Deep Sensing Interviews

Deep sensing interviews are a powerful tool.  In the times I’ve used them I’ve seen them help deepen relationships, deepen a field of inquiry, shift the shape of  a team, organization or system.

Deep sensing interviews are one of the tools highlighted in the Sensing phase of Theory U,  where we begin to see how we see the world.  Once we become aware of our seeing, then we have the opportunity to focus our attention in more intentional ways.

The beauty of a deep sensing interview, when it is designed well, is that it takes the interviewee on a tangential or divergent journey to where you want to go which is usually the current situation you are wanting to inquire into.  When we take the direct route to where we want to go, we often get the first off-the-top of the head responses which also often are the responses aligned with role or positon in the team, organization or system.  It can be a good, helpful reflection and, often so much more is possible.

Deep sensing interviews take people out of their heads and invite them to embody the conversation or enquiry which takes them to a different place, allowing them to see their own experience and their own questions in new light.  They also help to build trust which is advantageous if you are embarking on any initiative requiring trust, openness and alignment.

It was through the four year Collaborative Care initiative, championed by the College of Registered Nurse of NS that I was first introduced to deep sensing interviews.  Phil Cass, who was on the hosting team with us, spoke about the impact in Columbus, Ohio. In health care work there designed to shift the system, they discovered, through sensing interviews, that the people interviewed seemed to have a public voice and a private voice.  The public voice was the one that came from their role or position and provided ideas or suggestions from that official voice. It was often also the voice looking to someone else to “fix” the problems.  The private voice was the one that tapped into both despair and hope, the embodiment of the conversation, the knowing that if change is really going to happen, it is going to happen through people and relationships first, then systems and that they just might have a role to play.

Phil’s experience with deep sensing interviews inspired us to use them too, but not without some trepidation at the start.  The structure of these interviews is a bit different and they take time – a good hour and sometimes more – which feels like a lot of time to ask of someone – especially someone busy, especially someone “high up” in a system or organization, especially since it doesn’t dive right into the information you’re after but takes the time to build the field of inquiry.  Now, however, having seen the impact and quality of response, it is an intentional strategy to draw upon when, of course,  it serves the purpose of the work underway.

There are four key phases to a deep sensing interview.  They are:

  • what was your path to here
  • why here, why now
  • what is here – issues and challenges that have led to this inquiry
  • imagining the future

Path to Here

I will tell people before we begin that this interview will start in a very different place, because I want to get to know them, because I want us to see connections across a journey.  The questions will be about where they grew up, what it was like to grow up there, what they wanted to be when they grew up, what did they do after high school, how they found their way there, what excited them, what they were passionate about.  These are not diversionary questions.  They are questions that help people reconnect with themselves, their dreams, their essence.

Why Here, Why Now?

What is their job now?  How did they get to this job? What did they aspire to when they began this job? What keeps them going on the difficult days or in the challenging times?  Why here, why now?

What’s Here Now?

This series of questions is intended to get at the issues and challenges – in the team, organization or system – that sparked the inquiry or the work. Why are we here?  What is the need?  What is their role in this? What could it be?  What are the barriers? What else gets in the way?  What conversations are not happening?  What are the costs – financial, human, other? What is the trajectory if nothing changes – how much worse could it get?  What would that cost?

Imagining the Future

Imagining the future – these are the questions to inspire what’s possible.  What one conversation, that’s not happening now, that if it did happen, could change everything?  Who would be in that conversation? What/who are your systems of influence?  What are we not seeing, that if we could see it, would allow us shift the shape of our experience?  What would an ideal future look like?  What would it take to move us in that direction?

The questions floated here are not the “right” questions, or the “exact” questions.  To be powerful, the questions need to be crafted to the purpose and intention of the work. Testing them improves them.  Leading people through a deep sensing interview invites them into a mindful reflection where just the asking of the questions begins to open up new possibilities.

Sometimes in the interview it is tempting to assume someone has already answered a question.  I will often say to someone, you may have already answered this, but I’m going to ask it anyway.  It is amazing what more turns up when you ask the question – something completely different sometimes, often a new level of reflection and depth.

I have used deep sensing interviews in systems work, in organizational work and with teams – particularly teams that are experiencing challenges in the moment.  Looking for themes and patterns across the interviews is a powerful tool for building momentum in the work.  We have, at times, reflected back the “voices” with direct quotes.  At other times, especially for teams, the themes and patterns have been mind mapped.  It is extraordinary how people begin to see things they could not see before, how illuminating themes and patterns provides a base for shifting to more of what’s working.  How people begin to recognize that their themes and patterns are collective – my story is also your story.  What a surprise it is to individuals when they begin to see this.

Deep sensing interviews.  A powerful tool when well crafted and clearly intended.

Contemplating Joy

Byron Brown, in Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, asserts that compassion, strength, love and joy are essential soul qualities.  He says that ego – or our internal judge or critic – would have us believe this is not true, that we are in constant search of these qualities and that usually they are unattainable, maybe because we believe we are not worthy.

A constant search for these qualities would always have them in the future and, while we may have fleeting glimpses of them, they are elusive.  We are thus, by default, relegated to a life of strife and striving, doomed to be ruled by the internal judge or critic who, when we are not doing well admonishes us that we can do better and when we do well, first congratulates us and then says, “How long do you think you can keep that up?”.  Stepping out of this habitual, ingrained pattern in our thoughts and in our life takes conscious, intentional effort but when it happens we experience moments of freedom – even joyful freedom.

Of the essential soul qualities, it is joy I am contemplating most frequently at the moment.  Joy because, as the shape of my world has shifted, I feel joyful – often.  I wake up in the morning feeling joyful, go to bed at night feeling joyful.  I don’t necessarily feel joyful every moment of every day but at least I’ve become aware of my emotional journey and am living into it – rather than walking through it as if it was happening to someone else – or, maybe, happening to just a shadow of myself rather than the multi-coloured range which has become more available to me over the last couple of years.

Joy feels freeing and expansive.  It is fed by gratitude and appreciation. It is fed by noting it and sinking deeper into it – surrendering to it, letting it seep into all my pores, breathing it in with every breath and back out into the world so other people can also feel the expression of joy – even if they do not know what it is they are experiencing.

And as I notice joy and joyfulness in my life, in any given moment, every now and then I also notice the little voice that says — yeah, sure it’s summer now, but what about the fall?  How do you know you are actually going to keep your business busy enough to sustain yourself in the fall?  You should be worried about that now!

Hmmm, you should be worried about that now.  Sounds like the voice of my internal judge wanting to be heard – in fairness to it, it does want to keep me safe and financially sustainable, but it has a limited range of options with which to do that and they all include struggle, worry and fear – emotions I am very familiar with – as I am also familiar with how constricting and how limiting they can be, shutting down the capacity of the soul to be in full expression – which includes full manifestation that comes from a place of trust.

Most of us have learned that life is full of struggle and if you want to get ahead you have to work hard, really hard – and even then there are no guarantees.  We have learned that life is not handed to us on a silver platter, we have to work in order to live and adversity makes us stronger – you know that phrase – that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Okay, so there may be some truth in that but I declared awhile ago (a bit more than a year ago in fact) that I was welcoming ease into my life.  I’ve had varying degrees of success with that over the last year and a bit – it takes intentionality and really paying attention  in any given moment, and, for now, it seems to be more and more a characteristic of how I am living my life and what is showing up in it.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult things or moments that show up. My father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer is a good example, the uncertainty of this story as it unfolds over the next 6 months to a year and the impact on me as his main source of support in his health care.  Or my mother’s journey with dementia in a long term care ward.  Or entering yet another new phase of my life as both of my older children prepare to depart to different provinces in the fall for University.  But it does mean I entertain these stories, events in my life, with a different kind of graciousness which invites ease into how to hold them them.  And it doesn’t mean I can’t feel joy or be in a state of joyfulness as I experience the ebb and flow of my life and the ebb and flow of the lives of people I care about.

I am welcoming ease, welcoming joy and welcoming the full array of what all needs to show up in my life, saying no to worry and to fear, yes to presence and to calm.  I am aware that fear, worry, frustration are waiting in the wings some days, some moments, but I am no longer expecting them and no longer inviting them – consciously or unconsciously.  Every moment will take care of itself.  And, if I believe that, it is a far more playful and fun way to show up in the world, a world of joy and joyfulness.

If it is true that the other shoe will drop, why can’t it look and feel like the first one rather than the one we allude to: the heavy handed, heavy-hearted counterpart to joy, love, compassion and strength?

Immoral Power or Powerless Morality?

I am still basking in the glow of my ALIA Institute experience last week (my 5th one, by the way) and this morning find myself pondering concepts offered by Adam Kahane from his new book Power and Love.

Kahane said, power properly understood is nothing but the strength to bring about purpose and love is the drive to unite the separated.  Both power and love have generative and degenerative sides.  What makes power degenerative rather than generative is the absence of love and what makes love degenerative rather than generative is the absence of power.

The idea of this continuum for both power and love makes absolute sense to me.  The idea of experimenting with the blending of power and love with greater awareness has me on the edge of my seat.

I was particularly struck by the expression: immoral power and powerless morality.   We have come to believe that power corrupts, is held in the hands of a few and is the source of much that is bad in the world.  We believe that people who sit in the place of love are ineffectual and weak – other than a few prominent examples like Mother Teresa or Ghandi whom most of us have trouble identifying ourselves with.

While we  may believe the antidote to power is love, when we swing too far in that direction it often becomes inaction and ineffectual.  How many of us have avoided stepping into our power out of fear and the belief that power is bad?  How many of us have self-righteously sat in the place of love waiting for it to right all the wrongs of the world – or have just given our power away?

Kahane says it is not a choice but a paradox.  We can’t choose just one.  We need both.  We just need to find the balance between power and love.  In any given situation, what is needed of me?  If there is too much power, act with love.  If there is too much love, act with power.   When we work with this consciously and intentionally, then power and love  gradually overlap and we find our place of greatest effectiveness and greatest movement for any given situation.

Shape shifting, shape shifting,in a soulful way, leaning in, claiming it back, leaning in, growing open, shape shifting, shape shifting in a soulful way” – some of my  “blues band” lyrics that just spilled over onto this page as I consider the journey of power and love I have been traveling the last 5 years.

Shifting the Shape of Climate Change

I have been following the news  of the climate change talks in Copenhagen – mostly through friends of mine who are there – with growing interest.  I have never really been a big believer that government or our political leaders are going to lead us to the solutions to the problems we face in the world – big or small.  The culture they operate in – largely one of debate, negotiation and posturing – is very entrenched and makes it particularly difficult for them to shift.

If I only paid attention to the political conversations, it would be very disparaging indeed.  However, the conversations  that most capture my attention are around inner climate change.  This is something we can all do something about – and must do something about!

This morning on Facebook, my friend Mitch Rhodes wrote: “at a gathering in Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about being on the winning side. With our hearts and minds we must firmly believe we are on the winning side and shift to that place with conviction and dignity. It’s an inner struggle as much as an outer struggle.”

He also posted: “Many activists/protesters have anger in their hearts. A theory U-activist holds the power of love in their heart and facilitates the emergence of a just future. Gandhi comes to mind as an example.”

I have been a proponent of Theory U since I first came across it in 2005.  I say yes to being a Theory U activist, holding the power of love in my heart.  The way to shifting the shape of the world in a conscious and intentional manner is by each of us putting our stake in the ground, changing our own thoughts and behaviours and understanding that our actions make a difference in the world and to the world – no matter how big or small.  By our thoughts and actions we will attract others who are also willing to shift and by doing so, we will build a larger and larger field of resonance for the greater shift we want to enact in the world.

Will you be lost in the apparent hopelessness of this large scale global crisis or will you contribute to healing the world (and self to as it turns out) fully, with your heart, mind and soul, firmly believing you are on the winning side, shifting to that place with conviction and dignity?  I will meet you on the winning side!

Leadership Means Crossing a Threshold

The Indo-European root of the word lead and leadership (leith) means to go forth, to cross the threshold or to die.

The challenges we face in the world right now – the big world or our own smaller worlds – are pressuring us to see differently, to sharpen and deepen our attention and to cultivate  our capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate – the place of presencing in Otto Scharmer’s U Theory.

So, why is it that so many of us – leaders in our organizations and our communities – protest the investment of a few days completely away to engage in stillness or reflective practices that enable and build the capacity to see and then cross the inner threshold that shifts the shape of individuals, organizations and communities? And, why are those of us who see the need and know the benefit reluctant to specifically request or recommend this to other leaders we know?

Have we fallen into the trap of limiting beliefs – believing it is not possible to invest this time, that people won’t make the investment or commit the time or that it truly is impossible for leaders to turn off the electronics and their accessibility even for a few days?

Is this a blind spot we need to illuminate?  Is this a reflection of the inner landscape that needs to shift in order to be available to the future that is wanting to happen?

Our awareness and our consciousness determines the qualities of our actions and results.  In Theory U,  Scharmer asks: How can we renew our culture so that every human being is considered a carrier of a sacred project: the journey of becoming one’s authentic self?

As long as we aren’t ready to face and confront the inner abyss, we will stay stuck in the patterns of thinking, behaviour and action that have generated our current results, results that many agree do not support the sustainability of the earth or our current lifestyle – on an individual and collective basis.

If we could truly see the value of shifting the shape of our inner world, knowing it would allow us to cross the threshold into a more integrated way of being with a more responsive capacity to work successfully with the institutional and systemic crises we are faced with, wouldn’t even a significant amount of time – not just days but weeks or months, on an annual basis – become a worthwhile investment?

What is the renewal of hope and inspiration needed to compel us into this pursuit of the sacred project – the journey of becoming one’s authentic self – to understand that as our inner self shifts  we build the capacity, individually and collectively, to tune into, more frequently and in greater numbers, the future that wants to live through us, more becomes possible and maybe our very future depends on it.

Sensing Into and Connecting With Future Possibilities

If studying and learning from the past only serves to create more of the same problems we are experiencing, as Otto Scharmer eloquently presents in his book Theory U, and the way to a different future is by sensing into and connecting with future possibilities – a view, by the way, supported in much of Peter Block’s work around Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, what is required to shift us – individually and collectively – into living into an emergent future rather than one that flows from the past?

This question excites me. Intuitively I completely get it – even as I work to get my head around it well enough to explain it to others and to live more fully into it in my life and work.

It requires tapping into new  or underused leadership skills and capacities like activating intelligences in addition to cognitive – the intelligences that come from an open mind, open heart and open will.

Shifting the shape of leadership – internally and externally is the most significant struggle I witness in the people, teams and organizations I speak to and work with.

In Theory U,  Scharmer speaks about the social field which he describes as the totality and type of connections through which the participants of a given system (organization, community, family, social network) relate, converse, think and act.  When there is a shift in the social field, people connect with a deeper source of creativity and knowing and move beyond the patterns of the past.  When this happens it is a memorable moment.   It results in outcomes that include a heightened level of individual energy and awareness, a sustained deepening of one’s authenticity and personal presence and a clarified sense of direction as well as significant professional and personal accomplishment.  It is felt individually and collectively.  And it has been far too rare an occurrence in the past, sometimes because it feels elusive rather than something you can create or co-create with intentionality and sometimes because it almost doesn’t seem real.

What does it take to more permanently shift the social field?  Awareness.  Intentionality.  The willingness to hold the space for this to happen and emergence to occur.  Presence.  Things that now and in the past we often say we don’t have time for because the business at hand is too pressing. We need results!  Current leadership practices and organizational and social culture do not support creating the conditions to sense into and connect with future possibilities and this is the point of resistance and struggle in many organizations right now.  Individuals see it, sense it, come close to it, yearn for it and then the risk feels too great to step partially or fully into needed new leadership practices.

Scharmer says the essence of leadership is to shift the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively.  It may well be the single most important leverage point for shifting the social field in this century.  This is enormously exciting to me as I am more and more boldly emphasizing growing capacity through self-awareness, personal and, dare I say, spiritual journey – however that shows up for people.

How can we learn to better sense and connect with future possibilities that are seeking to emerge? Presencing is one means of sensing, tuning in and acting from one’s highest future potential – the future that depends on us to bring it into being.  There are many avenues to presencing, individually and collectively.  A few of them: meditation, physical exercise like running, mindfulness in any activity including walking, connecting to nature, yoga, Aikido and Shamanic practice.  Any practice that requires us to activate a different source of intelligence: the intelligence of the heart, which gives us much greater capacity to listen into the emerging field of the future.

I know this experience of listening into the emerging field of the future.  It is what happens when I follow the energy flow of intuition around work, life and the things that matter most in my life and journey.  It is what happens when I am willing to let go and let come, when I can let go of attachment (or at a minimum identify it when it shows up) and surrender completely into what is wanting to happen (instead of trying to direct it or manage it).

Taking a note from Scharmer’s work on Theory U, I am immersing myself in this study and will start by observe, observe, observe, then retreat and reflect, then act in an instant.  I am deeply curious about the future I am sensing into and connecting with and what magic will emerge for me and others as I do so.

 

The Power of Story

Story.  Story telling.  It defines us.  It defines our culture – home, work, community, other.  Through the stories we tell we point to where our focus is and we get more of what we focus on.  Much of our story telling is unconscious – we tell our stories without thinking about them or their impact – on us, on others.

What if we told every story from a place of consciousness and intentionality, understanding the power of story and how it shapes our experience, our relationships and our world?  What stories would you choose to tell with intentionality?  What stories would you stop telling?  How would some of your stories shift and change as a result?

We make sense of ourselves, our journey, our relationships, events that happen to us, the places we work, through story.  We cannot move on from our experience until we have integrated it through story and, most often we need to be witnessed – which is why we verbalize our story to others.

Story is the basis of sustaining relationship.  We cannot know another person until we know their story and often, once we do know their story, everything shifts – from interacting with “those” people to interacting with living, breathing human beings where soul, the sacred and magic can enter.

Every story counts.  Every story serves to put positive or negative energy into your interpersonal field.

Your stories define you.  Sometimes we are attached to certain stories we tell – especially the ones we tell over and over again.  Are you attached to a story in your life?  Does it serve you in being the best you can be?  In living an inspired life?  If not, how can you shift the story you carry to shape a more powerful experience and build capacity – for you and for those around you?