10 Questions for Peter Howie - Trainer & Director.

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10 Questions for Peter Howie - Trainer & Director.

Why did you get into working with groups?

I began working with groups by accident. I was initially attending groups sessions as a way to become more expressive and less reserved. After a bit I decided that these were a good venue for me to develop myself. I attended a four day residential workshop south of Sydney, on about the second day I worked out that it was in fact a training group. I hadn't noticed, it was though intensely stimulating. The next time I went to the four day workshop I couldn't resist "having a go" and it was a real hoot! The group was very supportive, which helped as I was scared witless. From then I was hooked and continue to run groups and get training to this day.

Have you always had an interest in / talent for understanding people?

No, not really. I learned about people the hard way. Through training, practice, experimenting with loving and willing comrades and having brilliant teachers and mentors.

What was you first group like?

My first group was a hoot. I thought about it for a day and a half. I studied. I read. I walked and thought. I ran and de-stressed. I ran a session that went for about 2 hours with a group of men at a Men's Conference at Mt Samford. It nearly killed me but I loved it and the men enjoyed themselves and learned some things they considered valuable. The biggest surprise was that they had come along to have a good time and were entirely prepared to try anything I had in mind. All my fears were to do with imagining suspicious, ill tempered, gnarly minded people giving me a hard time. Somewhat like a comedian imagining a room stuffed full of only hecklers. Most groups want to be there and don’t need much encouragement to try things out.

When did you decide this was what you were going to do?

This was my last career change. After moving to Brisbane, from Sydney, I was considering getting back into IT and had enrolled at Uni to revisit my IT skills.m Instead, after 5 years of intense group work training I apprenticed myself to Elizabeth (Diz) Synnot as she did her organisational training groups, her organisational leadership development groups and organisational consulting. Slowly I began to develop confidence in seeing how groups functioned, seeing the opportunities they presented and where I could contribute. I enjoyed every minute of it. This was in the early 1990's. I kept learning, kept playing and kept saying "yes" to opportunities to work in groups. In Around 1993 I started running psychotherapy or experiential development groups on a weekly basis and getting constant supervision and mentoring. It is part of the process of developing as a group worker. Then I branched out and got funding for running groups for men with disabilities. This was great work. Most of the men attending had acquired brain injuries. After that I decided in about that this was what I was going to do.

What is it you hope to help people get?

Hmmm! I hope people will get a life that is less burdened, with greater options available to them. Ultimately, I hope people get happier as a result of working with us. And I leave happiness to each individual to define. Understanding people means a person understands themselves. But not just understanding about themselves, not just insights. Understanding enough to get their actions to follow their dreams, plans and visions for their lives and to assist other to do the same.

What’s been your biggest learning?

These are still coming. Perhaps the biggest learning is that most of this, this world, this human condition, makes sense. Human life, while a big Mystery, is not so mysterious after all. We are human beings, with our own ways of seeing and understanding the world. Each worldview dominates the actions and life a person leads. Each person is committed to their own worldview. Each person wants to be seen and to be understood without giving themselves away. Once seen and understood most people are less burdened, less isolated and more in touch with their own capacity for creativity.

How have you been able to apply this training in your professional life?

All my work involves coaching people to understand themselves, to understand others and the people-context they are in. I hope I apply this the hell out of my life both professionally and personally.  

When I am working with other people I make sure I understand them. How do I do this?

Well there are many ways to do it and the simplest one is to ask. If that doesn’t work then I make propositions and get them assessed. If that doesn’t work then I pay more attention to what the other people are paying attention to. If that doesn’t work then I get help. If that doesn’t work I give them their money back and admit defeat!

When I work with a new client I am very interested to find out how they see the world. I have no agenda to tell them my worldview. (Or more to say, I keep my desire to tell everyone about my glorious worldview, in check.) I develop my curiosity towards the other person’s way of making sense of things. Of course sometimes I am more successful than at other times. This is why I get regular group supervision, meet with colleagues and work through areas of common interest and concern, I read, write and chat with similarly interested people.

The hardest area to apply this work has been in the area of marketing. Because I am oriented to authenticity I find it hard to make unsubstantiated promises however much I might believe them. Marketing requires me to be able to make clear, precise and lucid claims. This means I have had to work out what claims I know I can make. Currently  I have determined a new definition of a leader. Here it is: A leader is someone who is committed to learning.

What sort of jobs / industry have you used these tools in?

I have used these tools with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of industries and situations. Initially I worked a lot with client service staff and front line service staff. These were staff from all over Queensland and predominantly public sector employees. I worked with rural staff that looked after distressed farmers and rural producers. I worked with bus drivers and supervisors of bus drivers. I worked with forestry workers, rural and others council workers, scientists, teachers, registrars, admin staff, engineers and others. As my capabilities and capacities grew I worked with more and more senior people. Finally I specialised with middle and senior mangers in the area of leadership, leadership development and learning. This became a niche which I still have great interest in.

What did you do prior to getting into group work?

Prior to getting into group work I had what is often termed an eclectic career which is one where a person does lots of different things. Initially I went to University from school and did a Science degree which set me up for nothing except further science study. To keep body and soul together I did house painting, which I had done during holidays from University. From there I went into small project managing in the construction game. A few years of that and then I was delivering parcels for Australia Post as a sub-contractor. That was fun.

Then I studied systems analysis and computer programming where I learned Cobol and RPGIII, which were popular at the time and which came back into vogue with the Millennium Bug furor in 1999. Then I worked in IT for a few years and enjoyed it immensely. Computers are responsive and challenging. The people side was a real eye opener – basically there wasn’t much. IT people knew all the answers and offered these to the clients using the systems.

I attended a groups training program and discovered that people are also challenging and responsive but orders of magnitude greater than computers. I considered the value of getting to know groups.

When I started my training, by accident I was working in building and property development, which I was totally unsuited for. Early in the 1990’s there was a recession and I lost my shirt so to speak. I moved to Brisbane and I took the opportunity to begin to run groups and work in groups. The first groups I ran were groups for men with disabilities. Those were great groups. I have kept learning and practicing since that time which was around 1993/1994.