As a department manager at Bonprix, Thomas Körner, 52, deals routinely with many urgent situations that require fast action and efficiency. In summer, Seitenwechsel, a personality-training programme for managers organised by the Patriotischen Gesellschaft von 1765, gave Körner an opportunity to change perspectives – and go from doer to observer of situations that are difficult to alleviate. Körner noted: “I’m unused to that as I instinctively feel responsible for achieving results at work. That is not a bad attitude for an executive, but there are limits. No one can solve every single problem.” ViaOsdorf, an institution that helps emotionally handicapped adults lead an independent lifestyle, gave him an opportunity to meet people in need of short-term solutions.
Change takes time
One man there had spent 20 tough years in the rough and tumble drug scene and survived despite contracting hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. “He had lost contact with all social structures and had developed all kinds of fears,” said Körner, who experienced first-hand the long struggle to return to normal life despite succcessful therapy and medication. “Overcoming fear of contacting strangers takes great effort. That alone can be a great achievement.” Carers help clients, for instance, with so-called “bus training” taking them from one stop on their (recovery route) to the next. “Just watching that made me realize that change takes time especially when people are involved. There is a tendency in our professional lives to turn things upside down immediately to effect change. Then we wonder why it is not successful.”
Rethinking personal views
Seitenwechsel allows people to delve into eight completely different worlds such as working with homeless people, offenders or addicts. And this prompted Körner to rethink his own private and professional life. “Seeing people battling to survive makes you rethink how you cope with everyday problems.” Although not new, people can easily lose track of essentials given a frantic daily work pace. “Now, when a project is in danger of going off the rails, I imagine the worst case. Then that puts everything back in perspective. A project that fails is no longer a danger to my professional existence,” he noted.
Greater emphasis on people
Körner has also become more composed when dealing with staff. “After my stint at Seitenwechsel, I find it easier to delegate responsibility to my staff, even if there is a risk of not achieving results.” Employees should grow with their duties and learn from their mistakes. “Today, I pay more attention to people than the issue and take time to talk to them personally.” Seitenwechsel also prompted Körner to place greater emphasis on attentiveness by simply listening or joining a quiz team in a café or in eye-level contact. “ViaOsdorf’s clients are very aware of their illnesses, but that often leads to fear of contact. I was just an 'intern’ at Seitenwechsel and thus a sparring partner for coping with people from the ostensibly better world.”
Raising levels of tolerance and sensitivity
The experience at Seitenwechsel was intense and valuable, Körner stressed and has reinforced his levels of tolerance and sensitivity towards other people. But will this new awareness last? Five months on from his internship, the manager has resumed everyday life. “I recently spent a day discussing my experience at Seitenwechsel which is the norm afterwards. My experience is still very vivid. And clearly, it can remain so provided I work on it.” Körner is still in contact with ViaOsdorf and will be going to their Christmas party. “I will also be going to the next café quiz and will be on a client’s team.”
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