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7:25 PM Fri, Nov. 16th

Column: Change your life with a booklet or two

This story begins in the mid-'70s when I was Senior Associate and Director of Seminars at the Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences of The Menninger Foundation, a large psychiatric institution in Topeka, Kansas.

The foundation had two campuses, one with several hospitals and treatment centers, the other with administrative and research buildings along with the seminar center. The center's staff worked with well people - like you and me. (Big assumption there!)

Every other week we conducted an intensive weeklong seminar for leaders and executives from business, government, health services or education. The seminar title was "Toward Understanding Human Behavior." Lectures were presented by staff psychiatrists and psychologists, small group sessions were held each day, a projective test was administered to each participant, and during the evenings there was an informal dinner and social time during which there were discussions between participants and staff.

Throughout the week, the behavior and activities of the guests was monitored by seminar staff. Initially, most participants thought the week would teach them how to better understand their colleagues and how to become better leaders and managers. Or, as several executives verbalized in their summarizations of the week, "I thought I'd learn ways to get my people to do what I wanted them to do." By the end of the second evening, they begin to understand that the week was about them. Each of them. The seminar was really a crash course in understanding their own behavior. Why they were doing what they were doing and why they might want to change their behaviors.

One of the more curious and frequent irrational statements we heard was this confessional: "I thought I might retire in X years and then make up the time I missed with my family." Many of these hard-charging "successful" men and women actually believed they could make up for all the years they were AWOL from their families. When confronted with the unlikelihood of this fantasy occurring, most painfully acknowledged their spouses and children had moved on without them. What they had lost was beyond recovery.

After I left Menninger's to start my own consulting company, I began writing a series of booklets that I used with the leaders and executives whose organizations contracted with me. I recently discovered unused copies of four of these booklets, and here's where you come in - if you choose to. The booklets are available at the Peregrine Bookstore. The cost is $10 per booklet - or more if you wish - since all proceeds will go to the Hungry Kids Project.

The topics are those we focused on at Menningers. To wit: "Understanding Change," something we deal with constantly, yet most of us lack understanding of how best to deal with change in our personal and professional lives. The booklet includes the factors that influence the acceptance or rejection of change, guidelines for reducing resistance to change, and recommendations on how you can most effectively introduce change in your family and organization.

A second booklet is titled "Structuring Your Life." Most people underestimate their need for structure, not understanding it is the glue that holds them together. This booklet explores our physical and environmental sources of structure while focusing on the frequently overlooked but critical psychological sources. Readers are also introduced to the fight-or-flight response pattern and to the "morale curve," a behavioral response that occurs in our lives when we lose the supportive structure we are accustomed to.

Third is "Psychological Contracts," which are the hidden roots under every interpersonal exchange. PCs are unwritten, nonverbal, and often unconscious expectations that underlie every single relationship we have. When two people communicate, unspoken expectations are rarely identical, thus problems and conflict are likely to arise. This booklet attempts to illuminate the kinds of contracts each of us experiences in our lives. Young couples have found this booklet especially helpful.

The final booklet is "People-Healthy Organizations." Organizations can be "people-healthy" or they can demean and even destroy the spirit and moral of their people. This booklet summarizes thinking and problem-solving patterns and approaches of effective managers while proposing criteria for healthy organizations.

I hope you'll help yourself to these booklets - and help feed our kids as well.

Dr. Ron Barnes is a retired educator and businessman whose columns on the human condition appear on the Courier's editorial page every other Sunday.