Did you know you have the power to transform your workplace into a healthier environment? It's called the power of writing.
Here's an exercise you can do to unleash that power. Based on the thinking of futurist and game designer Jane McGonigal, it involves asking what-if questions, thinking "counterfactually," and "predicting the past and remembering the future."
Think of someone in your workplace — or in your family, neighborhood or social network — who bullies everyone around him. (I'll use the masculine pronoun, but feel free to substitute the feminine.) Not only does this person mistreat people, but he also undervalues their contributions, exaggerates or misrepresents his own achievements and creates an environment of insecurity in which individuals or groups feel pitted against one another.
Now think of a time when that person attacked you. What did he say or do that threatened or humiliated you? How did you respond? What did you do or say? What were your precise words?
Now re-imagine the encounter counterfactually. Do this in two steps: first in your mind, then in writing. Do both steps from two points of view: first your attacker's, then yours. For both steps (and points of view), include as much personal detail as you can. It's important to invoke your "autobiographical memory," according to McGonigal, because doing so draws on your individual talents and insights. It helps you imagine how the world could be different. And it helps you believe you can control, or at least shape, your destiny.
Next imagine your tormentor's motivations, thoughts and life experiences. You've always thought of him as a fundamentally insecure person who has learned that bluster is a way of getting his way. For him, intimidation, as well as playing loose with the facts, is an intentional strategy.
But rather than think of him as a person devoid of values, imagine his childhood, his upbringing and the circumstances that have shaped him and made him who he is today. Rather than portray him negatively, portray him sympathetically (first in your mind, then in writing).
Look for some way to connect with him without sacrificing your own values or self-interests. Next imagine him doing or saying something that makes you feel good about yourself.
Now re-imagine your encounter with him by asking what-if questions. What if you had said this instead of that? What if you had "flipped the script" with an unexpected response? Imagine a more satisfactory outcome.
According to McGonigal, invoking your "counterfactual memory" in this way arouses your imagination, intuition and logic. When you "remember a future that hasn't actually happened," then that remembered future seems more likely and achievable.
Thinking and writing counterfactually can do more than give you some peace of mind. It can also help you take control.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.wilbers.com.