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Core sensitivities: How Narcissists control the training in the VET sector in Australia

It’s not about money, but your ego can write cheques your body can’t cash.

Before we get into the how, and core sensitivities let’s look at why training in the VET sector is controlled. It is meant to be quality control at the highest level of training in the country. But if the “standard” if is lower than the performance benchmarks employers want, that training is not the highest quality of training the business is paying for. Why would businesses pay extra for that?

We are not talking about Sinek’s golden circle model “why”. If you are a trainer, you may be familiar with the 4MAT instructional design model that also starts with why, and this why is a determining factor if a course is fit for the purpose a customer expects.

Brief 4MAT overview: when you know “why” you decide “what” to do, are motivated to learn “how” to do it, then you can plan “what if” scenarios to adapt what you have learned to make it relevant to your own situation.

It also maps to the 5-step buyer behavior process that has been around for about 50 years. And if you are wondering if we are trying to sell you something that sounds to good to be true… don’t worry… you won’t be disappointed. So, if that is what you are after, just skip to the end.

Now that the narcissists have left the room, lets talk about them, and what they do. Again, don’t worry, they don’t actually care what I think. They are likely thinking “this guy is not a psychologist, so why should I listen to him diagnose me…” etc. etc. etc. and are off to look for all the grammatical errors in this blog.

Still here?

If you are still here you will read that I am not offering to diagnose you. If that’s what you are really looking for you can talk to your GP who can put you on a mental health plan to do that. Nor do I care if you are a narcissist or not. Nor am I saying it is a negative to be a narcissist. It would seem likely to me is you are still reading you have not had your core sensitivities triggered yet. There are many benefits to acting like a narcissist, and millions of people pay big money each year to learn how to do it. So we are not going to judge them for doing that either.

The absence of an illness doesn’t mean you are healthy. So, if you are thinking “… but I know I’m not a narcissist!” … do you? If the cap fits as “they” say. Even though only a small percentage of the population are actually a Narcissist, narcissism ingrained into all humans’ nature … to make sure we are all on the same page, lets start with what narcissism is…

Does this sound like a sensitive you?

Please welcome back the narcissist into the room. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest person in the world (and yes, I know you know who he is!), says “your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. Normally a Narcissist does not care what you think about them, however, Jeff says you should these days, so they are conditioned to at least feign interest.

Let’s now discuss “what” people may be saying about you when you are not in the room.

“The narcissistic disorder of self is characterised by an investment in the self that manifests as grandiosity, the seeking of recognition and praise, and a focus on maintaining control and perfection (Masterson, 1981).”

When you look at that, it is basically the job description of any “manager”. Everyone is a good manager, until there is a problem, just like anyone can be a good parent until there’s a problem. However “narcissism” only becomes a problem, for you, when a person is triggered into action that prevent you from doing what you want to do. The micro-manager, the perfectionist that never seems to finish anything, or it could be the insecure team member constantly interrupting asking “how’m I doin’”.

Why is Narcissists control the training a problem?

A narcissist will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, so if that is what the business wants, how is that a bad thing?

It is not a problem that the narcissists are controlling the VET sector, that is what they are biologically wired to do. Without a leader to set direction, “why” you have to do it, what’s the purpose, the manager doesn’t know what to do. The Narcissist in the room will be the first to be triggered into action. They can fake it till they make it (change) happen, so they have nothing to lose.

While Narcissists may be suitable managers, their flaws as a leader center around a mindset that leadership is not about you. If criticized as a leader, the narcissist is triggered into actions centred around the defensive mindset of “To need another is a sign of weakness; if there is disagreement, then I am wrong, or the other is wrong. Need is not safe; difference is not safe” … all considered qualities of a poor leader in modern-day society

So, what’s your problem?

Who says there is problem? Well, everyone in the VET sector I guess, but that maybe the problem.

Leaders focus on the “why”, managers focus on the “what”, the team focuses on “how”, and people that want to improve focus on “what if’. If everyone does the job they want to do, there is no problem.

No one can agree on a solution, even if they can define the problem. So if you can’t decide on a solution, that is just asking “would the narcissist in the room please stand up”. Before you can look around the moment’s silence is broken by “look, I’m not an expert, but…”, so for the experts in the room that’s a problem.

Anyone else know what this guy is feeling?

Why didn’t the experts speak up?

Well, that would be a bit narcissistic, wouldn’t it? Or it could narcissism is just one disorder and there are others that fear acting like a narcissist.

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse, which is a sustained, long term, a relentless attack that changes a person’s perception of reality to create a “new normal” in the gas lighter’s own image. It turns the gaslighter into kryptonite for superman, and even the most experienced team member will no longer have the confidence to speak up.

I see training managers use this tactic regularly to get compliance with RTO policies, and it is a tactic that is not exclusively used by Narcissist (or people acting like one). It is also common practice for RTO consultants to teach RTOs how to Gaslight competent trainers, and use the “you know it works…” line because it is what the consultant did to get your business (without actually admitting it).

There are 2 other interrelated disorders of self Masterton identified that if triggered can do more damage to the VET sector.

Why is this so? People in society in general are more vigilant to sign of narcissistic abuse, but their guard is usually still down in regard to picking up cues of abuse and manipulation from the other 2 disorders.

The link between the three personality disorders is explained by the Core Sensitivities.

What are Core Sensitivities?

“The core sensitivities are defined around three main developmental concerns, emerging from the caregiver’s own early interactions.

I first discover the core sensitivities when a few years ago I consulted the co-author of the article below, Joe Coyne, as Professional Development for the core Diploma of Leadership and management unit, develop and use emotional intelligence. The discussion I had was before the article was written, and the discussion with Joe was in his capacity as a supervisor of the Circle of Security (COS) international.

The outcome of the meeting was that it was confirmed that the COS 8-week free course covered the knowledge and performance evidence requirements for the unit. We also discussed a possible management application of the COS IP to assess the suitability of learners for training, mentoring, and coaching programs to improve performance based on individual learner needs.

Three main developmental concerns of core sensitivities

  • “difficulty with autonomy and separation (separation sensitivity) – Intense pressure to be rewarded for neediness, helplessness and incompetence. Defence strategy includes Clinging; Dependency; Helplessness; Compliance; Hyperactivation of need.” In business, I’ve seen this core sensitivity manifests as cash-flow and profitability issues and often use the phrase “I just want to help people” to justify why they do what they do. It seems to be the Achilles heel of the early majority under the diffusion of innovation.
  • “difficulty with intimacy (esteem sensitivity) – Intense pressure to be acknowledged for specialness, performance, perceived entitlement. Grandiosity; Entitlement; Performance and/or Perfection; Seeking and demanding agreement.” In business, they tend to use language like “I’m sure I can help you”, and “if you just did what I say you’d be happy (too)”. However, tend to have early adopter products that work well for them but are a poor fit and not easily adapted for the customer’s needs.
  • difficulty with self-integrity (safety sensitivity) – Intense pressure for safety and non-intrusiveness. Self-sufficiency; partial attachment; fantasy as safe relationship; withdrawal. They tend to be the sceptics in business, generally in the late majority personality type. Safety sensitive tends to want an oversupply of information to make a decision. This tends to lead to a complicated inflexible poor strategy to achieve goals and burnout when things don’t go as planned. Their language may include projecting fears like “I know what I’m doing”, or “I’m not stupid!!!”, and get offended when others try to help. So it would appear separation sensitivity would be seen as the “enemy”, and safety-sensitive are usually quick to provide a “legal” argument to justify what the “must” do as if there are no other options.

Solutions for the sensitivities in the VET Sector

Here are some key quotes from the Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia article by Brooke E. Poulsen, DClinPsych, and Joseph J. Coyne, MClinPsych, School of Psychology and Counselling, from Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland.

“Masterson’s disorders of self-represent the chronic use of particular defensive strategies, where they have become a stable and fundamental part of the individual’s personality structure.

“Attachment theory has increasingly underpinned therapeutic interventions for both adults and families. An example emerging over the last decade is the Circle of Security Intervention that is used to promote secure attachment relationships between children and their caregivers. Drawing on theory and research in attachment theory, the program also incorporates research and theory on state of mind and object relations theory (e.g. Masterson, 1985).

“Initial data suggest that the intervention has positive outcomes, leading to shifts in attachment security in young children, from insecure to secure, and disorganised to organised attachment states of mind (Hoffman, Marvin, Cooper & Powell, 2006).

And this last paragraph is where I think the solution for the VET sector reforms with come from, by managing more effectively the core sensitivities of people working for RTO. While the VET sector is more than just RTOs, that is the part of the formal system that the Government has the most controlling interest in. If they want reform, they will also want a return on their investment for funding.

What ship are you on?

  1. The insecure disorganized people tend to work for RTOs that accept this behaviour and stay on the sinking #taetanic amidst cries that ASQA is too harsh and no one knows what they want. They feel that if they can add new courses outside their area of expertise, they can get more students and keep their jobs as a trainer (or a service provider).  Without consideration that the reason everyone else in the VET sector treats them like a child because they are acting like one (see the last section).
  2. Whereas the secure, organised RTOs, and they do exist, don’t have an issue with compliance. And their core sensitivities are not triggered easily, so they usually don’t participate in online discussions. Nor do they have an issue with trainers helping to implement BSB7.0 as they have maintained links to the industry they came from. They also would likely be employed in their industry of choice if for some reason they lost their job as a trainer.

If you think you are on ship #2, but your RTO is buying in resources for the new BSB units an saying they are getting the assessment tools externally validated, you are on ship #1. Start looking for a life raft, and remember that the Taetanic only has enough rafts for less than half of the passengers (let alone the crew).

Whose side are you sensitive to?

If you have a secure and organised attachment state of mind, you don’t have to pick one. You have already invested in yourself, probably did your TAE upgrade well before you had to, and you can now be as grandiose as you like without seeming Narcissistic. And getting recognition and praise from no shortage of work offers.

That’s how Narcissists are controlling the VET sector in Australia, by setting the example of how you can adapt to change.

If you need help, there are options, and you don’t have to go back and talk to the people that want to keep you not yet competent.

 There is a life raft waiting for you below. All you have to do is sign up.

Your ship may not sink, but are you willing to bet your livelihood on that?

Signup to get free Trainer PD and other help to keep you doing what you love.

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