Thursday, May 31, 2012

Phd anxiety: Perhaps your anxiety is of a form specific to magicians...

Seth Godin's blog has a provocation: "Perhaps your anxiety is specific to magicians" He found the quote in a strangely-translated instruction manual for an obscure but beautiful trick. But, as he notes, it has wide applicability. Perhaps your/my anxiety is specific to phd students and a fear of being judged and found wanting. perhaps its a similar one to magicians, the tricks arent new enough, the performance not exciting enough...these are the stressors of performing or of anyone who has to stand up and stand out and stand for something. Perhaps it is due to the fact that you're trying to control things that you can't possibly control. I cant controll what others will make of my work, I can only make it smooth enough...rough enough...logical enough. Anxiety may be a sign that you care deeply about your work. Now that you've been reminded that you care, the anxiety gets reframed. Its a positive motivation now, not something to be fearful of; not something immobilizing. Write because you have something to say :)

A phd in a haiku. Taming a meandering river

Could you write your phd in a haiku?
Over at dissertation haiku the invitation is to post your dissertation in haiku format
I found this a bit more evocative than the pragmatics of the 160 character text rendition I wrote.
And surprisingly it awakened me to really consider what it is I'm studying. And hence to clarify why it is I keep going off track; its because i have two things (at least) happening simultaneously.

Haiku 1.
Regarding the study:

Enactments of change
Whats thought? whats done?
Reality multiplies

Haiku 2.
Regarding the site of study:

silent and invisible
still i talk, and you listen
whats with that?

A very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:
The essence of haiku is "cutting" (kiru).
This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas
And a kireji or 'cutting word' between them. A kind of verbal punctuation mark signalling the moment of separation and this colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.
Traditional haiku consist of 17 syllables on
In three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on respectively.
Any one of the three phrases may end with the kireji.

(Although I have described haiku as based on 17 syllables, this is inaccurate as syllables and on are not the same, but close enough for my purposes)

More joy of text (PhD writing)

There are so many ways to be involved in text that it is a shame to adhere only to prose. I've curated a gallery of my phd journey via Flikr. Today's twitterings on #phdchat introduced another by @londonaesthetik - here's my thesis as pie.

The joys of writing: Other places: Cafes- advantages no ironing! No library shelves to be seduced by, no emails, or internet or skype or twitter to sink into. Combined with a pomodoro, its a kick start ot my writing day. Doesnt actually have to be the creative side of writing, its just as amenable to the editing phases or the reading and putting this into endnote or whatever data management system is being used. Creativity of writing, the phd as haiku, the phd as a tweet, the phd in text speak, and of course there's always blogging. The blog allows a different voice, here mine's more playful, more provocative, less constrained. Sometimes its tangential. But sometimes its writing the tangents that allow me to become clearer. In the thesis I am using multiple fonts for different voices, as well as varied backgrounds behind the words to simulate that a message is received by txt. Ive also a lolcat provocation as one representation in the conclusions. Then there's writing around, not so much progressing the thesis but it's the skype chats, the instant messaging or icq of ideas and provocations to thoughtfulness. Or the writing around that's the annual review (I always think of this as an exercise in creative writing, yet am always surprized by how close to the truth it looks retrospectively). Creativity around the writing. Here there are postit notes, writing on mirrors or ranchsliders instead of whiteboards, Great for rearranging and structuring. There's also bath crayons. And there is always mindmapping the pen and big paper. And proving realities are multiple, there's the reinterpretation of one's writing. Here there are wordles of the thesis, or the infographic that my computer mouse thought i was producing. And there's the flight of imagination where i wish I could just write on the inside of a glass sphere for then it wouldnt matter what comes first last or where in the middle of things ideas should fall. i stop short however of the following creative writing idea.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ode to a work place taniwha

As always, writing in the genre of scientification might be subject to misinterpretation.
All the characters referred to are fictitious. Realities are of course in the eyes of beholders. And taniwha do not exist.

I'm an assertive person
doesnt mean i wear a t-shirt saying I'm up for target practice.
What it means is that if i am bullied
I will respond assertively.
I will try. I can wish my emotions would be less reactive. I would wish the same of those i work with.

I think there's potential for better workplaces. I would not be an educator if I thought i could not make a difference.
And when troubled emotionally one way of distancing from the trauma is to make use of a coping mechanism, rationalization.
I can rationalize the unpleasantness, I can tell myself its a time for "head" rather than "heart".
"If its been better before, it can be better again."
This means that if it has never been this bad before, chances are it will not stay this awful.
Sadly, research on bullying is not strong in supporting this.

Nonetheless, I'm going to start attempting to make a positive difference, because I care to work in a collegial and supportive way.

The following is based on a composite of experiences, that may help others being traumatised at work:

When I receive emails, being a researcher into the use of text for conveying support, I take notice.
Being a teacher of communication skills this really is my passion.
My psychotherapist might call it rationalization or intellectualization.

When I receive emails that are patronizing I print them. I highlight where improvement might be possible:
"See here, where you wrote "you know very well who..." this is sarcasm and it's not helpful.
I reflect on whether I asked because I seriously did not know.
Similarly when in the email irony was referred to, I note that irony is in the eye of the beholder,and is a very similar construct to sarcasm, beliefs that may be projections on the part of others. Irony as a form of sarcasm is, at a very basic communication level, unhelpful.
Pointing to the ironic or being sarcastic undermines trust.
Both contribute to twisted logics.

As an example: It is not ironic that I ask for financial support for attending a conference when the opportunity is advertised and it is not associated with my having not attended an optional forum irrelevant to my teaching, my research interests, or my research paradigm.
The two issues are not connected.

A further example: when you ask me what is the nature of my illness and what is keeping me "infirmed", you do not have a right to this information. NZ law under the privacy legislation does not require that I discuss this with you.
With decades of experience in being as a health professional, and 50+ years experience of my body and soul; I would be a reasonable judge of when going to work is injurious to my health and such self reflection on my state of being I would take up with my General Practitioner. Being trusted to know my own body and to recognize what injures it and to respond appropriately is part of being adult.
I'd like to work in a place that trusted my self assessment.

More examples: If i ask for something and instead am made to account for something else ... and several "something elses" I feel singled out as I suspect this is not the treatment given to any other staff member when they put in for things such as a funding application. To be told i did not go to a foum, and that this was demonstrating my lack of collegiality, and therefore i should not expect funding are not connected events. Too much is presumed about what collegiality involves, and what other factors coloured attendance.
This is evidence of harassment when no one else has to account for other activities unrelated to the funding request.
And is actually the fodder of personal grievance cases.
I'd like it if as a manager you engaged on task, stay within the scope of what is releevant, or not, to the case in point and to the criteria published on the funding application.

When what seems trivial escalates: A threat to remove a signed off provision of leave and funding agreed to in an annual professional development plan would be a further example.
When feeling threatened, a defensive response is likely. Stay in an intellectualising space. Point to the digital trail, stay emotionally clean in responses, have a trusted friend or union representative advise on any responses in writing.
"When you ask me to provide how this will be covered and you state that you have asked for twice before....but never have, point to an email trace that supports how this was never requested...
Pointing to the threatening or patronizing tone where demands of "you shouldnt have to ask for it again" with caution.
Such threats are harassment, and in this instance meets judicial measures of harassment and bullying because it demonstrates discriminatory practice.

When a situation escalates I believe it polite to let someone know that i will address it with the next level up as resolution is needed. Note the positive tone here.
You may have a workplace policy that suggests this is the expected means for resolution.
Being clear in my communications I inform the person of this out of politeness on my part and as a request for resolution.

Karpman's triangle A victim and persecutor can be made to play over again and again.
I teach students about Karpman's triangle, here's some suggestions for interrupting this game:

Recognize the game.
Choose not to play.
Remove yourself from the situation.
Acknowledge what is said with active listening skills. Note: this is different to agreeing, it lets the other person know they have been heard.
Accept that one can only change oneself not the other, however stay engaged for the dynamics change when one's own ways of relating change.
Use assertiveness skills, start with I statements.
When this does not work, and the situation escalates, ask to speak to your manager's manager. Include your manager's manager in emails.
However, make sure you remain polite, invite early mediation, invite assistance in sorting a problem.
I recommend staying clear of accusations.

Never "stroke" a bully. It is tempting to be extra nice to someone who bullies so that they will not turn on you. Unfortunately this produces a mixed message that positively reinforces bullying behaviour. They become genuinely surprized when their behaviour is challenged because so many people apparently "love them".
Respond early if you think you are being bullied. This establish limits fast, some people really dont know that they are doing anything wrong. Bullying is usually only considered a problem by the bosses boss if it is repeated- something difficult to establish if not recorded. Serial bullying requires a trail that can be audited.
There is isa difference between firm management and bullying. One stays on task, does not belittle, and treats people fairly, the other does not.

As an educator I just have to believe I can make a difference and so I invest in teaching a manager how to do their job better also.
For example I tell myself:
"I think you have potential, I do believe that people can change.
I intend working with you on this.
Thankyou for being gracious enough to concede that you were being terse, loud, abrupt (substitute in here any acknowledgement they have made (if they have made one).
What I might say to the person is
"I appreciate that you are frustrated, and i appreciate your honesty in saying that you find my attitude and behaviour frustrating.
The problem that I see is that we need better relating skills"

between us

The subtext is I'm working on my communication skills. I'd like it if you worked on yours.

This draws on assertiveness skills:
When "this" happens, I feel "frustrated".
When a decision is made to cancel a course, and then have it reinstated but with no staff to run it (because they were made redundant), that would leave me less able to perform my current workload. I planned my course work to allow for time to write, to meet the goals set by this institution. To be redirected denies me an opportunity that I planned for, it denies me successful completion of commitments regarding research outputs and so would also deny me the potential measures that promotion rounds are reliant on.

When yelled at in front of colleagues, and this can also be heard by others three rooms and more than 25 feet away, this is unacceptable.
And then ask for the behaviour wanted: i" would appreciate it if you did not shout at myself or others."

When taken a deteriorated relationship in the workplace to mediation, sustain the positive intent:
Thankyou for taking the time to set up a meeting with HR to address this.
I would be more than happy to have your inline manager present as well.
I am happy to meet with you at a time convenient with my support person/union representative/ whanau/ lawyer...

Prior to any such meeting, talk with your support person. Take advantage of any EAP (employment assistance program) where it is available.
One EAP counsellor i spoke with said, "clarify the purpose of any such meeting, plan for what you expect, clarify what the meeting is for, think about what you will do if it changes into something else pointing out that that was not what was agreed to and that you need to take further counsel if it has turned into, for example, a performance review or disciplinary hearing without your knowledge.
Politely ask for another date to be set, and leave.
Get counselling, get a medical certificate, get your resilience up, get union advice, take legal counsel if needed.

Best inaugral speech i ever heard was by the previous Dean of my faculty; when you swim with sharks, don't bleed.
I've stopped bleeding.

Bullying: Bullying is ongoing unreasonable behaviour which is often intended to humiliate or undermine the recipient but is not specifically unlawful.(

If you are not sure if you are over reacting, bringing it on yourself, or are working with a bully consider if you experience the following:
Belittling opinions or constant criticism
Yelling or screaming or offensive language
Derogatory, demeaning or inappropriate comments
Overwork, unnecessary pressure and unreasonable deadlines
An unacceptably aggressive style from a superior
Constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature
A constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements
Constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential
Belittling, demeaning and patronizing you, especially in front of others
Humiliating, shouting at and threatening you, often in front of others
Setting unrealistic goals and frequently changing goals
Twisting, distorting and misrepresenting what you say or do

Further reading: Paul T. P. Wong, 2006, How to humanize higher education and reduce human suffering

Further advice:
Do make use of your employers commitment to your good health, make use of counselling. In NZ this may involve EAP (employee assistance programme) counselling.
When entering into a management set ask the intention and expectations.
Model civility.
Use the words that invite participation: curiousity, try to avoid resistance and defensiveness.
If it in anyway turns into a disciplinary case. EXIT. Give notice that that was not what you had prepared for.
Personally i would not enter any ambiguous meeting with HR present that suggests my behaviour is on the table without Union support or a lawyer.
Ensure you take hard evidence that supports what you believe the meeting needs to address.
Ensure you are clear of what you are expecting to have addressed.
Make sure any minute taker documents what you want documented.
Such as acknowledgement of practice to be improved upon. And how this will be shown.
If you have asked for things (that your workplace may be required to supply on request) such as workloads, ask when will be provided.
And if you have not got what you wanted ask for an external mediator.

Taniwha: Beliefs in the existence of taniwha in "modern times" suggest their a potential for controversy where development and infrastructure schemes might be blocked.
"Māori academic Dr Ranginui Walker, in a detailed letter to the Waikato Times, said that in the modern age a taniwha was the manifestation of a coping mechanism for some Māori. It did not mean there actually was a creature lurking in the water, it was just their way of indicating they were troubled by some incident or event." (Wikipedia)

Regarding the taniwha image: Ureia, guardian taniwha (sea creature), depicted in a carved poupou (house post) from the interior of Hotunui, a carved meeting house of the Ngati Maru people, Thames, New Zealand. This house was built in 1878 by Ngati Awa carvers from Whakatane, as a wedding present when a woman of their tribe married a Ngati Maru leader. The house is now in the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Photo by uploader, 20 May 2006, no rights reserved. Kahuroa 18:55, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

An afterword.
Latour's dynamics of science could help to explain such an occurrence, were such an occurrence based in reality.
Note however that, reality is multiple as Mol has taught us. And note especially that in the literature of workplace bullying the perpetrator is unlikely to recognize that what they do is wrong, or that it is bullying....
However back to the dynamics...
Practice and reality are both made in relating, and as my thesis argues, some people's reals get made for better and for worse in such relating.
Changing the actors might change the practice that evolves, but so too might changing the patterns of relating.
Serial bullying is only stopped when it is recognized and documented; this takes courage.
The toxicity of a workplace may require earlier rather than later intervening.
And sadly, sometimes what is role modelled becomes the standard of practice, and standard or norms of practice that are not challenged may even be used in defense of a bully. (For example, a work-place with a lot of swearing).

The hope for a better future is in knowing that our realities are made in our activities, and where our activities can be done differently, our realities can also be made differently.

I would like to tell a victory story, but am instead telling of how to interrupt, how to alter. This is not of win or lose.
Troubling, telling stories are not bound by niceness. This particular "ache of wings” (a phrase borrowed from Patti Lather) wrestles with how to tell of what's not so pretty...but there is also, always, hope.