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I Feel Like a Small Scale Therapist

Reflective narrative practice couldn’t have come at a better point in my education. It’s assisted my research into the benefits of feedback and agency of individuals within bureaucracies. And it’s assisted me to include empathy design into the development of my project (Briselli 2016). Reflective narratives practice is a “professional tool” – I’m not sure why when this benefits the individual outside a professional envisonment too. But this tool encourages a dialogue to form between two parties to construct a narrative around an event. Its focus is reflecting on how we conduct ourselves in events of “crises” or decision making moments. The orchestration of a dialogue between two individuals can be therapeutic, and in turn can help us realign ourselves with our values, or influence bureaucracies to address the impact of practices on individuals. I love calling narratice practice to my close friends: small-scale therapy, because of its emphasis on empathy and value realigning which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and it can be practiced anywhere on anyone.

I’m not unfamiliar with “professional tools” or self-developmental practices, in fact it’s been a recent interest of mine to study systematic practices to improve myself (professional or otherwise). It came to my attention that these systems are not taught, they are presumably implicitly taught with deadlines, marks, and punishments – not as practice to study and implement. David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done (GTD) – The art of stress free productivity”, was the first book that brought my attention to learning developmental practices. In fact, one of his methodologies addresses the relationship between career intentions and your personal professional values. Allen describes this perspective as ‘horizon levels’. The importance here is that you change your perspective on a macro level: to reflect on your ‘purpose’ and ‘values’; and how they connect to your micro level: through the tasks or actions you conduct every day. Both GTD and professional critical practice are expressions of self-assessment via disenfranchising yourself – the separation of one’s thought from a narrative – to observe and conclude as someone else might: the practice of self-empathy or empathy on another.

I’ve learnt as a listener recounting narratives is not hard, but capturing a speakers intentions (the values behind an action) is difficult to accurately recount. Especially when it’s so simple to insert ourselves into their narrative and retell it as if we experienced it. People can find it hard to connect to their values, and can diminish it with humour or other statements, which makes it even harder to uncover these connections. But when they are uncovered, it reveals that we enact our professional values explicitly or implicitly in every action. Since understanding the value of this practice as a listener, I’ve been actively experimenting at home with friends and my partner. My friend Andrew (an unknowing participant) at one stage during a conversation paused and said “You’re asking a lot of questions that no one, not even myself have asked.” Andrew was dealing with a decision to change his degree from Engeneering to Teaching. As Andrew became curious about what I was doing, it became a conversation about the conversation we were having, and he wanted to learn about reflective narrative practices too. After the conversation, his partner told me she had never seen him talk about himself for that long. On a social level the greatest benefit was how comortable and empathetic we both felt through the conversation.

Another benefit of narrative feedback relates to our desire to control our data. Practising narratives reflections gives agency to the user within a bureaucracy, just like giving students autonomy over their digital identities (McNeal 2015). Narrative practice allows us to collaborate with users “cross job descriptions and power structures”, to encourage creation not merely consumption within a field of interest, to improve the ecosystem or bureaucracy they are within (Rikard 2016). When I relate this process of investigation to my ongoing project it reveals the value of narrative and trust to develop relationships. To affectively assess something there needs to be context, i.e. a narrative. Not only that, but even engaging with feedback online, we form narratives from them and the validity of each review comes from how we relate to their experiences and whether we share the same values.

This leads on to the role of self-development – how does this new understanding improve yourself – how can it improve myself? What do I do if I identify a value that doesn’t align with my professional values? Self-reflection isn’t the hardest part, it’s deciding on the new actions and habits you will put in place to change your conduct.

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