(Sub-title, Psychology of Work 101)
Let’s assume that you leave school, college or university, or have completed some dedicated programme of study or training that attempts to turn you into a, whatever. This applies to Business Analysts and Project Managers from the table of IT elements, as well as a broad range of industries, professions and work-places – not necessarily an office or factory floor, it could be your home office, in the field, or literally in a field . But , have you got the soft skills and the emotional intelligence to perform and thrive in your chosen career?
(Ed. not ‘Harvard Business School’, that’s been done already)
Here’s my model, which I will call the ‘Two triangles’. I claim this as intellectual property because I just thought of it, but acknowledge any similar pre-existing theories! Aside from the functional skills required to carry out the role, your attitude and aptitude for the work, and the accumulation of experience, I suggest that there are these 6 other external factors, or externalities, that will affect how you perform as an individual or within a team. These soft skills and how you deal with people are often more important than the stuff you learnt at school!
All work, projects, tasks and responsibilities operate within a context, not a theoretic ‘bubble’ where all things can be planned, will run smoothly, and follow prescribed procedures or processes. Sometimes there are explicit business rules and constraints (do’s and don’ts) that provide the framework that you have to work within, but context is more likely to manifest itself as tacit, i.e. unspoken, rules and etiquette or changes in the internal or external environment.
One of the things that could go wrong, or otherwise deflect progress towards a goal, is a conflict, maybe a difference of opinion, a conflict of interest, the playing of ‘party politics’, or the sharing-of or battle-for limited resources. Popular psychology and self-help guides talk about managing conflicts where they can’t be prevented, which may mean some sort of collaboration or negotiating an acceptable compromise between the groups.
Compromise is so important that it features in its own right. It may be a truism, but there is always too much to do, with too little time, money or other resources to achieve everything (see Pressure later). This means that strategic decisions, day-to-day priorities, and more subtle reactive re-balancing of work, budgets or quality is carried out, an unconscious compromise and nod towards the ‘art of the possible’.
[Other] people are possibly the single biggest factor that stops theory being precisely and neatly translated into practise, not that people are a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’ per se, because without people there is no industry, no organisation, no buyers, sellers, users, employers or employees. No, the important thing is that people suffer from human fallibilities, such as bias, political and other motivations, ignorance, greed, malice, inconsistency and many more conscious or unconscious behaviours. Whether personal or merely incidental they may demand some sort of action or re-action. To paraphrase the idea that weeds are merely flowers that are growing in the wrong place, the only difference between obstructive and constructive is your perspective.
I am going to take one of the things that people do out of the list above; people are political, they seek to gain and exercise power and control, over others or simply as a means to act independently and feel valued as an individual. This is not as cynical as it sounds, because it doesn’t come with a particular value judgement, it is simply part of the human condition. Similarly politics can be a force for good or bad, or even both simultaneously, depending on how closely the aims, values, morals, and cultural references match your own.
The last of the factors is pressure, meaning anything that makes doing your job harder than it might already be, including environmental changes (context), conflicts, politics etc. as above, but also one’s own health and emotional wellbeing will play a part in creating [additional] pressures and reducing effectiveness. At a physical and chemical level adding pressure excites atoms, causing heat and friction with neighbouring atoms, and possibly instability and meltdown! Metaphorically pressure does the same to a person.
All situations and people are unique, but you are likely to find a normal base position or ‘steady state’ level of pressure that is acceptable and sustainable. Anything more can become a problem, as is the inability to deal effectively with people and politics, to recognise and work within the prevailing context, to compromise or manage conflicts.
There is also a little more to this simple model. Take any node and trace a path to another node – following the dashed lines. For example, from People to Politics (that’s an obvious one), but how about these cause-and-effect relationships:
Politics to Compromise – knowing someones personal politics and position of power may help to understand their attitude and behaviour and help to leverage collaboration or compromise? See also Stakeholders.
Pressure to Conflict – a person or a team under pressure might crack into factions and result in a conflict with the perceived cause of the pressure, or innocent bystanders?
The ability to recognise and deal effectively with these factors is sometimes referred to as generic soft skills or Emotional Intelligence, I assume that is compared to the hard (as in immutable hard-wired or hard-coded?) facts, knowledge and practices that come with a specific job. I don’t like the implication that the soft, i.e. the human, emotional and changeable, is somehow less important than the functional demands of a role.
As an aside, in managing ecological systems there is a difference between ‘hard engineering’, attempting to control and use the environment, and ‘soft engineering’, working with the environment and accommodating it. I think this is a useful analogy for workplace psychology.
What do you think about this list, my Psychology of Work 101 and Two Triangles? Thank you for your comments and feedback.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.