Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using General Semantics for Effective Self-Management

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using General Semantics for Effective Self-Management

Article excerpt

IN THE PAST, people had little need to manage their careers; they were born into their stations in life. More recently, people relied on their companies to map their career paths. But times have radically changed--today it is essential that we understand how to manage ourselves.

To take charge of our work lives, Peter F. Drucker, author of Management Challenges for the 21st Century, suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? What do I value? How can I effectively manage my relationships?

This article, using ideas and formulations from general semantics, offers practical advice that can help individuals to answer these questions. (1)

What are my strengths?

It's important to know our strengths, because it is easier to build on what we do well, than on what we do poorly. But assessing what we are good at can be tricky. Drucker maintains that most people think they know what they are good at, but are usually wrong. He argues that typically people know what they are not good at--and even then more people are wrong than right.

To discover one's strengths, Drucker suggests doing a "feedback analysis." This consists of writing down what you think will happen whenever you make a significant decision or take a significant action and then, nine or twelve months later, comparing the actual results with your expectations. In Drucker's case, feedback analysis showed that he had an intuitive understanding of technical people and that he didn't resonate very well with generalists. (The feedback analysis technique is based on the scientific method--experiment, analyze, predict. General semantics emphasizes the scientific approach as a preferred orientation, or generalized way of solving problems.)

Strengths can be maximized using Korzybski's "extensional theory of happiness." (This theory contends that to reach a measure of contentment and a sense of success, we ought to form reasonable expectations, work hard, and be prepared to get not exactly what we want.) For example, let's say feedback analysis shows you are good at resolving conflicts. Applying the extensional theory of happiness to this talent would give you a reasonable expectation that: (i) you will successfully resolve conflicts much of the time; (ii) you will need to work hard at resolving conflicts; and (iii) you will not always succeed in your efforts to reduce conflicts. The last part of the "happiness theory," be prepared to get not exactly what you want, is especially useful in helping individuals avoid becoming depressed if things don't work out according to plans.

Many people find it relatively easy to improve their strengths because they are starting out from a relatively strong position. Problems are more likely to develop when it comes to acknowledging what one is not so good at, and then trying to master it. For instance, some in the engineering world take pride in knowing very little about people--perhaps human behavior is far too unpredictable for the technical mind to waste time trying to understand it. Human relations professionals, on the other hand, often esteem themselves for their ignorance of quantitative analyses. To actualize their strengths, both groups would do well to also improve their weak skills and knowledge.

"Dating" (a general semantics tool that involves attaching dates to our evaluations as a reminder that things change over time) can help to motivate individuals to work on improving their weaknesses. For example, engineers (today) who are not interested in human behavior can imagine themselves as engineers (tomorrow) who will be interested in human interactions. And, HR professionals (in the present) who blithely ignore quantitative matters can picture themselves as HR experts (in the future) who take an interest in numerical doings. Actually, we all change physically, mentally, and emotionally over time, as new data becomes available and new circumstances emerge. …

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