We all know the person. They sit in meetings or at the back of class and stream snide or rude comments at the others who are speaking. Eye-rolling, hand gestures, and probably texts. I have to admit, there were times when I was one of them. The point is, whether you’re one of them, or just otherwise not engaged in the group’s purpose — your time is draining out along with your energy and your spirit.
Positive psychology uses the mnemonic PERMA to remind us of all the ways that we can flourish in life by being positive. These benefits including more happiness, greater resilience, stronger immune systems, less depression, and experiencing deeper meaning. The letters stand for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. In this piece, we focus on the E — engaged.
Asking yourself, am I fully engaged? can help you decide how to best spend your precious time. To make the most of your opportunities, use the 5P Engagement Scale to assess your engagement level. When you’ve mastered this approach for yourself, you may up-facilitate others to more deeply engage, too.
Are You Engaged in What You Do?
We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile. — Earl Nightingale
The quote above kicked-off the idea to create a scale I could remember that would help me categorize myself and others. The result?
The 5P Engagement Scale
Engagement ranges from being totally and negatively engaged up to totally and positively involved at any moment. A scale of 1-5 is not helpful. I needed something that helped me see where I’m or another ranks.
A more useful scale describes the levels using a progression of roles, from negative to positive:
At any time, you may play one of these roles. Sometimes we choose the role, but often, we fall into it out of habit or to get along with someone else.
If you feel angry or spiteful and are acting out (yes, that child psychology term so applicable to adults), you’re in a poisoner state; your fight response can make it hard to break out of this stage; breathe, use a pre-planned rescue story of who you want to be; step out of the room if nothing else is working; if you find yourself repeatedly here, ask a friend to help you notice and change levels or read up on positivity.
If you feel trapped, resentful, have a frown on your face, or won’t make eye contact, but otherwise, not leading a rebellion, you are in a prisoner state; you are less engaged in the situation, but also less negatively engaged than a poisoner, so you could simply catch yourself and decide to be more positive; if not, use that pre-planned story or image you tell yourself about how you want to be, or take a few moments to write down the benefits of being a participant or pilot; consider the consequences of leaving balanced against the damage done by staying; either way, do something better with your time.
If you feel bored, listless, or sleepy, you’re in a passenger state; remind yourself of the positive benefits of being a participant or pilot, and then make a 1-3 item list in your mind or on paper of the things you could do to be more engaged, then do one of them; if you can’t think of anything, then set a goal in the next 5 minutes to discover something positive to do; you have the option of staying and getting more out of the experience or (perhaps) leaving to do something that is more meaningful to you
If you’re engaged, but distractible, or others are not with you, you have the opportunity to be enthusiastically engaged by helping others get there; serving others creates even more value in any activity; set a goal to nudge others forward; if it helps, you can simply write down your distractions and promise you’ll come back to them later, and most often they will agree to be quiet for awhile.
Pilot (or angel)
If you’re fully engaged, inspiring others, and sailing high, you may not notice it, but it’s worth assessing, now or later, why and/or how you did get to that state as you want to cultivate it as often as possible. Ink it, don’t just think it.
How to Level-up on the 5P Scale
There are two ways to use the scale: on yourself or to help others.
Level Yourself Up
Take a moment to reflect on how you’d feel in each of the stages. Reflect on how playing that role might end. Then, think about what you could do about it. I recommend writing-to-think through each level.
When you’re trapped in a social situation, for example, what could you do to change your level, to get more out of the situation? Leaving is always an option. Balance leaving against the opportunity and the cost.
You can be consistently engaged as a participant and often as a pilot. Make your awareness a habit of mind. Take these steps:
- Use the scale to keep track of your engagement in meetings, classes, and family events. Sharpen your awareness of the levels, and write down the triggers that put you in that level — what emotions did you feel and what (and whose) behaviors encouraged you?
- Value your time and relationships; your time is precious and you won’t get it back; relationships are similar, if not slightly easier than impossible, to recover; consider that every minute is an opportunity for more love, learning, accomplishment, and service to others
- Note your feelings and behaviors and stop yourself for long enough to do something (even if you’re being a pilot)
Level Others Up
If you’re a teacher or other facilitator, you may find the 5p engagement scale helpful to describe ahead of time with your group; feel free to use this post in your work. People want to get the most of their time, but don’t always know how. Teach them and enlist them in their own learning to engage. Give them a cord to pull that will allow a conversation about making the experience more meaningful.
In cases where you don’t have time, you need to set some rules at the beginning of the experience and ask for buy-in to keep things engaging. If prisoners or poisoners show up, you have to protect the rest of the group by intervening. Start by being positive with the person. Ask for engagement from him or her. If that fails, ask a question to find out what would help. But be subtle. The direct approach can worsen the feelings. If you can’t get cooperation, it’s ok to ask them to leave. You have the power, so don’t loose control.
Use peer pressure up front. Give the group some choices and ask what they prefer. You’re not really giving up your power, but increasing it by gaining engagement.
Be willing to step back. If you have one or two pilots, use them. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Ask them to lead part of the activity, but also be clear in the expectation.
You don’t have to be in a formal facilitator role to use these techniques.
When you are a pilot or participant, you can help others around you level up. Notice their states, compliment their insights, ask them questions, and respond to their excitement. Encouragement works wonders. You’ll find yourself more engaged, too.
If all else fails during an experience, consider whether the person is reachable and ask if they’d like some feedback. Give an honest assessment, not an evaluation. Tell them how much you missed their contributions and experiences. Appeal to their better nature and remember it’s often run-away emotions, not bad intent, that creates the negative behavior.
Like many skills in this blog, you can learn to engage better through practice, self-assessment, and reflection. Ask yourself where you spend the most time. If you find yourself engaged in negativity, prioritize getting out of it. You need to problem solve, and may need help from a mentor or loved one. You owe it to yourself and everyone around you.
To learn more about scales, visit How to Scale the Mountain of Personal Quality.
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I adapted a three-level scale to the five given here. It had passenger, prisoner, and player. I needed the top and bottom ends to be about full engagement, with a neutral middle. And player? Seriously?