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The human factor: with therapy and technology into the future

Nowadays, being in therapy is no longer something to be ashamed of. More and more people openly acknowledge that there are things that they cannot manage on their own. Some might even say it is “en-vogue” to go to therapy. My house, my car, my therapist, and so on. Most likely every development brings its exaggeration with it.

And yet: Perhaps we need some kind of large-scale therapy – in companies! Perhaps a broadly applied cognitive behavioural therapy will finally bring about the much-needed breakthrough in thinking. Maybe only the direct confrontation with the knots in our own heads, which can’t be untied with home remedies, such as the occasional workshop or the diligent consumption of the Tandemploy blog, will help.

Change begins with honesty

Confrontation also means: radical honesty. Teresa Bücker recently wrote an article for Süddeutsche.de on the topic that’s worth reading. She wrote: “It (honesty) has nothing to do with shouting, but with reflection on what we are feeling right now, why we are thinking something and how we can make others understand. The people that strive to be open and honest, initially keep their mouths shut and think before they speak. Because it’s much harder to express what’s really going on inside us than to say the first thing that comes to mind.”

The benefits of therapy: It offers the necessary safe environment to feel free to express one’s thoughts and ideas. For instance:

“I don’t want to give up anything, neither my knowledge nor my job title. I want everything to stay the way it is.” is an honest version of “A large corporation like ours has difficulty with open structures.”

“I don’t understand this whole digitization topic and fear being left behind.” instead of the generalized statement “New Work only works for certain jobs. I will never get this approved by the works council.”

“I’m afraid of what will happen to me if everyone suddenly has a say. Maybe I’ll become redundant.” as an honest version of “Most employees don’t want to take any responsibility at all.”

Or Teresa’s example from her article: “I don’t want to work with women because I consider them fundamentally incompetent and feel more comfortable in an all-male team” as an honest variation of “We couldn’t find a qualified woman for the board of directors.”

Do you know that feeling when you are so surprised by your own thoughts that you aren’t sure whether you only thought them or said them out loud? I assume everyone has experienced that. Just like everyone has experienced thoughts of prejudice, fear, or selfishness. The deciding factor is how we deal with these parts of our personality and especially IF we deal with them. Because only by giving our thoughts the necessary attention, can we actually deal with them and then consciously change them. The shock and wonder when faced with your own thought patterns is the first step to breaking them up. That’s when reflection is possible and there is room for new ways of thinking.

Breaking thought patterns consistently

Someone who is afraid, deep down – of loss of status, money, reputation – can attend ten workshops and read 20 Tandemploy articles, and still not spring into action. They are most likely not even aware how their attitude is hindering them. Why have countless people been attending countless New Work events over the past years and still nothing new happens? Change takes time, they say. It’s just funny that the world is changing so fast everywhere – but not in the corporate world.

So now what, everyone on the couch? It’s not that far-fetched. Facing your fears and reservations and knowing what drives your egotistical behavior, allows you to consciously evaluate and change yourself and your environment. Instead of restricting in-house business psychologists to the planning of assessment centers, organizations can use them for their own insight and change processes. In a first step, they could start by uncovering structures and blockages, and then figure out what role the human factor plays in maintaining them. With the right formats and tools, it is then a matter of breaking down these thought and behavior patterns bit by bit. Digitization can act as its own accelerator here. Because cognitive changes can also be initiated in the digital space.

The therapist in the office

As early as 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, a speech computer that could – at least superficially – simulate a psychotherapist. The so-called ELIZA effect, according to which it is not relevant whether the opposite party is a machine or a human being, as long as they appear human, is still used today in chatbots – increasingly also in the field of behavior therapy. This form of therapy aims less at coming to terms with the past (on the famous couch), but rather seeks to find ingrained and burdening thought patterns of the patient with the goal of questioning and finally overcoming them. Is this the key to real change in the company? The therapist on the company mobile phone? The idea has potential. First studies on the success of Chatbot-supported therapies are promising.

New experiences create a new reality

But there are also other ways to promote change that are based on genuine interpersonal communication and exchange. Learning from and with each other, for instance, is an effective way to break down prejudices and fears. Because in the end it is the experiences that we make that shape us and our way of thinking. Thus, it is up to organisations to open up completely new areas of experience for their employees. This could be a generational exchange, (reverse) mentoring or simply the opportunity to exchange experiences with colleagues at any time. Even project work outside of the usual routine or short assignments in a completely new team can change the way we think and with it the reality and how we perceive it.

It’s up to the people (not the machines)

There are many ways to make the “human factor” a driver of change. To do this, organizations must understand that not algorithms and machines, detached from humans, shape our (working) world, but that we as humans are in control – as long as we are mentally and emotionally ready. Many are not. Accompanying and encouraging them is a task that companies have to tackle. Digital technology can provide wonderful support in this process by encouraging us to be honest with ourselves and others, to overcome obstacles in our minds or simply to try out new ways of working.

With ELIZA, the test people did not care that they were talking to a machine as long as the answers seemed human to them. If we want to build a human-friendly working world, we also need tools that are not only human on the surface, but that consistently focus on people and their needs.

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