The Monday afternoon AYE session that I attended was one by Gerald Weinberg on “Remembering Your Resources When Stressed: The Self Esteem Toolkit”. This is basically the material from his book More Secrets of Consulting: some reminders to help you act more congruently in difficult situations. For example, the Yes/No Medallion, to help you say yes when that’s the right thing for you to do and to say no when that’s the right thing for you to do; the Courage Stick, to help give you courage to do something; the Wishing Wand, to help you know what you really want.

The meat of the session was three people asking for help with some difficult problems they’d had in the past. The first one was a bit on the low-key side, somebody asking for help remembering names. I was impressed, though, at the range of techniques that Jerry brought to bear on that: the Courage Stick, certainly, to have the courage to ask for the name again after you’ve forgotten; the Key, to ask for the information (from the class as a whole) as to how many of us also have that problem (almost all of us); one or two others that I’ve forgotten.

The second was the most, well, something. One of the men (and I very much salute him for having the courage to ask for help about this in a conference) asked for help getting to know women; apparently, he gets very nervous in such situations and, while he sometimes gets first dates, rarely gets a second one.

I wasn’t keeping track of time, but that discussion may have gone on for an hour or so. People started with some obvious suggestions (the Courage Stick), but that just wasn’t good enough. Then Jerry went into a sort of wise old fart advice-giving mode; I wasn’t too impressed by that for a while, but then I started to notice something interesting, that so much of how that guy answered was similar to how I’ve been known to answer questions myself when I’m in ruts. I can’t remember for sure if he was an INTP, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised: basically, he was giving answers along the lines of how he’d already thought of that and it didn’t work, doing so in such a way that indicated that he’d assembled a world view on the matter with some pretty substantial intellectual defenses, ones that would take substantial effort to overthrow. (And, honestly, it would be so easy to imagine myself up there if things had gone a bit differently; I’m very lucky indeed that I met Liesl and that we somehow managed to figure out (17 years ago now!) that we rather enjoyed spending time together.)

Somehow, though, Jerry managed to eventually make his way through. I’m not sure if the techniques that he used had much to do with the self-esteem toolkit or not, and I don’t have a clear enough memory of what exactly he did to describe it here. And who knows how well it really worked; I do think, though, that Jerry noticeably increased the chance that the gentleman in question will be happily married five years from now, and that would certainly be more than worth the price of the conference tuition!

The third person was somebody who’d had problems in the past dealing with an abusive boss. I suppose the main tools here were the Yes/No Medallion and the Courage Stick (with maybe some Heart and Gyroscope mixed in), but what was really striking here was Jerry’s role-playing.

He got another (experienced) conference member to role-play that boss; I think that other person did a quite good job, but Jerry simply stood there, saying no when he meant no, yes when he meant yes, sympathizing with the boss when the boss said horrible things would happen to the project if Jerry said no while not accepting responsibility, asking for documentation if the boss said things that he didn’t believe and simply saying “yes” if the boss asked if Jerry didn’t trust him. Wave after wave of anger going up against him; Jerry would acknowledge the questions, respond simply and clearly, and not let the wave buffet him in the slightest. (I can’t imagine that most people would be able to stand there without cringing in such a situation, even when just role-playing.) And then the waves subsided, the abusive boss character simply was unable to keep it up in the face of such calmness.

I don’t know what would happen in a real-life situation like that; there’s still no guarantee that you wouldn’t get fired after such a performance! (Of course, with a boss like that, there’s no guarantee that you won’t get fired no matter what you do…) But I would feel a million times better behaving like that than I would behaving like I imagine I would were I to encounter that in real life; when I’ve encountered milder versions in the past, I’ve moved to logical arguments, to justifications, to fleeing, but not just sitting there and saying that I’m not willing to be treated that way. Just seeing that behavior in person was an inspiration, opening my eyes to what is possible, how much control you have over how others affect you if you can wield it.

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