Training Flexible Engagement
Flexible Engagement: Definition of Terms
Flexible Engagement consists of three component skills: the ability to be aware of what is going on within and around us; the ability to be open to our emotional reactivity; and the ability to engage in doing what matters even when doing so is difficult.
Awareness means noticing internal and external events as they are occurring. For this to happen, we need to practice deliberately paying attention to what is going on from one moment to the next in our minds, our physical reactions, our interactions with others, and our surroundings.
Openness involves a willingness to experience the range of human emotions and to consider alternative points of view. For this to happen, instead of our usual tendencies to avoid uncomfortable feelings and to become judgmental of others as well as ourselves, we need to practice observing our emotional reactions and understanding how they affect us and our relationships with others.
Engagement entails following through with our commitments. For this to happen, we first need to clarify what matters to us. Next, we need to determine the broader goals, more immediate objectives, and specific tasks that will enable us to implement our organizational and professional values. The emerging challenge then becomes one of persisting in our current course of action or making indicated changes, returning to the task at hand each time we notice ourselves drifting away from our stated intentions.
Flexible Engagement training in the component skills of awareness, openness, and engagement can result in executives and managers becoming more willing and able to notice, experience, and reflect upon emotionally charged events in their work environments. They can learn to address the human tendency to become trapped in their emotional reactions and interpretations, and then to not pay enough attention to what actually is happening in the world around them or to other points of view. They also can become more capable of remaining involved in meaningful behaviors even when feeling stressed, as well as more adept at recovering from those inevitable moments when the circumstances of their lives change or when they become distracted or disconnected from valued pursuits in their professional relationships and endeavors.
Flexible Engagement: The Concept in Action
The concept of Flexible Engagement is based in a scientific model of motivation known as ACT (said as the word, not the individual letters, the acronym stands for Acceptance and Commitment Training) (https://contextualscience.org/). ACT recognizes that people are motivated to move towards what they like and away from what they don’t like. When their behavior leads them either to enjoy getting what they want or to feel the temporary relief of avoiding what they don’t want, they are more likely to engage in that behavior again under similar circumstances. ACT views positive motivation for accomplishing valued commitments as crucial to accepting the emotional challenges of the Business Enterprise (and Life!). The model is implemented through skill training in Flexible Engagement.
These scientific principles of motivation are directly relevant to how people function in the Business Enterprise. Meaningfully defined values that accurately reflect the behavioral history and shared purpose of an organization can serve as sources of positive motivation, sustaining executives and managers in staying on course during times of trouble. However, they also must contend with the natural human tendency to behave in an avoidant fashion in situations that make them feel uncomfortable, such as procrastinating when they are facing a difficult decision, postponing a performance review anticipated to be problematic, or criticizing others in a situation warranting the assumption of personal responsibility. The temporary relief achieved through avoidance can result in them repeatedly putting off an issue in need of attention.
Training in Flexible Engagement can increase the ability of executives and managers to identify and connect with the kinds of positive motivation that help them remain engaged when they are contending with emotionally challenging situations. This training also can improve their ability to recognize and accept discomfort, particularly when doing so is accompanied by a sense of accomplishment inspired by their organizational and professional values.
Flexible Engagement: The Training Protocols
Flexible Engagement training places particular emphasis on actually teaching skills rather than simply settling for yet another conversation about “what should be done” to increase the ability of executives and managers to sustain their involvement in meaningful activities. While individualized coaching can be utilized at certain times, training for executives and/or managers more typically occurs in a series of at least three half-day workshops spread over a period of one or two months and delivered on site or in a retreat setting.
Following the introduction of activities designed to teach the skills of awareness, openness, and engagement, facilitated sessions are conducted to begin applying these skills in the context of actual challenges arising in the Business Enterprise. Specific training is provided throughout the sessions in using a one page tool designed for assessment, learning, and tracking change over time. Practice is encouraged between workshops, thus promoting skill acquisition over the course of training. Ongoing consultation towards developing an organizational culture of Flexible Engagement also is available upon request.