ACT for The Squeeze-Machine

This guest post was written by Maarten Aalberse.

We may have been asked to lead an in-company training for stress-reduction and performance-enhancement.

We may have checked as best as we can the ‘spirit’/ culture/ values of the company, and it doesn’t look bad at all. So we decide to agree.

And then… at some moment during the training we sense that something isn’t quite right.

Participants seem to be more reluctant to share their experience of the exercises we propose, there are hardly any questions after a short presentation, the work in small groups appears to be very ‘careful’, or something similar may make us uneasy, and we suspect that something in the company just isn’t right.

If we are lucky, we might hear something more in a break.

But maybe we just have to do with this nagging feeling.

What to do, then? In most cases, any direct questioning may lead nowhere, or even bring in more problems, as we observe people shutting down even more.

One option might be, after having introduced the ACT perspective on values, to invite the group to brainstorm on the values of the company. It would be really helpful if not only the ‘official’ values get mentioned, but also the more implicit ones. But again, this is most likely not something to aim for too openly. But we might pick up some clues…

Then – or at a later time, if it seems better to play safe, we ask the participants to clarify their own values, and explore if there appear to be any conflicting values, and explore some ways how such conflicts can be responded to.

Then the time may come to explore if there are any conflicts between the personal values and the values of the company, clarified earlier on. It might be useful to mention too, that this is a far from uncommon experience.

Now how can such conflicts be dealt with? The most helpful responses would probably be those that emerge from the group.

But some suggestions can be given, and even explored :

1)    Sensing how this conflict affects the particpants : which bodily tensions manifest when ‘staying with’ this conflict ? Which feelings emerge, and where in their bodies can these be felt ? What thoughts pop up, when staying with this conflict ? All the mindfulness skills explored earlier on can be most useful, here. It may be that new alternatives emerge. Or it may that this exercise has prepared the ground for another exploration :

2)    It may be useful to clarify the ‘value in the value’. If the company values (too much) the productivity of the team, we maight ask something along the lines of ‘And when, for your company, productivity is so important, what does it want to have happen through this productivity that is even more important ?’ The same can be asked about the personal values that appear to be in conflict with the company’s values.

Often, when these 2 ‘deeper’ values become clearer, it is easier to find ways in which they can become compatible. Or at least, better lived with. That is, in a way that the employees experience themselves less in an either-or situation that is inherently stressing, and that will bothr reduce the productivity of the company and the quality of life of the employees. 

I would love to read other suggestions for handling this very delicate and often quite important situation.

Maarten Aalberse is a clinical psychologist, living in France and conducting trainings throughout Europe about his integration of ACT, client-generated metaphors and emotion-regulation.

He has co-written two books : « L’intelligence du Stress » (Eyrolles, 2008) and : « Bi-Fokale Aufmerksamkeit » (= Bi-Focal Mindfulness), DKVT-Verlaf, in press.

Contact : m.aalberse@gmail.com ; site under construction.

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