In the past few days I’ve spent hours doing a course on Zoom that promised to transform my life.  Quite a promise, running the risk of over-promising and under-delivering (and so it proved).  I would be ‘emptied of all past worries and anxieties’.   I’d be a ‘new me, free to be, free to act’.  It would be ‘like opening my fridge and finding the Grand Canyon’.

Heady stuff.

On the course, there were many claims I found hard to stomach.  To take just one example: transforming myself into a truly authentic person would ‘be easy’ if I could ‘let go’ of all my ‘knowing, my coping strategies and my tools and techniques’. ‘Your rational mind is good for understanding, but useless for a transformation.’  

This assertion was particularly tough for me swallow because I’ve always found techniques extraordinarily useful.  For example, there’s a technique called the itemised response that’s particularly interesting because it requires you deliberately to be inauthentic.  The technique, or my version of it, goes like this: in order to counteract the tendency to find fault with other people’s ideas, you are required to say three things you like about an idea before you are permitted to state a concern.  This guarantees a ratio of three pluses for every minus.  There is also a ‘formula’ for expressing the concern: you have to start with the prefix ‘my concern is how to…..?’, an open-ended question inviting suggestions to overcome the concern.

This technique ‘forces’ you to search for the merits in someone else’s idea irrespective of what you really think about it.  It’s particularly powerful when your knee-jerk reaction to someone’s idea is that its daft (or, worse still, that they are daft!).  The technique is easily adapted so that it becomes useful in other situations.  For example, if you find someone boring (being bored is a choice!) you can force yourself to find three fascinating things about them.   

I think this is a particularly interesting example of a technique because it is designed to induce positive behaviour, in other words, it unashamedly invites you to be inauthentic.

I’ve often imposed this technique on managers in meetings that are bogged down in negativity and, at a stroke, the proceedings have become positive, with ideas that would have been cast aside with inadequate consideration, receiving the attention they deserve.  Best of all, over time (not overnight) with practise the technique becomes a habit where playing with ideas, and building upon them, is seen as a good and useful thing to do.  

I think of this as an example of a transformation that came about by the imposition of a technique!  No doubt you can think of many other techniques that work like this, for example, to help alleviate, or banish, unwanted stress and to help manage time more efficiently.

So, it seems to me there are always two routes to authenticity, and you pays your money and takes your pick. Firstly, the A route (A, for attitude) where people’s hearts and minds have to be won before they are in a position to behave properly.  Secondly, the B route (B, for behaviour) where people are made to behave properly and attitudes gradually align themselves behind the behaviour.    

So please don’t knock techniques.  They offer a practical way to bring about improvements in behaviour.  As an aside, just think how politics would be transformed if politicians used the itemised response technique. 

P.S.  I’m sure you’ll have noticed an irony about my extolling the virtues of this technique:  I’ve spent 569 words resisting the suggestion that to transform myself I need to ditch my knowing, my tools and techniques.  Ah well, I console myself that I can choose when, and when not, to use techniques.  Some suggestions are just beyond the pale!  

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