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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

The coronavirus pandemic has had a sudden and powerful impact on our patterns of relating at work. I have been offering interactive webinars with the aim to help teams focus on making sense together of the realities or ‘new normal’ during and after the first phase of this global pandemic. Several groups internationally and in the UK have found it useful. This is how the webinar works:

After a few minutes signposting the idea of the ‘new normal’ (which has an interesting history going back to 1918) and introducing a relational mapping template, we ‘map and talk’ about changes and continuity in ways of relating before the virus, during lockdown through to the stage we are at now. As team members talk the facilitator will ask questions, make suggestions, map out key words and develop a ‘relational map’ from the conversation. You will see the map developing on screen and can comment on it and add to it. By the end of the hour we should have a map that resonates with the bigger picture of change and development for the team.

Next webinar on 'Mapping the New Normal' this Wednesday 19th August at 2.00pm for an hour and half. Bring a colleague.

To book Or to book a workshop for a team with whom you work:

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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

I first worked with this idea of feeling helpless not being useless when working with teams who felt a pressure to fix things and experienced a sense of helplessness when it took time to sort and solve problems. We mapped out the feelings of personal and professional satisfaction when things could be fixed. It went with some rivalry across professions and teams to be the ones who could make the fix.

One response to the feelings of helplessness was to push for action. The call was to do something - for someone to do something or try something new - since doing nothing made the feelings of helplessness worse. Doing things - doing anything, gave the impression of shared activity and progress being made. It was a way of warding off the helplessness rather than finding a genuine solution to complex problems.

The other response was to find someone to blame. The force of this blaming and shaming mechanism could vary in intensity and direction and specifically it could take on a powerful dynamic between teams. There was a personal face to the search for someone or something to blame, and a public face. In the latter case the prevailing organisational and wider societal culture had a strong tendency to look for a scapegoat. Whilst the emotional cost is high and the organisation functions less well, blaming and shaming restores order and gives a sense of narrative coherence.

Our mapping out of these patterns highlighted the importance of tolerating helplessness and sharing some of the vulnerability and uncertainty despite its lack of fit with professional and organisational identities.

To end up as the one being blamed was intolerable and there was a tendency to duck and dive to avoid the finger of blame. This further disorganised co-operative work between teams and individuals.

An additional response was identified of retreating to a silo of working alone, or working in just one team, where at least we are, or I am, doing our, or my bit in our, or my way to our standards. Silo working can feel like good quality work and feel like fixing things, but it is in isolation from the wider network of teams and contexts.

There is two-page paper with a map of these dynamics with particular reference to the pressures on teams and individuals at the time of the current pandemic. It is available on my downloads page or with the following link. It can be a useful talking point for teams.

Helpless is not useless
Download PDF • 327KB

To find out more about the techniques of 'Therapy with a Map' and 'Reflective and Relational Mapping' come back for my weekly blog and read my book. Or come on one of the half day workshops www.mapandtalk/bookings

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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Therapy can be seen as a weaving in and out of four stories that need holding open and apart from each other. These four stories are:

  • the present story (what is happening that helps or troubles me in my life now)

  • the past story (the patterns of relating from early life shaping present responses)

  • the formulation story (how to bring past and present together in a helpful picture)

  • the healing story (establishing a healing relationship together, knowingly, that can be internalised and maintained beyond the therapy)

These four stories can easily be merged or hijack one by the other reducing their diversity of focus to one. As indicated in the diagram, the separation between past and present stories is on the vertical axis. Care should be taken not to make simple links between past and present or let the patterns from the past stories become the given formulation for trouble in the present. There is a zone of open and therapeutic dialogue in the middle where the stories of the past and the present meet and are reconsolidated by being repeatedly retold.

Careful mapping and tracking of the stories now and then behind current difficulties can produce a good, shared reformulation. But reformulation and shared understanding is not enough. The horizontal axis in the diagram above points to a big question about the processes of change in therapy. There needs to be compassion, curiosity and courage for a fourth story which is interpersonal and uncharted. Let's call it the healing story. It is full of surprise turns and immediacy of meeting at a personal level. The formulation shapes but does not make the treatment. It is the focus of the beginning of therapy. But the reformulation is also setting out the lines of a healing story of how the process of discovery, recovery and change might take place. The healing story has an important component in and of itself. It may take on its own life and direction. Though anchored by the reformulation, it is a continuous process of reformulating and restorying.

Steve Potter Therapy with a Map

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