Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life is beautiful

While I was sneezing and coughing at home, trying to get through a cold, I got a phone call telling me to come for an interview for a research position. WoW! Great stuff. I cant wait to get there and offer the best I have. I feel my academic work and the World of Work program prepared me well for an inteview situation. I mean it is really a tough exercise, not to be underestimated. I think we are not used to being scrutinized so closely and the nervousness can make you look more inadequate than you actually are! Compensating for the tediousness of the cold, I induldged in buying new books: a prize-winning South African novel titled 'Coconut' from a young writer, a book about African masks from a well-known Swiss collection and Calland's 'Anatomy of Power in South Africa' - I am truly looking forward to 'dig into' these books and I understand better why Lovemore Mbigi was always talking about books and encouraging to read us more. I mean how else do you get pleasure and education at the same time?

But the most amazing thing happened the other day in the gym. I was going through my routine as this tall, well-trained guy walked up to me. "So, you are from Canada ?", he goes, looking at my 'Youth Canada' sweater and I respond in the affirmative. Now, this is all very ordinary but this case is a bit different. He and I are regulars at the gym for the last three years or so and once we had a big fight about some meaningless issue. Brad Arden would probably confirm that it is about territory and defensiveness, one ambitious male not wanting to share the space with another. Anyway, I explained to him my relation with Canada and we chatted about all the rest, like the best of friends. I left the gym much happier than I was before. To turn adversity into comradeship is a beautiful, gratifying thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Taking care of my rocks

While the job search is in full swing and I am keeping myself busy with research and writing, I keep coming back to the following issues from the seminar. What are the rocks in my life that always come first? I am working and thinking hard on making sure I spend enough time on the things that are really important to me. The other issues that are on my mind are what I want to do in life, what is my purpose and finally, what defines me? It is quite a quest but I understand I need to answer these questions for myself in order to direct where I wish to go.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Keeping the energy level

The four weeks with the World of Work program certainly kept me on my toes. I was juggling the ambitious seminar schedule with my own research and other commitments. Foremost, the constant engagement with the presentations really made me think about my goals in life, but also how going about earning a living by doing what I like doing most and what I am capable of doing best. Now, going through my notes, I try to keep the reflection going. Sometimes I am a bit tired of the thinking - in the end, what counts is what 'is'. In other words, what will be my activities in the next few weeks and months?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Writing a book about the World of Work Program

Today, we met with the program managers to assess our performances in the program, our writing which included the blog and one assignment as well as our 15 minutes presentation. Jean, Sue and Lesley gave us the hard truth with much courtesy and respect. We were able to benefit tremendously from their constructive criticism. After that, I spoke with Susan Mwangi and we said it would be great to put the content of the program into a book titled '10 steps to a fullfilling job' or something to that efffect. We could write about the individuals in the program, their experiences, South African society, the labour market, how to perform well, how to do CVs, ubuntu, HIV/AIDS and other political and socio-economic issues, and so on. And most importantly, how we all landed in great and fullfilling jobs. I am confident it would easily rise to the top ten on the local business and self-help book market. I am just concerned that the University would give us a hard time with the copy right....or at least they would want to have their share of the royalties!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quizz of the Day

Which German thinker said:

"Thinking will atrophy in an environment that lacks the stillness that allows us to concentrate in inner dialogue or in a social environment where distrust among people makes first outer conversation, then inner conversation impossible."

a) Peter Sloterdjik

b) Hannah Arendt

c) Jurgen Habermas

And more important perhaps, is contemporary society such an environment?

Conflict Resolution, part III

This is probably one of the last 'official' blogs directly related to the World of Work Program. And, no coincidence, it is about Conflict Resolution. After all, I graduated in Politics! In our second session with Berenice De La Croix, we used the CAN model to practice case studies. It was a fruitful exerice as I encountered unexpected difficulties. For instance, how to you start talking with your "enemy", just to break the ice and establish some basic way of talking to each other? Indeed, not easy. We just have to practice and rembember the toolbox at hand that helps us dealing with conflict. Berenice also recommended books such as Nancy Kline's "Time To Think" and Fisher and Urry's "Getting Past No". In my undergraduate studies I encountered the latter's "Getting To Yes" in a course in international relations that dealt with coercive diplomacy and negotiations. It was a very helpful read, brought our theory course very much alive and I will be looking out for their other book as well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Presenting in Style

Des Patel certainly gave us a great presentation about the tools needed to have some impact while telling your story. But one of the many benefits we got from three weeks of seminar-presentations was the exposure to all these terrifice individuals and their styles of presenting themselves and what they had to say. The passion and committment to what they do to earn a living came out so beautifully.For instance, you could tell how Berenice was concerned with all of us understanding her model to resolve conflicts. Also to see how they appreciate their audience and how they respect the people who listen to them was quite impressive. I noticed that all started off with some personal story to draw in the audience's attention. To be humerous and to laugh is so important. Remember Janet, she came with a laugh, continued laughing while carry home her most important points and she left with a smile. Or Brad, he was joking with us, making funny comments about himself and thereby grabbing our attention. Or Lovemore, did he not leave a lasting impression? How did he do it? Practice seems to be an important aspect: the more you stand at the top of that table and look at the faces in front of you, the better. In the end, what counts is that you are yourself. You need to discover what kind of presentation style works for you. Practice, practice, practice,...I always love to watch people performing their talk or conversation. Years ago, there was Laure Adler presenting a talk show on French tv. I never missed a show. I learnt so much just from waching her, how she presented her arguments and how she interacted with her guests. Needless to say that they and her topics were very interesting and diverse: young French people of foreign origin who are marginalized, a bull breeder from Southern France with a passion for gardening and plants, an art historian who talks so passionately about paintings that you immediatley went out to get her latest book, and so on. Nothing beats an entertaining and instructive presentation that improves your life and satisfies your curiosity.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Say 'Nice Chicks'

In the course of our seminar series women's rights and gender relations were eagerly discussed (A big thanks to Bruce for his blog posting in this regard!). These discussions came into sharp focus this afternoon as I went shopping at my local mall. As I walked across the parking lot two young women, dressed elegantly in skirts and high heels, went into the opposite direction. At the same time, three young men crossed our path, one holding a two year-old boy in his arms. All three men looked eagerly at the young women and the one holding the child belted out with a loud voice towards his child: "Say nice chicks", while indulging in an oily grin. I had to pause for a minute to verify if I really saw what my eyes seemed to have registered - I found the entire episode quite odd. Why? Perhaps its a good thing to live in a country where the attraction of women is appreciated, but I also find the public and even confrontational display of gender related excitement disturbing, especially if transmitted to a two year-old boy. Where does welcome consideration end and harassment start? How is this related to men punishing women at taxi ranks for wearing trousers or skirts that are deemed too short? How does the young boy's education about how to relate to women look like?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Conflict Resolution Revisited

If I say that I encounter conflict, large and small, pretty much everyday, I hope I am not outing myself as a quarrelsome troublemaker. There are always things that irk us and make us pause or draw our attention in one way or another.

Let me then summarize our session on conflict resolution.

There are five major styles that we use to deal with conflict.

We compete. Either we win or we lose. Conflict is a zero-sum game with a clear outcome.

We withdraw and avoid conflict. Both parties loose. Potential conflict is deferred.

We accomodate. One party gives in and loses, the other wins.

We compromise. Both parties agree to meet each other half-way. Both claim a small victory.

We collaborate. Both parties win.

While we can easily conclude that the last style is the most desirable, given the cirucumstances, any other style of conflict might be better suited to preserve our interests. And yet, to create a win-win situation remains the objective of most negotiations and conflict resolutions. Important is that we do not pretend to know the other person's intention. Also, we have to avoid to hold the other person responsible for our feelings.

Let's now look at the 7 steps of the CAN model to resolve conflict.

1. We have to take a breather, reflect on the problem and speak only when we are calm.

2. Before we start to engage on the issues, we need to build trust.

3. Now, we need to set the ground rules of engagement. We have to create a safe and respectful container for our dialogue. They may stipulate that we cannot walk away or that we cannot interrupt the other person.

4. We have to tell our story. Important is that we do not attempt to resolve the conflict yet. We need to hear all the necessary information.

5. We need to become aware of the needs and fears of the other party. We want to know what is really going on.

6. Together, we brainstorm for possible solutions how we can meet each others' needs and wants.

7. Once we have certain solutions on the table, we need to find out if they are practical.

The final point I want to make about the seminar is that to resolve conflict in a sustainble way, we need to understand better our prejudices that lead to conflict. For conflict to result in a positive outcome, we need to rethink our way of doing things, how we think and how our organisations and institutions function. I found this a most valuable insight. Often, it is our prejudice and how we do things that leads to conflict. For this reason, personal growth and development are closely linked to conflict resolution.