Who are you? and why does it matter

I work with people. I work with people in many different, countries and cultures. People from different backgrounds and races. People at different places and stages in their careers and in varied roles. My job is to help them make sense of their world, their priorities, their challenges and make sense of each other. One of the biggest challenge which I encounter, no matter the place or the race or the challenge is that people do not understand each other. But this is important if we are to build effective professional relationships to get work done. It was the celebrated Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung who said “If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool. We understand another person in the same way as we understand, or seek to understand, ourselves. What we do not understand in ourselves, we do not understand in the other person either”.

If we do not understand ourselves we struggle to answer the question ‘Who are you?’ I am not a psychologist but I am privileged to dabble on the edges of psychology helping people to make sense of their situation and of each other. I rely on a wide range of tools including psychometric instruments. These are psychological tools which help us to understand how we think and why we behave the way we do. I also use other tools, such as Questions, coaching, stakeholder analysis, culture mapping and confrontation because different clients gravitate towards different stimuli and different problems require different approaches. People are complex and so to think that a tool that worked well here will work well there is to go on a fool’s errand.

One of my ‘go to’ tools is the diagram on the opposite side of this page. It has the words ‘YOU’ in the middle and two concentric circles of descriptors. I use this tool to get people to talk about themselves. To tell their story. I get them to think about their own complexity. We are awkward. I get them to talk about their implicit ways of thinking. Ways of thinking that were hardwired into them at home. The inner, grey, circle is who you are at your core. Those aspects of who you are will almost completely remain with you from cradle to grave. The outer circle changes but it’s still a part of your make up.

By encouraging the people that I have the privilege to work with, to focus on who they are and to disclose more of themselves to others and to have others reciprocate has proven to be a powerful tool to unlock understanding in groups of people. A health warning here though. Please do not try this at home unless you explain that they should only share what they are comfortable sharing. This is not an opportunity for gossip or ridicule or judgement. So, for example, I often tell people about my humble beginnings. About being bullied at school simply because I was poor and black and my mother made all my clothes and my school bag and for that I was bullied. For that I was excluded. So, the experience of being bullied has become both a ‘blocker’ and an ‘enabler’ for me. As an enabler it has made me thoughtful about how I use power. How I treat with ‘los de abajo’ (Spanish for ‘the underdogs’) the poor and the powerless. Those over whom I have legal authority. I make it my business to use power in a prosocialised way.

I was a timid child but over the years, through my exposure and benefitting from the kindness of people who could influence my life, and opportunities to lead in complexity and in the face of uncertainty and danger, I have become confident of who I am. I talk proudly of my family life. We were poor but we never missed a day of school. Everyone knew that we, all 4 of us, would be on the pass list for the high school entrance exam, when our time came. The confidence I have in myself makes it easy for me to let others have their say because as it is said in the Desiderata ‘ even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. So, who are you?

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