Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is Therapy Helping?

My expertise as a mediator and conflict resolution professional is buttressed by my background as a counselor, my insights about therapy, and my knowledge of people and their "blind-spots".  Read on to to determine if you're getting what you need out of therapy.
For some, when you've been in therapy for a while, you wonder if you're really getting the help you need.   Ask yourself, have you:
  •   Been going for months but are unsure if you’ve made any progress?
  •   Arrived at each session wondering what you are going to talk about?
  •   Lost track of the goals you are targeting?
If you answered "yes" to any of the previous questions, you’re probably not getting what you need out of therapy, and this article is for you.

What to Expect From Therapy

Therapy is Meant to Provide Change
Often people engaged in therapy find their sessions have become a way to vent their troubles and their frustrations.  And, many counselors are willing to let their client meander through therapy in this manner rather than focusing on the reasons their client is seeking help.  To get focused, ask yourself, why am I going to therapy?  What do I need help with?  It can be as simple as saying "I'm unhappy”, but then the spotlight of your therapy needs to be recapturing what makes you “happy".  An hour of complaining may make you feel better temporarily, but commiserating with a friend will often provide that same relief.  Therapy is intended to have a deeper and more profound impact by identifying the reasons you are stuck in an unhappy place.

Therapy is More Than an Hour a Week
Most people who meet with their therapist for one hour a week think that they are working on themselves. In reality, they are kidding themselves.  The truth of the matter is that the hour in session is just the starting point of your therapy.  The work of the patient is full-time.  When you are not in session, you need to focus on your issues, problems, and goals.  Think about what was discussed during the session, and further explore your own issues.

Therapy is Relatively Fast
While each of us has unique problems, and while there is no time-line for getting those problems worked out, the results of therapy should begin to reveal themselves fairly quickly. In my opinion, most patients should see some level of results within their first 5 sessions.  Result does not mean improvement - it means you feel change is underway.  Your therapist is helping reveal you to yourself (see below), and as a result changing the way you think, and the way you see the world.

Therapy Helps to Reveal Things that are Hidden
There are the things we know, the things we don't know, and the things we don't know that we don't know. That last group would best be referred to as "blind-spots" and we all have them.  These blind-spots are the crux of most therapy, as a therapist's role is to guide you and help you to learn about yourself, by uncovering these unknowns.  As you do, change comes easy.

What to Expect from Your Therapist

Challenges to Your Thinking and Your Viewpoint
We all think we are normal and believe that the rest of the world views things the same way as we do. Unfortunately, our perspective is skewed by our own individual life experiences. This returns to the concept of "blind-spots".   A counselor's role is to discuss both what you think, and why you think it.   By examining the distortions within our own reality, we are impacted in the way we view the world and therefore the way that we live.  

Being Pushed 
Your therapist is not there to be your friend. She must do more than listen and nod her head.  If you aren't talking about important topics, she should push you to do so. Ultimately, your therapist's role is to help you see yourself more clearly.  Does your view of yourself (or the world) match others?  Do you see things in a distorted way?  A therapist needs to do more than listen.  She needs to challenge you to examine your own thought processes.

As I mentioned before, therapy does not end at the end of your session time.  Whether it is described as "homework" or not, you should always leave therapy with new things to explore, new things to think about.  A therapist might ask you a question during your session that you can’t answer.  Something as simple as "Why do you think that way about ...?"  If you don’t know, finding out is your homework. As soon as you leave the session, before you even drive back to the office or your home, write down that question.  Make it a point to think about that question until you have an answer.  I recommend doing this "homework" alone -don't cheat by asking others for the answer to your question.  Start your next session by discussing this self-revelation with your therapist.

Choosing the Right Therapist (or improving therapy with the one you have now)

Selecting a Therapist
Like choosing a professional in any arena -you should ask some basic questions to get a feel for the person, and to decide if you want to give them a shot. Remember, the ultimate test is how you feel when you begin working with them.   It's perfectly acceptable to have one or two sessions with a therapist before you fully commit to working with him.  However, you do need to begin your work during those initial sessions - if you don't then you can't judge the ability of that therapist to help you.  Remember, you're looking for someone you can trust and who shows insight into your world, you are not looking for your new best friend.

Getting Back on Track with Your Current Therapist
Most of us don't like to start over, and often times there are ways to improve the relationship with your current therapist.  For starters, you’ll need to speak with her about your desire to make real change.  Then clearly and honestly communicate with her about what you want, and perhaps the changes you'd like her to make.  If you want her to be more direct with you, say so.  If you need to be pushed to open up, tell her.  Most therapists will happily make such style changes - after all your success is their success.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Top 6 Teamwork Challenges


Teamwork affects every business and every employee. It determines turnover and productivity and it defines the functionality of a business. While fundamental to a business' success, teamwork is difficult to harness as it is reliant upon several different factors (and personalities!) working together. Below are the Top 6 teamwork issues that I help businesses to resolve.

1. Planning
When it comes to teamwork, planning includes everything from selecting the team members and identifying their individual tasks and responsibilities, to preparing for the inevitable challenges, problems, and delays that could prevent the team from reaching its success.

2. Leadership
Too often a team becomes unhinged because the focus rests on "management" of the team instead of leadership. Leaders motivate, inspire, and chart a course of action. They acknowledge problems but they don't micromanage the completion of individual tasks.

3. Communication
Arguably the lifeblood of any business or organization, communication is key to teamwork. Basic communication ensures that all members of the team know what they are doing, why they are doing it, as well as when and how to get it done. Other essential elements include communicating about problems with the project, or conflicts on the team. With clear communication problems are discussed and resolved.

4. Goals
Similar to planning, setting goals is an elementary task. However, many businesses lose sight of the importance of including the team in the creation of the goals, instead focusing narrowly on the team's delivery of those goals. A team that is united at the start of the project, will be better able to achieve its objectives on time and on budget.

5. Follow-through
Teams are often undermined by poor follow-through and lack of accountability. To get the most from a team, each member needs to respect his/her own role in reaching the established goals, and each manager or supervisor needs to recognize and reward success, as well as counsel and discipline failure.

6. Crisis (conflict) Management
Throughout the life of any team problems and conflicts will surface. They may be project oriented or revolve around personality differences. Addressing conflicts and crises early on is essential to keeping the team on task and focused, able to reach their goals and achieve success for the team, as well as the business itself.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Uncover Communication Problems


While I am often asked about the most common problems I see in working with businesses, I doubt it will surprise you to learn that most problems stem from issues related to communication. In fact, it is probably a concern in your workplace as well. The challenge then is in identifying what communication issues are creating a problem.

Communication problems stem from a wide variety of issues, with each situation as unique as the persons struggling with it. As a result, uncovering the exact cause of a breakdown and finding the right steps for improving the situation frequently requires the services of an expert.

To help you in your efforts of finding and resolving such problems, I will selectively focus on three of the top underlying issues that lead to a breakdown in communication and damage working and interpersonal relationships.

1. Style of communicating

People who operate in a confrontational or avoidant manner unintentionally create a collapse in communication. Their communication style may actually lead to bullying or overpowering their cohort (confrontational behavior); or in contrast their discomfort in communication may lead to a failure to share vital information or concerns (avoidant behavior). Each style is problematic on its own, but put two persons of opposing styles together and the situation become much more damaging. Adding to the problem, communication styles are deeply ingrained and not easy to change.

2. Hoarding information

Often times people share only a portion of what they know. This may be done to save time or to limit the knowledge of the recipient. This communication malady is usually a top-down problem as it correlates with a desire to maintain power. At a minimum hoarding behavior impacts teamwork and productivity as information and awareness of the "big picture" are compromised. Over time this behavior erodes trust, leading to other costly problems.

3. Rumors and Reputation

Expectations color our behaviors. Therefore a preconceived notion, a history of bad experiences, or other similar circumstances will change the way we view a person. If this is someone with whom we must work and communicate, our beliefs about the other person can easily create a roadblock and affect the business itself. When rumors or reputation are at play the listener often hears more (or less) than the speaker is actually saying. S/he may infer other non-communicated details as well.

By identifying the cause of communication problems, you can begin staging improvements, ultimately creating a happier, healthier, and more productive work environment.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fostering Positive Workplace Relations

5 Steps toward Fostering Positive Workplace Relations

With our focus on "New Beginnings", and in light of April being Workplace Conflict Awareness Month, we'd like to draw your attention to the importance of cohesive workplace relations and teamwork.

Below are 5 things you can do to foster positive workplace relations on teams and among co-workers.

1. Encourage Socialization

Research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in organizations stems from strained relations. With that we know that workplace associations are the single biggest factor in determining effectiveness and productivity at work. Create an environment that fosters positive relations, and the healthy atmosphere will circulate back into the company. To put it simply, you will find that a happy employee is a more productive and loyal employee.

2. Value Proximity

Working closely with someone should be considered in both the literal and figurative forms. Staff and teams who work in direct proximity to one another will communicate more frequently and more openly. This builds trust, rapport, and aids in teamwork and productivity.

3. Manage People, Not Paperwork

A managers most important role is to engage his/her staff and help them to accomplish more by supporting their efforts, addressing their needs, and being involved in their success. A manager who is committed to his/her team makes them stronger and more cohesive.

4. Discuss Discord

Conflict is a natural occurrence and is best addressed early on. Avoiding discussion or interfering with efforts to work it out will cause the conflict to grow and those involved to become further entrenched. Instead encourage discussion and open communication between those at the heart of the issue. Creating understanding builds relationships - regardless of whether or not full agreement is reached.

5. Recognize and Reward

By focusing on the oft-ignored positive behaviors you can build strength of both the individual and the team. Have those achieving the most success discuss and describe how they accomplished their goals and feats. Sharing and discussion provides for mentoring of new skills and may create some healthy competition as well.