In a series on Adult Development Theory
Don’t play that piano so loud!
We have a 9-year-old daughter at home, and it is wonderful to see her grow up.
She's at an age when she's starting to have an opinion on almost everything and as a bonus, she's starting to get my jokes. A year ago she started playing the piano. My wife is a good pianist and helps her practice. Luckily, she has the patience of an angel as my daughter doesn't see her as a teacher but as a mother trying to teach, and every step of the way she has an opinion on how to do it differently.
At one of the practice sessions, I was sitting in the background eavesdropping a bit. My wife and I think it's important for her to develop her own ego, but what I experienced was of a whole different level of discussion. My daughter was contradicting every word my wife said and I felt my blood pressure rise a notch. When she started to use the piano as a drum kit I was done! Inside I was screaming: ”Don’t play that piano so loud!!!!”
Rolled up to the piano (I’m in a wheelchair) and………. gave my chair another push and made myself a tea.
Just before I was ready to lay down all my frustrations upon my daughter (a good friend of mine calls it all my shit) I was able to catch myself in the moment and ask myself: "What's driving my behavior?" After getting a balcony view of this process, I discovered that frustration was running the show. I felt our daughter was not treating my wife so respectfully, and thát was pushing all my "buttons". If that had continued, I doubt my daughter would have received an appropriate response. Which could have damaged our relationship as a result.
Robert Kegan describes in his Adult Development Theory that there is a distinction between developing skills and transformation. Both are valuable and necessary, but whenever we’re talking about culture change and sustainable impact, it always starts with discovering how I make meaning of the world and my part in this. How my beliefs, assumptions and triggers from the past and present influence my state of being.
For Kegan transformation is different from learning new information or skills. "New information may add to the things a person knows, but transformation changes the way he or she knows those things". He distinguishes 5 different phases of development: Early Childhood, Self-Sovereign, Socialized, Self-Authoring and Self-Transforming form of mind. Only when you are aware of underlying (often hidden) assumptions and beliefs (and willing to deal with them) you will be able to develop to a next stage. In order to do so, he introduces a very useful concept of going from Subject to Object.
Subject – Object Shift
Transitioning to another phase requires a shift from subject to object. To move from Subject (where it controls us) to Object (where we can control it) means becoming more aware of ourself and control our behavior. We become more aware of our relationships and manage them better.
A major shift for me came from working with teens with behavioral issues. So many times have I heard a phrase like, "I am so angry." So said, there is nothing but anger and little room to look at it any other way. Usually it is very helpful for children to recognize the difference between 'I am angry' and 'I sometimes have angry feelings'
The moment they realize that they “are” not their anger, it opens up space to look at and think about the anger instead of being wrapped up in it. Slowly they move from being subject to the anger to making the anger object.
A friend of mine in senior management struggled to deal with inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Only after taking a step back he discovered that he had assumptions about what would happen if he actually confronted people. “They will get mad at me”, “I will not be liked”, “I will feel miserable” These turned out to be (hidden) assumptions that guided his behavior in an subconscious way.
Only now, being aware of this, he’s able to actually test these assumptions. In this case he went from subject to the assumption “I will not be liked”, to making it object and able to reflect on it. “Is it really true I will not be liked anymore?” While testing his new behavior, it turned out people were very glad with him being clear and congruent. They liked him for it.