Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bending over backwards

I have had the opportunity over the past six months to participate in a workplace literacy research project. A dozen of us literacy practitioners were asked to provide literacy and numeracy training to employees at various pilot sites, and to gather information about what worked and what did not.

This week we gathered together at the completion of the project to discuss what happened. Each of us was asked to speak for five minutes on a particular aspect of our project which the project managers had identified, from our final written reports, as worthy of further exploration in the group setting. My topic was flexibility.

I talked about flexibility being a desirable attribute in some circumstances and undesirable in others. For example, flexibility of thought is a good thing when attempting to deal with the unexpected, or in coping with change, but it's not good in relation to adherence to safety procedures. A cricket bat would not function at all if it was constructed of the same type of rubber as floor mats in cars. Sometimes rigidity is crucial to effectiveness and positive outcomes. Other times it is a hindrance.

In the case of the company I worked with, it was necessary for me to be flexible with the training schedule because it had to be changed on a weekly basis due to the unavailability of participants. My flexibility was limited though because I was only available one and half hours, two days per week. The company's flexibility was limited by the fact that they needed to serve their customers first, and attend training second.In the end, training was suspended because the frequent interruptions to, and forced rescheduling of the training caused us to believe that we were wasting our time. The level of flexibility shown, whilst initially helping the advancement of the project, ultimately resulted in early termination of the training.

We have to be flexible in life and in how we deal with people but extremes should be avoided at all costs. We all have to determine how flexible we are willing to be. How far are we willing to bend before we break? How far are we able to bend before we break? Do we want to bend at all? If we are thin rubber cricket bats we won't break but neither will we be of any use. At some point our flexibility stops being useful and becomes unhelpful, or worse destructive. I talked about car floor mats, and some people believe that bending over backwards for everyone indicates weakness. People who are that "flexible" may be labelled doormats. On the other hand, people who don't go out of their way to help others, who don't inconvenience themselves, may be criticized for being selfish.

A line has to be drawn somewhere between flexibility and rigidity. The fact that everyone draws this line in a different place on the spectrum is the reason why we have conflict.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post! I wanted to share some of my own thoughts about the issue of flexibility. I have learnt that how happy we are is often related to how flexible we are in our attitudes. Like, if you have a lot of inflexible beliefs about the way the world should be, you will make yourself unhappy because your expextations will be continually disappointed, But, if you just hold those values as preferences, then your hopes won't be dashed when things aren't that way - You'll think, 'I would have preferred if things were different, but that's OK', as opposed to 'This is terrible/ an absolute disaster' when you hold those conditions as a necessity.
    I think a big part of wisdom is knowing what to be flexible about. And I also think that wise people tend to err on the side of flexibility. Or, to put it another way, I think it's wise to have as few things as possible that you're unwilling to be flexible about. That leads to happiness and goodwill.