Tuesday, April 11, 2006

There-then-them vs. Here-now-us

On my writing blog the other day, I posted the following paragraph as part of a writing exercise:

Anger, for a consultant, is a costly luxury, and I am by nature somewhat of a cheapskate. By eliminating there-then-them anger, I cut my angry outbursts in half. By noticing my pattern of anger escalation, I dampen nine-tenths of the remaining half to the point where it doesn't interfere with my consulting practice. That leaves only about 5 per cent of the angry episodes I used to have, just one in twenty. Although this seems a dramatic improvement in frequency, it doesn't result in an equally dramatic improvement in the cost of my angry outbursts.

In response, dgc said.: 'What does "there-then-them" mean in the phrase "there-then-them anger" in the original of the Writing Blog exercise? I can’t quite determine the meaning of that phrase from the context.'

Here's my answer:

There-then-them is in contrast to here-now-us, which are the problem-solving conditions expert consultants try to establish and maintain. When people are responding to something that happened somewhere else (there), or at some other time (then), or with some other people (them), you're not going to have much luck dealing with problems.

In the example above, sometimes I find myself growing angry at my clients, only to realize that I'm responding to something similar the client said or did at another time or place. Or perhaps I'm responding to something similar my mother used to say to me when I was five years old. Clearly, I'm going to have to bring my mind into the present context if I'm to be effective.

And, of course, my clients have the same need for here-now-us, so I often them solve problems by bringing them back to the present context, especially when their emotional reactions seem to be directed at me for no reason I can ascertain. One woman attacked me in a meeting, accusing me of mocking her. I couldn't figure it out until I managed to persuade her to give me details. It turned out that I had used the word "snow," which was the name of her former husband whom she had recently divorced. She thought I knew about the divorce (other people did, but I didn't) and was taunting her by alluding to it. Using here-now-us cleared up an enormous emotional outburst.

So, dcg, does that clear it up?

2 comments:

dgc said...

Absolutely clears it up.

And I cannot count how many times I have fallen into this trap at work, especially when it seems we are repeating endlessly the same arguments and behavior.

Step 1, for me (the one person I have some control over) is to be able to recognize that such is happening.

Of course. the explanation does not make the "e"-less transformation of the phrase "there-then-them anger" any easier. However, it does now make it possible. I'll be posting my version on the Writing Blog soon.

Frank said...

Anger has two sides: it can be an expression of frustration (negative anger) or an expression of passion (positive anger).

Working for clients I am often driven by positive anger: I cannot stand that the client was not able to solve the problem himself. I want to make it happen.

But in some cases, the positive energy turns against me when I am not able to get sufficient support (to compensate for my own limitations), insufficient means or resources (to get things done ni a reasonable timeframe) or when people are in denial of the problem (so it cannot be solved anyway).

I absolutely agree that turning there-then-them into here-now-us is key to get things going. Thanks for your insights!