Changing Conceptions of Psychological Life
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Persuasion can produce mutually positive outcomes in some situations - especially if the people being persuaded are comfortable and open to the approach - but persuasion which amounts to 'selling' change is often not helpful or constructive for those being persuaded, and may not actually produce a good outcome for the persuader either. This is a simple way to decide usually what is fair and what is unfair when 'selling' or persuading others to agree to or accept change:. Both of the above could be described as persuasion, but they are quite different approaches. Where there is a sense that change has to be 'sold' to people, it's a sign that that the approach is probably not fair and could produce problems later.
For those preferring a more tangible perspective than fairness, we could substitute the notion of risk, or risk avoidance:. Methods of communicating change which involve distortion of deceit carry greater risk of conflict and negative outcomes than methods which explain the situation clearly, while offering motivation, support and encouragement, etc. Leaders have a duty to give proper information and explanation to their followers.
Leaders neglect a fundamental responsibility where they deceive people or distort facts, in the hope that people will somehow absorb the problem when it looms larger than promised, or worse where a leader takes the view that people have no right to know or to complain. I'm not advocating negative thinking in assessing and communicating change. I'm advocating objectivity and honesty.
Categories and Concepts
People don't like nasty surprises and they don't like dishonesty, especially when it stems from authority trying to reduce resistance to change or to avoid obligations arising. This is an important aspect of change management and of relationships generally, and because it involves trust at a deep level, it is very relevant to the Psychological Contract. Employers tend to minimise or 'spin' the negative effects of change.
Doing so initially makes the change easier and quicker to manage, and reduces the difficulties for the leader, so in this respect it's perhaps a natural human tendency, as well as a common organizational behaviour. The short term appeal of glossing over or otherwise distorting hard facts often encourages leaders to neglect deeper discussion and debate where it might be warranted.
Employees may be fooled initially when a leader 'sells' them a change without properly and honestly explaining its implications. They may even be enthused by the change. This all turns very bad indeed however when a change, 'sold' on a false premise, turns out to be worse than first presented. Employees feel bad because of the new unpleasant situation, but they feel even worse because they can now see they've been deceived, or fooled or conned.
Also, where change is 'sold' to people using strong persuasion or distortion or omission, they naturally struggle to cope as well as they might have done if they'd been given a fair chance to prepare. Many changes are difficult and cannot be avoided of course. Always though, it is best to be open and honest with people.
This gives people time to absorb and react. They feel good because they've been trusted and treated as adults, not children. They may even come up with helpful ideas and suggestions - they often do - which the leadership might not remotely have imagined possible. Most importantly by being open and honest with people - preferably involving them at the earliest possible stage - the essential relationship and trust within the Psychological Contract can be protected far more easily.
We normally characterize empathy as the behaviour of a single person, but in the Psychological Contract empathy must be an organizational capability - a cultural norm and expectation of leaders and managers in their dealings with people. Empathy is crucial to trust, cooperation and openness, and it's also crucial to mutual understanding. All of these elements are significant within the Psychological Contract, so empathy is too.
The nature of empathy is that people can see if it exists or not.
Categories and Concepts
Where it does not, building trust and cooperation is very difficult. Where an employer lacks empathy, employees naturally are less inclined to trust and cooperate. The nature of many organizations, and a traditional view of management, commonly puts the employees at the bottom of the management hierarchy. It's partly human nature, perhaps reinforced by experiences of authority in childhood and schooling.
It's also the way that authority has been for thousands of years. Having raised the point I should add that it might not always be like this. The world is changing in some very interesting ways. We are beginning to see authority in various contexts shifting back to followers, and separately due to similar forces notably technological and connective empowerment of people , certain types of authorities are beginning to see and describe themselves as servants rather than leaders.
That said, authority in most businesses and organizations will continue for some while to see itself at the top of the pile. The underlying attitude of this sort of authority tends to impose its views and to project its interpretations onto the people who are subject to the authority. This attitude is very unhelpful for modern work and management, and especially for the Psychological Contract.
Where leadership has this attitude, it cascades down through management. This is a big obstacle to improving the quality of the Psychological Contract, because it is an obstacle to empathy. Empathy is lacking where authority fails to truly understand and recognise the feelings, needs, views, etc. Achieving a fair balanced Psychological Contract requires that important factors are understood, and seen to be understood. The more an employer demonstrates broad awareness of the employee situation, the more likely it becomes that mutual agreement - and a healthy Psychological Contract - can be established and maintained.
Many employers, especially businesses, accepted a generation ago that empathy is vital when dealing with customers - to build trust, and to know what customers truly feel, think and need. Businesses realise that customers' needs change according to changes in the market and the wider world, and that these needs can be very complex and dynamic. They need to be understood by using empathy and building trust, and appropriate responses provided, or the relationship between supplier and customer is broken or lost altogether.
Progressive employers are realising that exactly the same principles apply to the Psychological Contract with employees. We all behave like this at times, especially when our emotional reserves and self-image are low.
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The perception of the employer worsens. The Psychological Contract stinks mostly because the employee feels bad. This is not new.
This sort of loopy effect has always existed. It's unavoidable within any proper appreciation of the Psychological Contract. These loops are not conventionally measurable, but they do exist and can be very significant. Within the Psychological Contract many perceptions become an important part of the reality.
The traditional autocratic view is " To run a corporation we must deal in reality and not worry about perceptions Perceptions are part of the reality and dismissing them doesn't make them disappear. We cannot manage every conceivable element in the Psychological Contract, especially when we try to imagine the detailed personal needs of large numbers of employees within a big organization. Happily employees do not normally demand such attention to detail, provided they are satisfied that their major needs of trust and fairness are met.
Beyond a certain level of consultation and involvement, employees are generally accepting of decision-making by leaders. Employees have their own jobs to do and ideally enjoy doing them; many do not aspire to be leaders themselves, or to do the work of a leader, and so are happy to assume that leaders are making good decisions in good faith - particularly if, again, essential elements of trust and fairness are seen to exist.
What is it then within the Psychological Contract that sometimes causes relatively small factors to be big problems in some situations, but not in others? An explanation can be seen in the 'virtuous circles' - or 'vicious circles' - that operate within the model. Helpfully - for employers who have a positive approach to the Psychological Contract - people's needs at work tend to reduce and simplify when the Psychological Contract is healthy. We see a 'virtuous circle' operating.
What is Eudaimonia? The Concept of Eudaimonic Well-Being and Happiness
When people are happy at work they are more emotionally positive, resilient and flexible. These attitudes make it easier for people to adapt to and accept change, and to tolerate and be flexible in response to unexpected demands or irritations. This is true in life generally, not just in work. To handle change - or any potentially negative effect - we need strong emotional reserves.
When people are happy and emotionally strong at work they are more likely to assist in the change process.
This is extremely useful in big organizations, where change is usually ever-present and ongoing. This 'virtuous circle' makes managing organizational change much easier, and it means that employees are less likely to react in a big negative way to a relatively minor incident or anomaly within the overall Psychological Contract.
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Emotionally positive people tend to be resilient and flexible.