Brexit – the Five Stages of Grief

So there we are the deed is done, the majority of the UK public has voted to leave the European Union. The Parliamentary system is in tatters, both of the major political parties are searching for leaders to lead us country through this quite revolutionary landscape. No vision, no plan, no hope, no nothing to give us any certainty of our collective futures. Us Brits like to do things slowly, deliberately and with some degree of certainty. Therefore it’s easy to see how cataclysmic this result is for the nation.

For the 48% who voted to remain in the EU the result has provoked all manner of wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is an appetite to mobilise against this injustice that has been foisted upon them. However, from my recent discussions with clients, friends and colleagues, there is a profound sense of loss for a country, values & culture we all felt we knew? Have we lost our belief that the UK is an outward looking, inclusive and progressive European country?

Collective Grief of the 48%

My own reflections from recent events are that many of us (plus some that voted leave and are regretting their choice) are experiencing a profound feeling of grief? In other words a loss, bereavement and grief for what we once had. We know that the events of the past 10 days mean that things will never be the same again, maybe like the loss of a close friend or loved one? It may also be a future that you feel powerless to change and did not vote for? Indeed I have witnessed these comparisons to my previous counselling work and my time at the Samaritans and Victim Support. Supporting many people going through a profound sense of anger and shock or “why me, I don’t deserve this”. Even the loss of a smartphone or cherished childs toy can promote this feeling of profound sadness and grief at the loss of something dear and irreplaceable.

To take that hypothesis further we can use the Grief Cycle model developed and first discussed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1969 book “On Death & Dying” (in On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss – 2014). The model promotes a simple five stages that may well help to put some context around how some may be experiencing recent events. Moreover within the contexts of the five stages of grief.

Five Stages of Grief

  • Denial  Denial perhaps best described conscious or nonconscious refusal to accept facts, information or reality, etc., that are relating to the situation concerned. In this instance the UK EU Referendum. Denial is a normal reaction to rationalise overwhelming emotions that can go some way to protect us against uncertainty. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the event/loss. We block out the words and hide from the facts of the effects of the decision and perhaps any negative outcomes. We can easily become fixated upon stage when dealing with the sense of loss. We see the aftershocks of the referendum results still reverberating on social media and in the press. The events of the referendum are not easy to avoid or evade, as there is knowledge that things will never be the same again here in the UK.
  • Anger –  Anger can manifest in many different ways. In the case of the referendum, arguments, protest marches, blame, petitions, a second referendum etc etc. The people who voted to remain are now having to deal with the emotional fallout from the referendum, they may be angry with themselves, with others and especially those close. We have read about inter-family/community conflict as a result of groups voting one way or another. Of course knowing this can help keep detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset. However, with these highly charged emotions around, this result can make rational debate seem a distant fantasy. This anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. We can feel guilty for being angry, needless to say, this makes us more angry at an outcomes that “we did not vote for this”
  • Bargaining – Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing this level of social & economic change can involve attempting to bargain with whoever they can. We have heard about a group of business people banding together to ensure that Parliament change the legislation to make triggering article 50 possible (mechanism that starts leaving the EU).  This can  buy “reflection” time as a strong bargaining chip. Perhaps that there are many of us that feel we can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise? For example “how can the leave and remain voters work together to unify the country?” when facing this magnitude of break-up of the political and social order of the country. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death. Perhaps this is the weakest line of defense to protect us from the painful reality of the vote of the referendum.
  • Depression –  Sometimes referred to as preparatory grieving, the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the aftermath of leaving the EU. Needless to say, this means different things to different people. This stage maybe best described as a form of acceptance with some emotional attachment. It is perfectly natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, uncertainty, etc at what may be ahead of the country we thought we knew and could rely on. This stage may show that the person has at least begun to accept the reality of the situation. Sadness and regret of the fact we will no longer be a part of the European Union predominate a sense of depression in the case. We worry about the costs to us, our jobs, our families and our communities. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words or more to the point a clear vision, strategy and plan for how we are going to move forward as a unified country.
  • Acceptance – Lastly, this stage can vary according to the people involved and the person’s situation. Although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. We will hope to enter this stage and must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief at the events. Coping with this collective sense of loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. However, in this case it may well be beholden to our politicians & leaders to help the country focus upon helping the remain voters see the future as being different and in a positive light. The continual political infighting, uncertainty and sense of inertia will only will prolong the natural process of healing.

I hope that this simple but effective model helps put those difficult emotions that the 48% may well be feeling presently. Of course many will not feel like this at all and have shrugged the whole matter off and moved on. However, the collective conversations had over the recent past suggest that many are experiencing one or at least some of those debilitating stages of grief and bereavement.


Whilst writing this post last week there has been some acknowledgment by Boris Johnson (of all people) that the country seems to be in a state of “contagious mourning”for the referendum results. Perhaps then the people of this country need to feel that there is hope to be able to move through these five stages successfully. Without a vision and a plan we may well be stuck in a place that is bad for people, business, communities and the economy as a whole.

It is this acknowledgement that the 48% may be feeling a collective sense of grief for a country and culture the once knew, that may help us move forward in due course. However, the current malaise and political vacuum will only exacerbate the anger, fear and frustration of the sense of bereavement experienced by many. So for all those people who voted remain, give yourself some slack and acknowledge the stages you may be going through as a natural progression. Its part of a process of moving forward and making it a landscape and country we will all feel collectively proud of once more.

David Dean is a principle work and coaching psychologist focussing on creating clarity & the vision for careers, business and professional development. Helping to make your career a nicer place to be. Check out Bright Sparks Coaching for more information and contact details.


E. Kübler-Ross, D, Kessler (2014) “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss” Simon & Schuster UK


A Question of Culture – bullying or just banter?

indexFor us here in the UK we have been reading and discussing an incident on a television program “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, where a contestant was believed to verbally bullied another member of the group. Now in his defence the person doing the alleged bullying stated it was just banter and that it was accepted between both parties that it was just that a bit of fun. However, the watching audience saw the incident differently. The cry of “bully” and abuse rang around the corridors of the media for at least 36 hours until another minor incident subsumed the short attention span. Though the incident raised an issue in the contemporary workplace between groups and individuals of what does constitutes abuse & bullying and what is just consigned to being banter. What is the cut off point between verbal jousting and causing offence? Hopefully exploring this cultural issue can shed some light on the moral maze we all seem to encounter at work and within organisations.

Having experienced may different working environments banter and joking can be fun, reduce stress and raise morale within the group but it can be difficult to recognise when harmless fun becomes bullying, victimisation or even discrimination. Personal jokes and banter, friendly insults and quips are often how we interact in the workplace, at social gatherings or when we meet up with our friends and family. Sometimes closer friendships and the degree of familiarity allow for insults or name calling to be exchanged, with lasting effects of feelings or upset. Clearly everyone is comfortable and shares the laughter and enjoyment.

The darker side of the banter questions can happen when a person is singled out to be the butt of repeated personal attention and cutting comments and then the banter can become harmful to the person concerned. It is clearly no longer fun and the line between banter and bullying or discrimination has been crossed. However, what is the tipping point pushing banter over into abuse and discrimination and subsequent personal isolation and upset.

It is difficult for employees to know and comprehend when the line is about to be crossed and have the confidence to tell colleagues that enough is enough.  Factory life (mainly male dominated) can be tough for the thin skinned. Sometimes personal differences will be highlighted with a nick name or term that describes the person that clearly identifies them to the group. Its usually not overly complementary so can be hard to come to terms with. Usually the shift team are bonded as a group and the ribald banter is part and parcel of your working life.  This environment is similar to male dominated dressing rooms in sport, it is this culture that the alleged celebrity bully comes from. Perhaps then exhibits a different tolerance to the banter than other groups?  There is a hierarchy and men occupy roles within the group. The banter is part of the motivation and bonding process to suggest although we can have some fun at each others expense we are a team. Its easy to make some lazy hypothesis to suggest its men that allow banter, experience in female dominated environments suggests otherwise.  The banter is there but in a different more subtle form. Perhaps more passive aggressive, less obvious but nevertheless still present within the group. Of course this is a generalisation and there always exceptions to the rule.

So In principle the bullying or banter question is about context and culture within the group and the organisation. When cultures collide i.e. a factory or dressing room toward families sitting in their armchairs at home & media hacks, then perceptions on the interaction change.  We formally accept different rules and expectations within different environments. Psychologically called attributions. A attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes of behavior and events. So home life is different than being at work, out with friends or in the dressing room. Behaviour and language adapt to the different environment and cultural expectations. I am sure you speak to your friends differently to your line manager to your family? So the term bully is very difficult to define or attribute from a distance unless we understand that the people concerned consent to the interaction rule of engagement.

Tbe bullying and banter question is a moral maze. Measuring it by external standards through a politically correct lens will no doubt always veer toward bullying as these robust interactions do not appear polite or appropriate from a distance.  However we may need to take time to understand the different cultures we exist within and what rules apply and to whom before we make snap judgements. Understanding how we attribute events and behaviours with different groups will no doubt help us look behind the smoke and mirrors of society, social interactions and groups. Bulling cannot be tolerated but where do we draw the line for wholesome and group bonding banter? A question for us all to cogitate.


The Dependency of Work – work to live or live to work?

images (24)Now I have to admit the title is quite provocative but hopefully posed an interesting question for you. That question then is, are some of us dependant or even addicted to work and working? We may be perhaps but for many different reasons. Our life choices will probably mean we need to earn money to pay for a mortgage, a car, food etc, all pretty legitimate reasons to be in employment of course. Our patriotic contribution toward national taxation will support our countries economic status and services etc. So all worthy and wholesome activities to be engaged in. However, do we trade the security of paid employment for the dependency we then have on our employer?  Do we sometimes experience poor self esteem and lack of confidence that drives us toward poor mental wellbeing; as a result become addicted to the work we do?

Whist cogitating for this blog, I stumbled across a recent article by Adrian Furnham “Work Addiction” that seemed to trigger off a few more thoughts of my own. These latent thoughts had been there for some time, following my work designing & delivering employability programmes, meeting & coaching many people along the working spectrum. There is a balance between enjoying work and being enthusiastic about what you do, toward tipping over into distorted career & personal thinking, overwork, job insecurity, perfectionism and over competitiveness is difficult and may well depend upon circumstance and work culture.

The need to continually prove oneself in conjunction with an organisation that encourages rampant competition & toxic presenteeism, is likely to encourage the addictive and dependant work attitudes and beliefs. Thus a work-life balance is disapproved of and actively discouraged by the organisation and group culture. As Mr Furnham suggests ‘Studies on workaholics showed they held various beliefs. Work is about win-lose not win-win’. ‘ nice guys finish last’; ‘you prove yourself at work’. They strive against others and certain targets”. Easy to then imagine the link between poor organisational culture and addictive & dependant behaviours for the employee.

So the workaholic may well be addicted to work or more to the point the bolster it gives the poor confidence and self-esteem, job insecurity, competitiveness, control freakery and other distinct issues. Work over 50/60 hours per week these days suggests then there may well be addictive or dependant tendencies, but how can anyone recognise the signs.

  • Perhaps find it difficult to switch off and give more time to work than is necessary
  • Needing approval and the constant need for affirmation, power and position
  • Mobile devices on all day & night for the fear of missing out (FOMO) on important news or information
  • Compelled to “work to finish” regardless of the work/life consequences
  • Poor family & personal relationships
  • Stress and other health related conditions

Many symptoms that we all recognise at one point or another I am sure. Question is what do we do about it now that we are embedded in the highly pressurised work environments today. Primarily, knowing thy self can help. Take the cognitive behavioural models that help individuals recognise the events or the work is having an effect upon negative thinking styles (catastrophising), how you feel (stressed, anxious), the physical changes (feeling sick, headaches and nauseous) and behavioural ramifications to the environment. Indeed, the behaviour change can emanate its self in unhealthy self medication with drink or smoking. Though more to the point be able to recognise the toxic events and take action to mediate them with positive and active problem solving and actions.

With our coaching support or self-help, this model will help you understand the reason for the work dependency and either support a transition toward healthier work/life balance or coming to terms with the work you do and managing it accordingly. Also consider mindfulness, stress relieving exercise, socialising with friends and family and any other activities that can help regain a sense of perspective between the work and life balance.

Of course no one size fits all, though it is clear enjoyable and fulfilling work, whatever you do is beneficial for wellbeing. Being dependant & addicted to your work with all the consequences may not be, that will sadly have a negative impact on both the person concerned and the people around them too.  So is it working to live or living to work…………..over to you!

A Furnham, In Psychology Today, Work Addiction – A Sideways View (Accessed 2/06/2014)

Manchester United, David Moyes and the Psychology of Leadership

2437256So the dirty deed has been done, David Moyes has been sacked from the Manchester United managers role. What ever we collectively feel about the sacking from complete ambivalence to sympathy or perhaps just plain sorry for the guy, what are lessons to learn from his ten month tenure. How can psychology make sense of the the sorry episode?

Now, I have to declare my hand early on here, I am a Manchester United supporter and have been since the sixties, when the mercurial and my footly hero George Best graced Old Trafford. Indeed there are parallels with when Sir Matt Busby retired with disastrous consequences for the club and the managers role. All that aside, the intention here is to look at the psychology of leadership and perhaps where the present situation went so wrong.

Football is not just a sport it is also a huge international business, none more so than Manchester United. Globally recognised as being one of the top if not the top grossing football clubs in the world. So with all of their financial clout & business experience, how did the recruitment process for the new manager become the decision of one man – Sir Alex Ferguson on his retirement? The recruitment process for any high profile role is a forensic process. Amongst a multitude of dimensions such as the vision for the business, what has been the successes or indeed failures etc. The failures are equally important as they present challenges to be overcome. How the individual met the difficulties and was psychologically resilient (or mentally tough) enough to use the experiences to bounce back. So why did Ferguson pick out Moyes as his successor? Clearly the two men are very similar (Halo Effect?) and perhaps promoting a “lessor” light to manager suggests narcissistic and egocentric behaviour to protect Ferguson’s legacy? However, the one ingredient Moyes seemingly did not have (besides not winning a major trophy) was power.

According to Winter (1991) “Successful leaders and managers must use power – to influence others, to monitor results, and to sanction performance; but this power must be exercised in a “responsible” ways that involve (ethical) standards, accountability of consequentness and a concern for subordinates and peers”  Ferguson’s power was absolute, he was a winner and maintained a siege mentality at Old Trafford. The consequences of failure were clear to all the staff & players, they were accountable for their actions both on and off the field. Ferguson from the outside seemed to be a good old fashioned autocrat and have a dictatorial leadership style. Everyone knew where they were, he was consistent, commanded respect and provided role clarity for staff and players. Just as any good manager or leaders should, albeit perhaps the business of leadership style is open to question? It clearly worked for Manchester United.

Moyes on the other had had formal power as manager but no method of applying the power effectively to his team or at the club. No consistency, 52 games and 52 different starting teams. Also seemingly little respect from the playing staff – basic social comparison theory here (Festinger, 1954), how can the players and staff follow David Moyes, what has he won, why is he trying to be “one of the lads” when he clearly wasn’t? Moyes also chose the language of failure to describe the teams performances as “we couldn’t” “we didn’t” “we don’t”. The team needed some of the distance of Ferguson to use “they” instead of being one of the lads that Moyes tried to cultivate. Interesting we may also apply in-group out-group & social identity theory from Tajfel et al (1979) to explain the players attitude, following Moyes removal of Ferguson’s coaching staff and the instigation of a completely new organisational culture, coaching and playing style? 

Moyes may have been wise to implement change to the club over time. By choosing to work alongside Ferguson’s long-standing coaching staff for his first year at least, Moyes could have been fully focused on distancing himself, establishing a rapport and mutual respect with the players, staff and fans, safe in the knowledge that for his staff the consistency, role clarity and respect on the training ground they are so used to still existed. He could have taken this time to embed himself into the culture at Manchester United and to develop a true understanding of the club as a team as a multi-faceted business leader. Then, and only then could he make an informed and confident decision about the staff who should stay, who should go and who should be brought in.

So how can psychology make sense of the ten months of the reign of David Moyes, the recruitment process, the dimensions of power in leadership and how social psychology can explain some of the behind the scenes smoke and mirrors at Manchester United? Perhaps Moyes was not the wrong person for the job, though he was perhaps set up to fail by the previous manager for the reason given here. Utilising the dimensions of power and leadership, Moyes and his staff chose the path of befriending the playing squad, rather than adapting to the prevailing culture that Ferguson took so long to develop with huge success. Moyes could have taken time to develop the power of the role, but chose the new broom approach with the consequences we all have become aware of recently.

Leadership isn’t easy and can be a lonely business – but without engaged followers, leaders have nothing to lead. In this case, Moyes marched to the wrong beat or was out of step with the prevailing organisational culture. Perhaps Moyes is destined for “middle management” managing the process he did do well at Everton; without the huge expectation and business nous necessary of a blue chip organisation such as Manchester United. We will see what his strategic leadership qualities are in the coming months & years. The way leaders utilise an adaptive and agile sense of the prevailing cultures and what it takes to succeed in any organisation may have helped David Moyes make a better fist of the Manchester United job. My best wishes to Mr Moyes and good luck.


Winter, D.G. (1991) The Motivational Model of Leadership: Predicting Long-term Sucsess from TAT Measures of Power Motivation and Responsibility

Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations, 7(2), 117-140.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. The social psychology of intergroup relations?, 33, 47.

Its not me……………its you! Resolving Conflict at Work

imagesConflict in the workplace (or anywhere else for that matter) can create significant inter & intra-personal stress, anxiety and any number of negative psychological affects for people. Some see conflict as something to be avoided at all costs just to maintain an equilibrium and and perhaps give a manager an easy life……………as if!  However isn’t conflict a fact of life when groups of people come together with different goals and aspirations? Does conflict have to always be a negative thing? Perhaps the perception conflict and how the problem is ultimately resolved in a non-judgemental task focussed way, may shed some light on how to help produce more positive outcomes and culture change.

Clearly, dysfunctional conflict is a bad thing. No good can come from it. Dysfunctional conflict damages relationships, damages self esteem, can result in verbal threats or even violence. This dysfunctional conflict serves no purpose and is often a way to just vent any number of emotions such as anger and frustration. We all have levels of what we consider to be an acceptable degree  of conflict, though if we are in a relationship or a workplace where there is ‘too much’ conflict we might consider leaving. Thus potentially creating  more stress and a disruption to life and for those around you.

Looking on the bright side however, conflict that is percieved as being functional can create an environment to achieve organisational change, create a learning environment as we reflect on our own behaviour and our decisions as they are challenged constructively by groups, co-workers or partners. One way to begin to look at functional conflict is the process of Constructive Controversy. Constructive Controversy is a powerful technique for managing and resolving conflict. Its objective is to test a proposed solution by subjecting it to a clash of ideas and an active task focussed problem solving process. Thus either showing the idea to be either wrong, you can prove it, or improve on it. Using Constructive Controversy techniques, your confidence in the solution chosen and subsequent decision making improves as you reach a better understanding of all the factors involved.

Constructive Controversy is a positive and productive problem-solving approach developed primarily by David Johnson a Social Psychologist. Johnson began a program of teaching elementary, secondary, and university students to be “peacemakers” in the sense of knowing how to engage in negotiations and the instigate mediation of peer conflicts. This model is well researched and evidenced based, and it’s recognised as one of the leading models for developing robust and creative solutions to problems and managing conflict. According to David Johnson the technique draws on five key assumptions:

  1. We tend to adopt an initial perspective of the problem based on our personal experiences and perceptions.
  2. The process of persuading others to agree with us strengthens our belief that we are right.
  3. When confronted with competing viewpoints, we begin to self-doubt our rationale.
  4. This doubt causes us to seek more information and build a better perspective, because we want to be confident with our choice.
  5. This search for a fuller perspective leads to better overall decision making.

To put these assumptions into a structured problem solving process the following steps may help you to manage a situation in a team with confidence.

  1. Brainstorm ideas about the issue and the problem at hand. (please observe agreed boundaries of brainstorming as we are trying to judge the best solution to the problem not attack other people)
  2. Form teams to look at all the different alternatives that have been generated
  3. Each team engage in Constructive Controversy i.e. teams present their ideas to begin convincing the wider group that their choice is the most productive
  4. The other teams then have to opportunity to argue constructively the pros and cons of the suggestions with the emphasis upon critical and logical thought process.
  5. Following the process of presenting and counter presenting of the problem solving choices, teams are asked to argue for another solutions they originally argued against.
  6. A decision is then made from the most convincing evidenced based solution.

Constructive Controversy then is a very effective method for developing agreed and negotiated solutions to problems. However, this model has to be used within the right setting and to ensure that participants have the skills to manage this type of structured functional conflict.

The key here is to incorporate and understand different perspectives in a non-judgemental manner to gain a better understanding of the problem as a whole. As a result the solution arrived at is likely to be improved and built upon time after time.  Constructive Controversy can a time-consuming & a highly structured process. However, when used to tackle significant problems and conflict in the work place in an open minded and functional way, with appropriate rules and boundaries the benefits of using constructive controversy, the method can lead to open and positive problem solving in any organisation or in your personal life. Contact me for more information and support managing conflict for positive and productive solutions.