10 August 2005

The Method of Role*

People are often surprised when I tell them that the process of a role* discovery conversation only takes about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. During that very short time, I facilitate a guided narrative using a combination of specific techniques that I developed, all based in well-grounded research that draws from approaches in heuristic inquiry, feminist theory, interpretive biography, and action research.

Using narrative – essentially telling stories from one’s life – is not unusual for those attempting to make sense of a personal history. Mary Jane Kehily [1] observes:
Narrative and self-narration, then, is more than the product of the individual writer or speakers; it is a highly constructed performance, drawing on a range of linguistic, literary and cultural repertoires, specially selected for a particular audience…

In self-narration a teller is socially displaying a language that speaks of and constructs identity and which is, simultaneously, creating and presenting a sense of self. However, the sense of self for public consumption may recreate a certain version of identity which is socially recognizable and socially validated…

Central to these constructions is the social context and, particularly, the role of audience. … In this respect, self-narration can be seen as an important activity in the process of identity construction and as a way of exploring how version and reconstructions of the past shape and construct the present in that key area of identity construction, the interrelationship of past and present…
Part of the challenge with narrative – even guided narrative – is the time it takes for an appropriate “narrator” to emerge from the complex individual that reveals the important, interesting and relevant aspects of self and identity. This usually takes time.

To accelerate the process while still being able to access “the good stuff,” I introduce the notion of figure and ground from my McLuhan analytics.
Figure-ground effects … illuminate social contexts of self-awareness. People often feel distinctive relative to their social context… Figure-ground principles thus connect self-awareness to interpersonal processes, an area in which the theory has not been widely applied. [2]
This idea of directing attention to a figure of self, cast against a ground of the social context, suggests a mechanism for guiding the conversation with role* discovery participants. In normal conversation, if one were to ask about an otherwise undistinguished incident, or to describe a typical day at the office, for instance, a person would likely relate the story as they experienced it, looking out through their own eyes, as it were. While relating the story in this way, the person would be aware of (recalling) the things, people and incidents around them, but would not usually be explicitly aware of their reactions in relation to those things, people and incidents, particularly for the mundane, banal or routine. If, however, they were asked to focus specifically on what “they are seeing,” as opposed to “what they saw”; to become aware of their feelings at the moment, and the immediate reaction of others to their actions, there is a shift in attention. It is the intensification of attention, and noticing what is usually not noticed, that are crucial to the approach.

As the participant relives the experience in the present, their experience of self is brought to figure, as Snow and Duvall suggest. It is akin to “looking at yourself, looking at yourself in the mirror” that one sometimes experiences when using a “three-way mirror” in a tailoring shop. This simple and subtle calling of the self to figure focus may intensify the awareness-making experience of self-narrative, and provide an effective and expeditious mechanism to discover insights that would reveal the person’s behaviours, and their effects on relationships, interactions and interpersonal dynamics, as perceived from the standpoint of the individual – in other words, their role*.

There is much more, of course, to the entire process of discovering one’s personal motivators, and understanding what engages each of us in what we do, irrespective of the specific job or task. By the way, that’s one thing that sets role* apart from conventional approaches to career and life counselling. I can’t necessarily help you find out what job you’re suited for. I will help you discover your role*, help you become aware of the role effects that engage you, and show you how to actualize that engagement to find passion in almost everything you do - both in the workplace and elsewhere.

Here are the sources I referenced in this post:
[1] Kehily, M.J. (1995). Self-narration, autobiography and identity construction. Gender and Education, 7(1), 23-31.
[2] Snow, C.J. & Duval, T.S (2004). When the self stands out: Figure–ground effects on self-focused attention. Self and Identity, 3(4), 355-363.

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