Sunday, 30 October 2016

On soft competencies

Since in the recent days I have focused most on getting by and struggling not to lag behind with piling-up stuff to handle at work, today I’m sharing some odd, unstructured concepts from a workshop on improving workplace relationships I attended a few days ago.

It does not take a psychologist to notice that sets of traits specific people display pre-destine them to take up different jobs. A salesman who has to solicit new clients should be sociable, extraverted, determined, but does not necessarily need to have an eye for detail and might acceptably be chaotic while chasing several opportunities at the same time. An analyst in turn is rather introverted, has stronger analytical than social skills, is well-organised and keeps stuff in good order. Those two types of personalities need to interact with one another to move a corporation forward, yet because their perceptions of how work should be done vary by a long shot, salesmen and analysts tend to clash.

Workings of a corporation indispensably brings to mind the ever-up-to-date question, namely, if things go wrong, is the system or are the people to blame? Consider a situation in which a salesman’s goal is to acquire new clients, while an analyst has to evaluate whether taking on new clients is profitable, monitors and reviews portfolio of current clients. An analyst needs inputs from salesmen to prepare applications submitted to decision makers and to compile review papers for clients within allotted deadlines. An analyst then relies on inputs from salesmen to meet their own goals, yet delivering inputs to analysts is quite low on a list of salesmen’s priorities. Because goals of the two groups are not aligned, analysts keep chasing up salesmen to get their inputs, while salesmen do not give a damn and focus on their priorities. If additionally senior managers leniently treat salesmen who fail to deliver what analysts need to get on with their work, the system is to blame. If misconduct is tolerated by executives, salesmen get the message that it is acceptable and carry on not giving a damn.

The coach who delivered the training wanted to prove us the stick and carrot approach would not work in the hands of analysts attempting to motivate salesmen to co-operate in a proper manner. He pointed out punishments meted out by analysts (truth be told, they must not be severe) would not induce salesmen to deliver high-quality inputs to analysts timely. Because of analysts’ role in the organisation, they actually are not permitted to use the stick, so they should be beware and double-think not to harm themselves. The carrot, i.e. rewarding salesmen for professional behaviour also would not work, since no matter what they do, analysts need to do their job anyway – hence analysts, having higher comfort at work, are the main beneficiaries of giving out carrots, not salesmen, who at the end of the day are indifferent.

Another concept dwelled upon during the workshop was dealing with individuals claiming to be morally superior. As one theory states, the more morally superior one feels, they more they believe hurting others is justified and the less remorse they have over causing pain to others. The typical example is a husband who bullies his wife (because the soup was too salty) and because he believes his wife is a bad wife, while he is a good husband, he has the right to mistreat his wife (another example workshop participants instantly pointed at is Jarosław Kaczyński, who also claims to be morally superior)… In earnest, working (not to mention living) with such people is difficult, since if they abuse you, they feel they are empowered to do so and treat such situation as natural.

How much empathy should one demonstrate to one’s colleagues only seemingly is a simple question. Stepping into someone else’s shoes, understanding their standpoint, motivations and goals is a vital step towards improving workplace relationships, yet the issue is more intricate. Goals of individuals do not necessarily line up with those of a corporation. The most vivid example is applying work-life balance in practice. A corporation demands that a task is completed in unreasonably short time (which in practice requires staying overtime), while an employee wants to go home to look after their children. Human empathy tells you to let a worker go home, while interests of the corporation are at odds with human feelings are induce to motivate your colleague to stay in the office.

Manipulation as a method of attaining one’s goals brings out negative associations. This first impression, as the coach argued, and I hold the same view, is misleading. It all depends on goals and means one resorts t in order to meet them. As long as no crime, misconduct, violation of procedures nor other immoral deeds are involved, manipulation boils down to a set of actions aimed to steering others behaviours so that they help you reach your goals. Besides, if you feel your colleagues try to manipulate you crassly, the response in similar manner is a sign to them you are aware of their techniques and are armed with the same weapons. 

Corpo-reality is not a bed of roses, in order to survive you need thick skin and have to conform to the rules of that wicked game (to the extent your conscience lets you, if you approach a boundary, the only option might be to quit).

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Poised for failure?

The question above pertains to Donald Trump’s candidacy in the oncoming US presidential election. Despite recent serious slip-ups which arguably could disqualify him straight away, he is not yet bound to lose it all.

According to a popular (don’t know to how extent it is true) belief, a president of the United States should boast of set if traits which pre-destine them to take this office. To cut the long story short, the president should be successful in all areas of life: should have a first spouse (to whom they are faithful) and children, boast about brilliant professional / academic / political career, be an exemplary citizen (e.g. not evade taxation, donate money to charities), crystal-clear in terms of honesty (no outstanding criminal charges / accusations), plus they should display impeccable manners and class.

Even if the description above is just a stereotype, it would not hurt if the bar for the president of the United States was raised that high. Bearing in mind the above, they very nomination of Donald Trump as Republican Party’s candidate has been mind-boggling. The very list of his numerous wrong-doings (BTW, an excellent summary containg what I miss in Polish journalism, i.e. citing sources substantiating each paragraph, hats down to the author):
- allegations of several attempts of sexual harassment,
- tax evasion,
- mistreating his wives, cheating on them,
- four bankruptcies of casinos he controlled,
- various cases of misconduct in running real estate business (dealing with tenants),
- mistreating his employees, including failing to pay contractors and workers, or hiring migrants illegally,
- running shady businesses, including a foundation, an university and an institute, all Trump-named,
is long enough to put a bunch of ordinary people into prisons, yet despite unprecedented slew of controversies around his name, the republicans decided he would run for presidency.

The recordings disclosed over a week ago, caused more uproar, but have not been a nail to his coffin. I would safety bet as the tapes of Mr Trump bragging about seducing married women and telling technical details on how he was making a pass on them could win some voters.

There will always be voters who would expect someone akin to them to hold such office. Mr Trump did what several males do when females are not around, proved he is a regular guy, not a spick-and-span well-mannered politician, but an ordinary chap from the neighbourhood, some who despite his richness has common ground with the underclass.

There is a theory that a statesman should adhere to higher moral standards than an ordinary citizen. The concept holds water in general, but conduct which is acceptable cannot be unambiguously defined. I am a straightforward man and never take umbrage when public figures commit the same sins as I do in their private time. I swear like a trooper (as many educated people in this Poland), even when there is no reason to use foul language. Swear words have become for me a part of communication with all people who have developed the same despicable habit, especially in the workplace (unfortunately foul language is tolerated there by everyone and hence thrives). I should be ashamed of it, yet if I broach this topic, I prefer to admit it that to pretend my civility is beyond reproach. Besides, I might not disapprove of eavesdropped politicians who swear in private conversations; by stooping so low, I have denied myself that right. The locker-room talks also do not shock me, since though I have never talked about any particular woman in such vulgar way, I am familiar with that style of language, but use it rather in self-deprecatory context (e.g. asked my a mate if I am fine, instead of straightforwardly confessing it could be better I tell him that “nobody wants to do me a blow-job”).

What might really drag down Mr Trump’s chances in the race of presidency was his declaration in the last debate he would not accept the victory of Mrs Clinton and would look into it fairness of the election procedure. By undercutting the foundations of democracy, Mr Trump moved closer to Mr Kaczynski who also implied several times elections won by PO or its nominees had been rigged.

Incidentally, Mr Kaczynski, as a bachelor, having no children, having not accumulated any property over more than 40 years of adult life, never taking private travels abroad as an adult, not having a driving license and not fending for himself over most of his adult life, also does not fit the profile of a statesman, yet for totally different reasons than Mr Trump.

The very existence of Donald Trump is not a problem, as there are many freaks roaming around our planet. His very willingness to run for presidency, if he can afford it, is not a problem as well. The issue is that for some reason he earned the nomination of the Republican Party and the biggest issue and a puzzle is why people want to vote for him. We need to bear in mind he does not tread the path of PiS in Poland and does not pamper the poorest with benefits raising their standard of living and does not resort to the most blatant economic populism for masses. The possible answers lean towards ideological reasons: Mr Trump wants to reinstate law and order, lift America from its knees, revise relationships with other countries, wants to make the United States an empire again, is a backbone of conservatism, finally some voters would sooner kiss their own arse than vote for a democrat.

Not being actually fond of Mrs Clinton, I keep fingers crossed for her victory on 8 November, thus I am keeping fingers crossed for well-being of the whole civilised world.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Not alone, but going it alone

If the blog is a form of a diary, I am catching the right moment to revisit what I wrote half a year ago. With hindsight I know I have committed my sorrow to the blog shortly before I reached a breaking point and thus left the mark of how I felt then to posterity. Most probably writing that piece was one of many essential steps on my way to recovery.

The vital notion I have explored over these six month is that I prefer to be alone than to spend my time with anyone, especially if that “anyone” is a drag for me or spoils my well-being. A human is not doomed to solitude. To realise why this sentence is not wrong, you need to realise solitude cannot be placed at the very bottom of relationships with people. In the language of maths, solitude can be assigned the value of zero, while relationships with people can have values other than zero; positive or negative. Relationships with people who abuse or harass you can have sub-zero values. Most people out of fear of solitude do not break away from such toxic relationships, while often only freeing oneself from people who impair our lives is the only way to build satisfying (having positive values) relationships with other humans.

If I am to draw any conclusions from the previous post, the paramount one is stunningly straightforward – I am not alone. I am surrounded by several wonderful people, many of which I could call friends (though I tend not to overuse that word), but I have developed a habit of going it alone in most of difficult situations. My choice has been shaped by experience of the past, but also by understanding and accepting how my friendships look is impacted by my age. If nearly all my friends either have families or are in long-lasting relationships, we cannot spend as much time together as I would like to, but I have learnt to appreciate the time we spend together, as each scarce good.

Any relationship is about giving and taking. Theoretically, giving and taking should be balanced. In practice, there should be no striking imbalance between the two. Various circumstances in humans’ lives often predestine one party to be a giver and the other a taker. Sometimes life reverses this arrangement, sometimes not. And on top of that, some people are born givers. I have been repeatedly told I am a type of donor.

The question I have faced recently is whether I do not want to take, do not need to take, or do not know how to ask to be given. Probably, all three answers hold partly true, with the very former being least valid. Being a giver brings me enough joy and satisfaction and I do not require my friends to reciprocate it with the same dose of support since if they reciprocated it, they would kill me with kindness. I am accustomed to cope with most of my troubles on my own, but when I desperately need to take comfort in somebody, I quickly find a guardian angel.

I wonder what qualities and individual should possess to become a confidant to their friends. What makes a man trustworthy?

On one of recent nights I found myself in a hotel room with my good friend (and workmate) after an off-site booze-up. The chap, ten years older than me, husband and father to two children, was pissed out of his head, I was moderately inebriated, since I was bound to sit behind the wheel in a few years to reach my next destination. All of a sudden he broke into tears and confessed he had fallen into love with his team-mate (also married and having children) and was running out of power to cope with it. Just one hour later, during the piss-up, he would tell folks around he had never cheated on his wife and would probably never dare to do so. I was so shell-shocked and the chastised him in foul language typical for our casual conversations. Needless to say the next morning we carried on as if that confession had not been uttered. He probably did not remember it and definitely had he not been tanked-up, as every civilised husband and father would have kept his mouth shut.

I still have not got over that confession and temporarily lack anyone to talk it over with, since I must not pass it on to anyone who knows him. The problem is that my closest friend is now his team-mate, the one he claimed to have lost his head for. Besides, I am amazed by how I have controlled myself and averted the problem he has. She is definitely my kind, yet before I realised it I knew she was married and having children and my conscience prevents me from breaking up a family. Besides, she lives and works in a different city, so we see each other on average once a month which helps keep a safe distance.

Besides, as I have counted, every single week I am asked by someone to have a conversation that stays between us only. Sometimes what I am told becomes a burden, I am not a professional helper and cannot absorb other people’s quandaries like a sponge. Getting it off my chest sometimes involves sharing what I have been entrusted with someone else. This looks at odds with keeping it for myself, therefore I need to talk it over, I do it with a person who has never met a person whose secrets I share. Should I feel guilty about it?

At the end, questions for next half-year period I shall revisit in April 2017.

1. I have noticed with some people I hit it off instantly without any effort on my side, while with others I struggle to make it play, but it does not work anyway – why?

2. How to handle an introvert? I have observed I am afraid of such people and find it hard to take first steps in building a relationship with such persons. I have read introverts are not unsociable, but are kind wary of new friends and it takes a lot to win their trust. How to overcome it?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Wołyń – film review

Rushed to the nearest cinema yesterday to watch Wołyń by Wojtek Smarzowski, the film which had premiered the day earlier. Mr Smarzowski can boast of track record of directing films which authentically, yet sorely lay bare the darkest side of the human nature. I have watched all his films, except Róża, and reviewed Drogówka and Pod Mocnym Aniołem on the blog.

A dose of historical knowledge is essential if you are to fully understand the film which depicts the run-up to and the very Volhynia carnage and unless somebody is familiar with the topic, a thorough catch-up before the trip to a cinema is highly recommended. Despite me doing the homework beforehand, I was kind of astounded to see the joy of Ukrainians who greeted Red Army soldiers in 1939 as liberators setting them free from Polish tormentors and two years later, disillusioned with the new occupier, gave a warm welcome to Nazi army.

The film is less coarse and naturalistic than most previous films by Mr Smarzowski, though sexist scenes of crude intercourses appear to be an indispensable common denominator of all his pieces. In Wołyń, illustration of ordinary life, including its darkest aspects, is skilfully balanced with depiction of historical background of the carnage. The background which reminds a genocide is never a spontaneous misdeed, hatred needs a fertile ground to grow wild.

Dosage of atrocity in the film is, must I say, quite moderate. The film is meant to leave its audience mentally black and blue and renders appositely how the massacre in today’s territories of Western Ukraine actually looked. After reading historians’ records of how cruel the genocide was, the picture of murders comes out mild.

Comparing methods Ukrainian nationalists made use of to kill Poles, I believe most victims of Gestapo and NKVD at least had enviably short deaths. Prisoners of Nazi concentration camps were closed in gas chambers and fell asleep, breathing in lethal gases (most online sources I found while writing the post describe gassing as painless). NKVD officers killed their victims with one shot in a head. Both totalitarian regimes during WW2 ran industries of mass murder meant to annihilate Poles, quickly and efficiently. Ukrainian nationalists, though the death toll of the genocide committed by them is several times lower than number of victims of Nazis or Stalin, wanted not just to eradicate Poles from their homeland, but also did it with inhuman atrocity.

The film is a vital step towards truth and I hope it brings closer the carnage to Poles, as the matter is less known than several other acts of violence against Poles during WW2. The Wolhynia slaughter has also not been the subject of broader debate for the sake of building good relationships with independent Ukraine (how could it be possible without facing the truth?).

Germany has apologised and atoned for its WW2 felonies.

Russia, as a heir of the Soviet Union, has not atoned for its WW2 sins and cruelty, yet in 1993 when Russia seemed to be a civilised country (I longer consider it so since March 2014) its president Mr Jelcyn apologised to Poles for Katyn and in November 2010 its parliament passed a resolution condemning Katyn massacre. Today these might appear as hollow gestures, yet some steps were undeniably made towards reconciliation.

In 2001 president Kwaśniewski on behalf of Poles apologised to Jews for Jedwabne massacre.

Ukrainian intellectuals and artists have apologised for the Volhynia carnage to Poles several times, but Ukraine’s governments still take efforts to sweep the topic under the carpet. Remember the visit of former president Komorowski in April 2015? Mr Komorowski delivered a speech in the house of parliament, while a few hours later deputies passed a resolution glorifying Ukrainian nationalists responsible for genocide on Poles. Soon after the Smolensk disaster, Katyń by Andrzej Wajda was broadcast in Russian TV. In today’s Russia it would be unimaginable, however I doubt in the foreseeable future Wołyń could be watched by masses in Ukrainian TV.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Black Monday tomorrow

No, I am not predicting a stock market crash tomorrow. The black colour stands for solidarity with thousands (if not millions) of Polish women who are about to go on an all-out strike tomorrow, a protest akin to the one staged by females in Iceland in 1975, when a one-day walkout virtually paralysed the small country, yet has gone down in the history as a day when women successfully called out for their rights.

The initiative of the strike in Poland is the reaction to a proposal of tightening the already restrictive (by European standards) abortion law, i.e. banning the abortion at all, regardless of circumstances. The widespread voice of objection is similar to many Pole’s reaction to PiS (unfortunately successful) attempts to tamper with constitutional tribunal nearly a year ago. Yet, while independence of judiciary power and separation of three powers is an issue far in the background for an ordinary citizen, changes to the abortion law may have tremendous impact on lives of several families.

The current abortion so-called compromise allows for abortion in three general situations: when a pregnancy is an aftermath of rape, when life of a future mother is in danger or when a child is bound to be born incurably ill, disabled, handicapped or dead. Recently the parliament received two draft laws, drawn up by civic movements. One, putting forward liberalising access to abortion, has been turned down right away, while the other, submitted by ultra-pro-life activists, prohibiting abortion at all, has been pressed ahead to further proceedings.

PiS, seeing Poles’ approach to ban on abortion (nearly 50% of the surveyed are in favour of retaining the status-quo “compromise, around one-fourth would liberalise the abortion law, while slightly less than 20% would forbid it all) and bearing in mind the draft law is not their own, is going go back down and ease off some the most brutal provisions of the pro-life’s proposal, but the abortion law in its new shape will very likely be more restrictive in than today’s wording. The outcome is predictable – we will see more gynaecologists’ offices in basements offering “triggering menstruation” and more women will travel to Czech Republic and Germany to terminate pregnancies.

I hope the purport of the protest will be broader than standing out against tightening the abortion law. The strike in Iceland is reported to have brought the country’s society closer to partnership model of marriage / relationship. Although there has been improvement in Poland in this respect, many Polish men still need to be reminded traditional division of rules ought not to be imposed on women. Raising children and running the house and the accompanying obligations should be shared more or less equally among spouses, unless they both agree on a different apportioning of roles. The problem in Poland is still that a man who returns home from work is tired enough to lie back on a sofa, sip beer and watch TV, while a woman starts her second unpaid job, namely cooking, washing up, cleaning up, ironing, doing homework with children etc.

Tomorrow in the office I am standing in for a female colleague who is going to take a day off on demand, therefore I will co-ordinate a regular bi-weekly committee. Besides, I have offered to stand in for any woman willing not to turn up to the office. Though actually I do not expect the scale of the protest at the New Factory to be impressive, as in any private corporation where political views are hardly ever flaunted.

To make it clear, just like any human of sound mind, I am not in favour of abortion. Pregnancy termination is always an evil, but in situations in which I believe it is justified, especially those in which it is currently permitted, it is a lesser of two or more evils. Nonetheless, I am supportive of whatever can be done to avoid abortions which are often a result of unwanted pregnancies. Consequently, I am rooting for unbiased sexual education in schools, including familiarising youngsters with contraception. I am also calling for access to morning-after pills (which I believe is a late contraception method).

The discussion on abortion is not just about facts but about beliefs. If I am convinced a bunch of cells which might develop into an embryo, than into a foetus and be born, is not yet a human being, but just a bench of cells, my approach to abortion is pro-choice. Pro-life activists believe a zygote is already a human being, therefore a natural implication of their reasoning is that even taking a morning-after pill is a murder. The current abortion compromise rests on the foundation that pregnancy cannot be terminated at the stage when a foetus can survive (aided by medial devices or not) out of mother’s womb, this borderline moment is the 24th week of pregnancy.

Some people believe killing animals in order to eat their meat is an atrocity and therefore become vegetarians. Some people believe pregnancy must not be terminated, no matter of circumstances. I am of the opinion in situations when abortion is permitted by law, doctors should present it to their patients as one of two options and not encourage a woman neither to carry the child until birth nor to terminate the pregnancy. It is a matter of patients’ consciences and beliefs, so give them the choice!