Princess Stories – A Key to Conflict Resolution

When we are engaged in conflict with someone else, it is often difficult to step out of it to gain perspective.  It is hard to pinpoint the exact problem, usually because we are absolutely convinced the problem is the other person, although we may begrudgingly admit that we might be contributing to the problem.

The answers to conflict resolution can be pretty easy.  Opening up to them is the hard part.  They are contained in the stories we tell.  If we can allow ourselves to listen to our own stories with a more discerning ear, we may be able to penetrate to the heart of the conflict more easily.

Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith, in their book Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict, present a framework I find useful and powerful in explaining the underlying dynamics of conflict and my clients find it engaging. It is a way to explore worldview and experience the transformative power of worldview awareness.  It is based on the notion that we tell stories in a certain way when we are in conflict. The framework looks like this:

Princess triangle_000001

Princess Story Triangle

If you think of fairy tales of old ( since the very nature of our fairytale storytelling is now, thankfully, changing), there is usually a Princess or damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the Prince from the Dragon, wicked step-mother or other perpetrator.  The Princess is pure and beautiful and always the victim of circumstance or of the jealous or evil intentions of someone who has some kind of influence or power over her life.  She never rescues herself.  The dragon is evil and hateful and has it out for the Princess. The Prince is handsome and gallant and always arrives to rectify the situation.  (It is important to remember these are archetypal roles that we all assume so even though the Princess is referred to as “she” it could just as easily and often be a “he” in the role.)

We often tell our conflict stories from the perspective of the Princess.  In our stories about conflict we have with another person we are the victim.  Somebody has done something to us.  Whatever we perceive they have done, we use to justify our own actions or behaviour in the conflict especially when we find ourselves “acting out of character”.  When we act out of reaction, anger, frustration, we don’t feel good about ourselves or how we treated someone else.  If we can rationalize that we have been provoked into our reaction, that at least offers an explanation for our own behaviour that we can live with, that supports our worldview.  We become identified with our position and are unwilling to acknowledge what we may have done to contribute to the situation. The less heard we feel, the more entrenched we become in our position. Our attempts to resolve the conflict feel like giving in.

We want other people to understand our reaction in light of the provocation so we paint the person we are in conflict with as the “dragon”.  Then, it’s as if we had no choice because the dragon forced us into it.  While we see ourselves as “acting out of character” we see the dragon in our story as very much acting within character for them, more so if the conflict has gone on for awhile or is particularly entrenched.

One of the reasons we tell our conflict stories to others is that we are looking for our knight in shining armour to come along and rescue us.  Sometimes the rescue is simply in being validated or acknowledged for our own actions.  “The dragon did such a terrible thing, no wonder you reacted the way you did.”  Other times we are looking for someone to do something for us, to intervene or to make the dragon disappear.

In promoting our princess stories to whoever will listen, we are looking for sympathy. If we don’t get it, we go deeper into our story, give more detail, repeat ourselves. The repetition makes the story more and more real and we become more entwined with it. We drive ourselves deeper into the princess role because surely that will generate the sympathy we think we need. In exchange for the sympathy we seek, we trade in whatever power we may have to rectify our situation.  In the victim role, we are helpless to defend ourselves, change our situation or learn from the conflict.

When we finally realize that the knight in shining armour is us, we stop looking for the prince.  When we recognize that the dragon may not be purely evil but also “acting out of character”, we can begin to relinquish the princess role and truly learn from our plight.  One key to doing this is to tell our story from the perspective of our dragon, to become curious about how they are seeing the world.  The dragon in our story has their own version, their own worldview, of the conflict story.  What are the odds that they actually paint themselves as the dragon?  About the same as us painting ourselves as the dragon in our own story. Although sometimes that dragon is an internal dragon.

dragonform

As we tell the story from their perspective, we put ourselves in their shoes.  It enables us to see them in a new light.  Maybe they were reacting to something we said or did.  Perhaps they feel just as helpless in the escalation of this conflict as we feel. Maybe new awareness of their challenges and difficulties come to light that help us soften our own story, make us more curious and more generous, expanding the space for generative conversation to emerge.

Another benefit of telling the story from the perspective of the dragon is that it just might enable us to admit the pieces of our own princess story that we have omitted – the pieces that might have contributed to the dragon’s response, behaviour or actions.  If we let down our guard only momentarily, instead of signaling to the dragon an opportunity to attack as we fear it will, it just might signal an opening to disarm the conflict.

In order to do this, we must give up our need to be right and open ourselves up to alternative explanations, stories, scenarios or worldviews.  It is possible to have more than one right answer although when we feel absolutely that we are right it is a challenge to believe this.

Our princess story contains our truth. It is not always factual truth but it is emotional truth.  It also contains omissions.  The dragon’s story contains truth and omissions too.  It is in bringing the truths and the omissions together that an alternative story emerges, one that often contains the framework or foundation for resolution in an expanded truth.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our experience. What conflict could you shift the shape of if you found a different way to tell the story, if you become curious about the situation, your reaction, the other person, if you became more gracious and generous in responding to them – even if it is a stretch as you begin. Some stretches end up being worth it.

Dragon and Princess

The Chaordic Path: The Dynamic Inter-relationship between Chaos and Order

One of the fundamental patterns used in Art of Hosting offerings – which for many of us includes our consulting practices or as practitioners in-house work environments – is the Chaordic Field or Chaordic Path. Like many of the patterns offered in AoH it is a helpful way to understand what is happening in the world, in our communities and organizations and within each of us individually. It gives us a lens through which to understand the increasing complexity in our environments and a pattern to work with to evoke collective learning and the real-time innovation necessary in a world and in times that are neither predictable nor stable and call for more flexibility as “more of the same” solutions are not addressing the challenges.

Originating with the work of Dee Hock in the development and evolution of Visa to an international network of financial institutions offering “one” credit card, Hock identified the patterns and forces of chaos, order and control that were at play in an animated process that came to the brink of failure at many points along the way.  It was clearly experienced that the greatest breakthroughs and emergent ideas came at the intersection of chaos and order, in a system that was more commonly situated in the realm of control.

Chaordic Path

Just when things seem the craziest is often when new ideas spark, bridges are built, aha’s become apparent and a way out of chaos naturally appears.  These patterns are evident in living systems, where a natural order exists, life cycles are vibrant and the greatest innovations happen at the edges.  While not static, living systems can be stable – or be in order – for long periods of time until disruption comes in some form of chaos – destructive weather patterns or fires – destabilizing the system for a time before new order emerges.

While the chaordic path is the story of our natural world – form arising out of nonlinear, complex, diverse systems – it can also be the story of how our teams, organizations and communities pay attention to human dynamics and function.   In our organizational systems, there is a tendency to want to meet chaos with control, to try to fix the situation or provide a ready made solution.  Many of us as leaders and managers have been educated, trained and promoted to do just this. But increasing complexity means control, particularly as it relates to the human dynamics of a situation, does not often enough lead to a resolution of the problem and may, in fact, exacerbate the situation. Solutions and ways forward are more likely to arise out of accessing the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can, at times, be a “messy” process until new insight and clarity emerges.

When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working – cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them – new ways of leading and operating need to be learned and utilized to shift the shape of our experience with intentionality. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted, that wise leaders invite others to share their collective and diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategy and decide a way forward.

It is in the phase of not knowing, before we reach new clarity, that the temptation to rush for certainty or grab for control is strongest. We are all called to walk this path with open minds and some confidence if we want to reach something wholly new.

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates — where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur.  To lead teams, organizations and communities on the chaordic path, leaders need “chaordic confidence,” to have the courage to stay in the dance of order and chaos long enough to support generative emergence that allows new, collective intelligence and wiser action to occur.

This can be a beautifully dynamic process.  To be in it with awareness and intentionality also means to take care of value judgments or beliefs often brought that one of these modes of being or operating – chaos, order or control – is  better or more valuable than the others. There is a place, a role and a time for each. A subsequent post will explore the upside and downside of each, recognizing that a flow and dynamic movement between each of these modes of being may be the leadership discernment needed for long term success.

Virtual Circle Check-In as an Entry Way to Practice

In the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Training where Jerry Nagel and I are part of the hosting team, after we experience circle practice, usually as a form of check-in on our first day, we offer a little teach on check-in and check-out practices as a routine part of a meeting structure and flow, as a way to help people arrive into the purpose of the meeting and to wrap up the meeting before everyone departs.  We share how we, like many of our colleagues, also do this with our calls or virtual meetings as we are part of many hosting teams where members are drawn from many locations.

A participant at a November 2013 training in Grand Rapids shared her experience with how using circle with a virtual work group shifted the shape of their experience.

hands shaking through computers

“I work pretty much 100% via phone. Today, I was bringing a group together after a few weeks unconnected during the holidays. Wondering how to loop everyone back into the groove, I recalled  one of the things we learned at AoH in Grand Rapids, about how a “circle” acts as a form of check in and grounding.  I explained briefly what we did at our AoH workshop with the circle and a structure. I asked them, if we actually had a physical circle, what structure would they place in it and what about it would they like to share.

“Wow!  It was amazing how their “structure” actually related to the previously stated goals of the group and their own stated goals.  This set the course for the rest of the meeting. What could easily have been a painful meeting listening to how busy everyone has been, blah, blah, blah – turned into an awesome meeting. Picking their “structure” back up set action in place for our next meeting too.

“Just wanted to let you know this stuff actually works – if we use it;)”

Love that last line – this stuff actually works – if we use it! Where is your entry point? How do you invite people so they feel invited, thoughtful about it and engaged?

WISE Women Using the Chaordic Stepping Stones

We love to invite the stories of how people use what they learn after attending an Art of Hosting gathering.  It sometimes seems daunting to bring new patterns and practices alive at work, in community or at home.  And sometimes it is hard to recognize yourself in some of the stories shared by the hosting team during the gathering, especially the larger, more high profile or long term stories.  So sharing where participants are stepping into practice in large and small ways helps illuminate many different entry points into shifting the shape of teams, organizations, communities and ways of being in the world – including in the first practice of the four fold practice of hosting self. This is the first such sharing of how Art of Hosting works for new and seasoned practitioners.  Perhaps you will see yourself or your starting point through these stories.

A team from the WISE Women organization in Newfoundland attended an Art of Hosting training in Fredericton in January of 2013.  They wanted to understand how to better support some of their clients in community engagement.  When asked a couple of months later how they were incorporating what they learned, this is what they shared.

“We definitely are using the practices and methods of the Chaordic Stepping Stones for our strategic planning sessions for the WISE/WEC Custer Project on Bell Island.   Currently working on the ‘Limiting Beliefs’.   Of course the awareness is helpful and making some of the beliefs conscious and shared has been bonding.”

Chaordic Path

She further shared, “Personally, I am using the World Café format for an upcoming ‘RED HAT Society’ Event I am hosting for 100 seniors in the community.  This format is working wonderfully for sharing of health related issues and information.”  – Linda Hickey

 

Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

Celebrating My Father at 80

My dad, Hector Jourdain, turned 80 on March 29, 2013. A milestone birthday we weren’t always sure he would reach. A year ago he was barely able to move, couldn’t navigate the stairs in his house and was sleeping on a chair in his family room because of that.  He was in the hospital for a month, fighting an infection, a back so bad he couldn’t stand and the after effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer – one of the many times he’d been in hospital for extended stays for different reasons over the last few years.

When he was wheeled into a doctor’s appointment because his legs were too weak to support him, his family doctor was sure he was headed for long term care.  The doctor didn’t reckon on my dad’s will to live.  And not just to live, but to live a life that still feels like it has quality to it.

dad and the boys - Christmas 2012

His desire to live a life beyond mere existence prompted him to inquire about an advertised back belt, which prompted me to seek out more information, finding him a better belt.  He took himself to physiotherapy – despite his own scepticism and the scepticism of his doctor and he began a road to recovery that astonished his doctor.  It didn’t astonish me.  I knew once he made the decision to live life that anything was possible.  It is one of the things he teaches me – anything is possible.

There are many things I might not have imagined.  Chief among them was that my mother would experience dementia and that my dad would reverse the traditional husband/wife roles and become her dedicated care giver for so many years before he exhausted himself and her condition became so bad we had to place her in long term care.

My mom and dad in 2000

My mom and dad in 2000

Easter Saturday we celebrated this milestone birthday with friends and family at my dad’s home where he lives alone with his two cats and loads of projects that keep him occupied.  He is building a punt (row boat) in his basement – the second punt he’s built after refurbishing a canoe that had been in his family for years and had been used by his father decades before that to rescue two people off of ice flows in the St. Lawrence Seaway over a Christmas holiday.

dad and his handiwork

His garage is a workshop where he still putters away at rebuilding engines or creating parts when he feels in the mood to do so.  He has been called a “magician” when it comes to fixing engines and engine parts.  He is renowned for his skill and expertise.  The “hobbies” he has now give him choice. When he feels like it, he has things to keep him occupied, including housework, yard work and fixing meals for himself, continuing to experiment with new recipes. When he doesn’t feel like taking on one of his numerous projects, he can take it as easy as he wishes.

My dad and I have journeyed great distances together – not so much geographically, but spiritually and emotionally for sure.  I always knew we shared a strong connection.  We’ve had our issues over the years.  I know I’ve disappointed him a few times.  Despite those moments, he has always loved me unconditionally.  My friends have always been welcome in my father’s home or on his boat, when I was a child growing up and as an adult.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

In typical family dynamics, there were times as an adult he could make me feel like a chastised child or cause me to doubt or judge myself – not because he intended to but because of the activation of old patterns sparked by a word or tone.  In my own journey to myself, my journey to open heartedness and embracing the stranger in me, without working specifically on any issues I might have had with my dad, I resolved them to the point that there is no longer anything he says or does where I feel chastised or judged or even guilted.  Our relationship is mature, some give and take, a lot of love and support.  We don’t need to fill the space around us with words all the time.

My father was 45 when he underwent his first open heart surgery.  He has had more health issues than I can remember since that time, mostly in the last half dozen years or so.  And he is in pretty good health, all things considered – not the health of a young man but the reasonably good health of an 80 year old man who has experienced a lot in life.

In some ways, his turning 80 is a bit of a miracle – one I cherish.  He changed the course of my life without me knowing it until just a few years ago.  He and my mom were in the right place at the right time to find me.  It was my father’s friendship with my birth grandfather that created the opportunity for us to become a part of each other’s lives.  Without my father, my life path would have been very different.  Hard to know how different, or where I would be today – maybe somewhere close to where I am, maybe not.  Given that I’m happy with the path I’m on now that continues to unfold in the most delightful of ways, I’m grateful that our paths crossed when I was baby  and grateful to have him in my life now.

Hosting From A Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle

The subtle and the physical.  Both are all around us all the time.  The eyes see the physical and we perceive it as “real”, tangible.  It often takes more than the eyes to “see” or sense the subtle.  Since we have learned to rely on our eyes, we have lost much of our conscious connection to the subtle. Yet, it is all around and within us even as many of us are oblivious to it.  It is a natural extension of the physical phenomena or/and the physical is a natural extension of the subtle.  Yet we complicate our understanding of the subtle, ignore it, believe it inaccessible or non-existant.  Or, believe that if it does exist, only a few really gifted people can access it.

Speaking for myself, up until a few years ago, I didn’t believe those gifted people included me. Now I know we all have this “gift”.  It is a sense many of us are re-learning, remembering how to tune into.

This understanding was one of the things at the heart of the call for Hosting From a Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle, co-hosted by Narjara Thamiz, Gustavo Prudente, Jerry Nagel and me. Our time together was guided with the purpose of “joining together in a learning field to deepen  individual and collective capacity to host complexity.”  Implicit in that purpose statement is the notion that in order to host complexity well, we need to tune into, discern and understand the subtle, the energetics, the deeper patterns that are also at play.  Tapping into this in an intentional way has the potential to shift the nature of the work we are in and the results we achieve.

Openly talking about the subtle has challenged many of us in the work we do.  Too many times we have bumped up against hearing that this way of working is “woo-woo“. “Don’t want any of that “woo-woo” stuff here, we need practical results.”  Yet, when work is in flow, when it is emergent and generative, people understand that something different happened, that something impactful, useful and powerful has influenced the results, the actions flowing out of the work.  We have been trying to find ways to describe it, words and phrases that are understood and accepted in the world of business, government, non-profit.  Yet truly hosting from this deeper place is beyond words, beyond knowing and beyond not knowing.  This is the exploration that called us.  What does it means to access this place with intentionality, a place of presence.

The first time I explicitly remember hosting from a deeper place was with Jerry Nagel the first time we hosted together in Nova Scotia in 2011.  We looked beneath individual behaviours that were sparking to discover the patterns underneath, working with the subtle field.  Tapping into the deeper patterns elicited design ideas that produced a complete shift in energy, in relationship and conversation within the group.  We happened upon this through inquiry and, when we noticed the palpable shift in the space, became curious about what we had tapped into.

In my last post, I wrote about our design process, about being in the not knowing and riding the waves of emergence that kept surfacing during our time together at Hosting From a Deeper Place in Brazil.  It was all part of working with the subtle and working with the subtle went much deeper than that.

Some of the people who came, came because of an intense curiosity about the subtle, including people who have had near death experiences, experiences with shifts in consciousness, with tapping into different dimensions.  They arrived with curiosity about what we meant by the subtle, invisible forces, that which is before the naming.  Their experiences, our experiences, as diverse as the number of people who came.

The subtle field showed up, in subtle and not so subtle ways.  The beautiful property of Espaço Arco-Íris was designed for this kind of work and hosts groups in this kind of energetic field.

Despite interest from many parts of the world, the people who responded live in North and South America.  In our opening circle, Narjara remembered a dream she had in the early days of our conversation about this gathering.  She had dreamt of a condor, not knowing what it was, discovering the Hopi prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, a meeting of cultures and energies, a shift from leadership from the mind (North America) to leadership from the heart (South America).

The hosting team designed for the first day and a half.  The third day was co-created with participants.  The fourth day was open space.  We were holding the mystical and practical in our field and this too showed up in the open space.  A session on tarot cards was offered for messages related to our gathering and other events in Brazil at the moment.  Jerry offered the flow game, a mystical tool itself applied to deep and often practical questions people bring as they host themselves.

I offered a question about spirit guides, guardian angels and power animals, what do they have to do with our work?  As I write this I notice my own tension between wanting to share this story and my uncertainty about how it will be perceived by people who read it, who were not there, wanting to honour the integrity of each of us who were part of this overall experience of Hosting From a Deeper Place, not all of whom were part of the session I called.

Taking a deep breath, I am continuing to share, inviting those who continue to read to bring your curiosity and open heartedness to what you read.

My open space session turned into two as someone in the circle shared that one of the participants channels a guardian and would we welcome the guardian into our circle with any messages meant for us?

the circle in the woods

Anita Gomes joined our circle, noticing that the guardian she channels was indicating she wanted to share with our circle.  The guardian’s name is Vó Antônia or Grandma Antônia. She is a “Preta Velha”, from Umbanda, a Brazilian religion that blends African religions with Catholicism, Spiritism, and considerable indigenous lore.

Vó Antônia is an old black woman with completely different characteristics and mannerisms than Anita.  She also has a lovely manner and a beautiful sense of humour.  Those in our now expanded circle had both personal questions and broader questions for her.

There were key messages that resonated for me.  Vó Antônia shared with us there is no need to doubt the existence of the subtle.  It is as real as the physical.  There are entities, beings, guides that support each and every one of us, whether we are aware of them or not. We are on the same team, we just live in different houses.  When asked if we should be looking for signs she told us it is long past the time when we need to look for signs.  No books falling off of shelves, windows being rattled, doors opening mysteriously, smoke signals being sent.  It is far simpler than we make it out to be.

We rely on our eyes too much. They give us false information. We look for physical beauty.  We look for ways to show how special we are, how gifted we are.  Seeing through the heart allows us to see through many false pretences.   Seeing in this way we will be in our knowing.  We will be able to trust our knowing, trust ourselves.

It is not too late to save the planet.  We are already working in service of the planet.  We do not need to be afraid.  As above, so below.  As within, so without.  As in the physical, so in the subtle.

Our gathering might seem small but its impact is significant.  When we leave, we simply need to keep doing what we are doing, seeing from the heart, knowing all is intertwined.  Walking the paths that call us, living purposefully, meaningfully, intentionally.  We are weaving the web of the past and the future together for the present moment.

For me, I came home from this experience in Brazil in the space of expansiveness, remembering from time to time to take a breath and sense beyond my physical form to where the boundaries blur and my consciousness swims, intermingled with other essences of and from the subtle.  To remember that it is not two separate things – the physical and the subtle – it is all part of the same essence, each in its own way.  To remember that my spiritual journey, my life journey, my career path are not separate things that I need to think about how to combine, work and the sacred are all essences of the same thing.

It was and is, of course, different for every one who was there.  The group is still alive and sparking in beautiful, interconnected ways of story sharing.  Many are sharing how they are hosting from a deeper place and what that means to them.  Most of us are still in the discovery of what it means, how it is showing up, how the subtle and the practical are dancing together in powerful, beautiful, noticeable ways.

We are curious to see what more the story is becoming, what more we are each becoming, individually and collectively.

And, while we were told we didn’t need to look for signs, the pictures taken on our last day in our opening circle outside showing orbs of light in the sky and around each person in the circle no matter where we were standing seems a pretty good reflection of the energy field expanded by our time together in exploration of the practical and the subtle.  Tricks of light or just light?  Simple, really.  Beauty and grace.  Expansiveness from the heart.

orb of light in the treesorbs of light