This is a story about how a change in work dynamic almost ruined my relationship with my childhood friend, who we will call Charlie (that’s a pseudonym and I have permission to share this story).
At the beginning of this year, I found a new casual hospitality job working mainly as a bartender and waitress. I really enjoyed working here, my co-workers were super nice, my hours were negotiable, meals were supplied, and I was being paid much better than my previous job. I felt that it was by far the best place I had ever worked. I did a lot of shifts over the following months, often working by myself during the quieter week days, and became used to my routine.
I remember telling Charlie how much I loved this job and she asked if they were looking to hire any more staff. I checked with my boss, but at that time there wasn’t any positions available. Fast forward two months or so, and my boss let me know that he was looking to hire another waitress and asked if I knew anyone who would be interested. I recalled Charlie’s interest and messaged her later that day passing on the information. They dropped by the restaurant the following day and had a chat with the boss, who then asked me if I thought they would be a good fit within the team. Of course, as their friend, I talked them up.
Charlie got the job shortly after and began working the same shifts as me. Whilst they were new, I helped train them and showed what to do and how to do it. Over a few weeks we became a great team and worked well together.
As summer came to an end and I returned to university, I asked if I could cut back my hours and just work weekends. As such, Charlie picked up my weekday shifts and started working a lot more hours than I was.
This is when everything changed.
I found that when I came to work on the weekend Charlie would ask if I could do certain tasks. As their confidence grew, the ‘asking’ began to feel more like telling. I felt as though our work dynamic had completely changed and now, Charlie was the one instructing me.
I also began to lose hours as the restaurant became less busy. Charlie, however, did not. Which I found upsetting since I was driving 1.5 hours for a 4-5 hour shift when she had been working all day, 6-7 days a week.
Even though this wasn’t their fault I couldn’t help but resent them just a little.
Eventually I made the decision that the long commute wasn’t worth the short shifts I was getting and left the restaurant. Charlie and I are still friends, but our relationship is not as strong…
So, what is narrative thinking and how could I use this story to learn more about myself?
Analysing the stories we tell about our experiences can be extremely useful in learning more about ourselves, our feelings and what we value. This is often referred to as narrative practice, narrative thinking or narrative therapy.
People give meaning to their experiences of life by taking them into a story line …. The story lines shape our life, they have very significant ramifications for our relationships and for how we live our life.Michael White (ABC, 2005)
According to psychotherapist and co-founder of narrative practice, Michael White, by revisiting situations and reviewing your actions and reactions you are able to better plan for the future. The idea of the ‘absent but implicit’ is one of the narrative practices he developed to help people identify the things they value (Campillo, 2011).
Below is a map detailing the 8 steps involved in discovering ‘the absent but implicit’.
1- The expression:
The first step is ‘the expression’, telling the story or problem. In my case, it is my story about the change in Charlie and I’s work dynamic. Expressing the situation is important, as, “Externalisation detaches the problem from the person, allowing for observation and dialogue.” (Shefer, 2018, p.99).
2- What the expression was in relation to:
To summarise my story, it was in relation to a change at work and my feelings about going from being in charge to being told what to do from my friend who I trained.
3- Identifying the response/ action:
In this situation, I didn’t express my feelings to either Charlie or any of my other co-workers as I did not want to create a fuss. Instead I bottled up my feelings and did the tasks Charlie told me to. This response is an example of emotional labour (if you’re interested read more about it here).
4- What skills/ knowledge is seen in this response? & 5- What were the intentions/purposes of the action?
My response illustrates my knowledge of diffusing workplace tensions and by ability to compromise. My intention to not escalate a situation is also evident upon reflection.
6 – What is given value to = ‘the absent but implicit’
When recounting my story I expressed that I didn’t like being told what to do by Charlie and that I felt it was unfair that they were getting more hours than me. When analysing what these feelings implied I realised the professional values of respect (particularly being treated as an equal) and fairness were important to me. I also felt like in this situation Charlie thought I didn’t know what I was doing which upset me, revealing that I took pride in being good at my job.
7 – Social and relational history of the ‘absent but implicit’:
When reflecting back on where the importance I place on these values (respect and fairness) stems from, I think of my parents and the emphasis they placed on working hard and treating everyone equally when I was growing up.
8 – Connecting actions over time and into the future:
By rethinking this story using the theory of the ‘absent but implicit’ I have learnt more about myself, my values and what’s important to me. Moving forward I’m going to try communicate more about how fairness and respect are important to me and continue to practice narrative thinking.
Change and disruption is always going to be a part of life, but by learning how to reflect on your experiences you are able to gain meaningful information about who you are and how you work.
Campillo, M 2011, ‘Keys to a subjugated story: my favourite narrative therapy questions,’ The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, vol. 1, pp. 35-39.
Carey, M, Walther, S & Russel, S, n.d. ‘The Absent but Implicit – a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, viewed 01/09/2020, <http://narrativepractices.com.au/attach/pdf/The_absent_but_implicit_-_A_map.pdf>
Malcom, L 2005, ‘Writing on the Mind the power of story telling’, ABC, 01 October 2005, viewed 01 September 2020, <https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/writing-on-the-mind–the-power-of-story-telling/3361130>
Shefer, T 2018, ‘Narrative career therapy: From the problem-saturated story to a preferred story and career path’, Australian Journal of Career Development, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 99-107.