to their next idea. They are known to take risks, so strong is their need to act and have an impact.

During family gatherings, these folks can defy tradition, suggest wild alternatives to the status quo, and say things that “stir the pot”.  They can be the life of the party, and may act outrageously to ameliorate their boredom.  They are often perplexed as to why others don’t see the humor and excitement in their ideas. While they are perceptive of the moods of others and the dynamics of the group, they often choose to ignore such nuances as a distraction to their efforts to take action.  If the desires of the artisan/improviser temperament are repeatedly unmet, they will become depressed, despondent and/or withdrawn.

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Individuals favoring the Guardian/Stabilizer temperament are inclined to follow the rules, honor traditions, and seek affiliation with a group(s) they find meaningful.  Such groups could be familial, social or professional.  A sense of belonging and a belief in responsibility are core psychological needs for these individuals, making them the most consistent, loyal and reliable of the temperaments.  They have a logistical intelligence: bringing the right resources and personnel to bear on an issue.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their values of loyalty and duty are not honored, and thus go unfulfilled.

  • They become angry with the person or group defying established norms and traditions, or
  • They use criticism in an attempt to change the behavior of others, or
  • They demonstrate resistance and become controlling of people, processes and things in order to get their intentions fulfilled, or
  • Simply withdraw, becoming stubborn and righteous about their anger and perspective.

The attachment these individuals have to the rules and traditions of a group they believe to be meaningful can prevent them from seeing the world through the eyes of others.  The impact this has on their relationships then serves to perpetuate the very frustration and unfulfilled expectation they so dislike.

During family gatherings, these folks find comfort and enjoyment in the predictability of family traditions.  They are happiest when serving the generations-old holiday meal and putting family heirlooms on display.  When others don’t respond with the same respect for rules and traditions, the guardian/stabilizer temperament can become angry, critical and/or forlorn.

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Individuals favoring the Rational/Theorist temperament value a clear goal, and a well-reasoned plan for getting there.  Competency and self-control are core psychological needs for these individuals.  They are often viewed as natural leaders because of their strategic intelligence and their ability to be articulate and persuasive.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their preference for a well thought-out plan with clear objectives is resisted, therefore unfulfilled:

  • They can become angry and controlling, or
  • They can question the competency of others, or
  • They can be embarrassed by their own perceived lack of competency and/or control, or
  • They can become argumentative and push obsessively with more logic, or
  • They become uncharacteristically mindless.

Once a plan has been made, and a course of action is underway, these individuals can be persuaded to change that course if presented with the logic that supports a change.  Contrary to what you might think, this temperament does not always need to be in control, but they will be watching to make sure that someone with competence is in control!

During family gatherings, these folks will elevate the dinner conversation to a discussion of world affairs in search of a good argument.  They argue not to fight, but to hone their own knowledge and challenge their intellect.  This desire can upset the group dynamic, especially if old wounds or dysfunctional patterns surface.

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Individuals favoring the Idealist/Catalyst temperament value cooperative relationships and authenticity.  Meaning, significance, and recognition of the unique identity of both themselves and others are at the core of their psychological needs.  They possess a diplomatic intelligence. People of this temperament can react in several ways when others impede their desire for harmony and a purposeful life, leaving them feeling unfulfilled:

  • They can become worried or depressed if their life is chronically unfulfilling, or
  • They can become flustered and angry in a situation where disharmony evolves, then
  • They will work to rescue the victims of disharmony or unfair treatment, or conversely
  • They will remove themselves completely from the situation

Despite the conciliatory nature of these folks, they can become quite incensed when expectations go unfulfilled, or feelings are not taken into account.  It is the irony of this type: their strong reaction to an upsetting situation can make it worse.  However, they are usually quick to regain their focus and become the catalyst for reconciliation.

This is especially true during family gatherings, as these folks have their radar focused on the group dynamic.  Are people enjoying themselves?  Are any old and unpleasant dynamics emerging?  If so, they will use their diplomatic skills to avert this possibility, fearing the harmony of the group will unravel. If their efforts fail they may lose control and become angry, blame themselves for not being able to affect harmony, and/or take themselves away from the situation.  Yet, when all is well with these individuals, the kindness, compassion and coaching they display makes them a comfort to their friends, family and co-workers alike.

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In the situations described above, substitute “family gatherings” for “at the office,” add a little imagination, and perhaps you can see yourself in some all-too-familiar workplace dynamics.  There is truth in the aphorism, “Wherever I go, there I am!”  Well-adjusted adults are generally successful at modifying their behavior to the context of the moment, but under stress, we can all fall back on behaviors that are most familiar, and “familiar” does not necessarily mean “appropriate.”  Who we are as a result of growing up in our family of origin eventually seeps out into other aspects of our lives.

So what to do with this information?  I suggest that:

  • you first identify which of the Temperaments you most identify with.  This is often best determined by reflecting on how you react when under stress.
  • Next, focus on the individual or group you are interacting with.
    • Are there any clues as to their expectations?
    • What are their likely reactions to having these expectations unfulfilled?
    • How can you fulfill their expectations and your own?
    • Where are the opportunities for compromise, growth and change?

While this is a tall order for many of us, information and self-awareness provide a great place to start.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, thwarted intention!