Listening Another Person Into Healing

In our Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter trainings, Jerry Nagel and I almost always bring in reflective listening practices from the Compassionate Listening Project which Jerry has been a student and advocate of for a long time. (It’s also one of the places he got his amazing listening skills from.) Whenever people take part in the exercise, they report back how powerful it is to be fully listened to without interruption and how hard it is to listen without interrupting. No matter how good our listening skills are, we can always improve. And, if it is has been awhile since you have been able to tell your story uninterrupted, you might be surprised to find the power of it in your own healing journey.

Embracing the Stranger in Me

Recently, I agreed to be interviewed for an academic research project about an intense period / experience of my life. A period that is years behind me, that I can now speak about in a much more detached way than when I was in it or immediately past it. The interviewer knows some of my story. In the role of interviewer, her job was to listen, not to interact with my story.

Listen into beingAfter she left, I found myself at times weeping for no explicable reason. The tears just flowed. Beautiful, gracious, glorious release.

I am reminded of the power of just listening, not interpreting, not trying to put words in someone’s mouth. It is a witnessing that can bring another person into being. Can surface what needs to be surfaced for healing.

I don’t know what was there that was surfaced. I don’t need to know specifics. I am aware that

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Use Your Contrasting Thoughts to Strategize and Problem Solve

There are times when you need to figure something out, to come up with a response to something, someone, a situation. If that situation is distressing you because of other people or their actions, you might have noticed that there is a tendency to become fixated on one thought, one course of action that you play out over and over again in your head. You know it is not a good solution, it will not serve you, the other person or the situation and yet it is hard to move past it.

There are often many things at play that hold you in that thought pattern. Some possibilities include you might feel as if you are the injured party and there is a part of you that either wants payback or wants the other person to take responsibility – after all, why do you have to be the one who….? You can become fixated on what you really want to say except you know if you do it will only feel good for a nano-second (if that) and you will regret it for a very long time.

There is a simple strategy you can use to not get stuck in one train of thought. You start with some self-compassion. Of course these thoughts will come up. So, give yourself permission to think the thought. Almost as if you actually could, look at the thought – as if it is a thought bubble hanging in the air. Assess it quickly. Notice your reaction. Allow yourself to smile, or grimace or whatever. Then move on to the next thought. Again, almost as if you actually could, look at the thought – like it is another thought bubble hanging in the air. Assess it quickly. Notice your reaction. Allow yourself to smile, or grimace or whatever. And move onto the next thought.

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Identify contrasting thoughts

As you allow yourself to move quickly from one thought to the next you can see the contrast between thoughts. Those thoughts that you know you cannot, would not ever action show you the possibilities of what you might action. Getting stuck on a thought, feeling guilty about it, or revelling in it does not move you closer to a solution that will move you forward. But seeing all the possible thoughts arrayed around you – even in your imagination – allows you to quickly assess and choose the ones you want to focus on, the ones you want to build. And this moves you much closer to solutions that will work for you, that will enable you to keep a relationship intact in a way that serves or improve on a situation that you want to influence in a positive way.

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Find the thought that will move you forward in a positive way

The thoughts will show up anyway. The self-judgment also often shows up anyway. Acknowledge it. Offer gratitude. Know you are resourceful. Use the contrast in your thoughts to choose better strategies, better solutions and better ways forward.

Leading Through Learning and the Art of Apprenticing

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter is a self-organized global network with no head office, no staff and no central authority or decision-making body. It can be an incredibly effective way to get work done – really important work – in addition to providing structures and processes to host conversations of any size. A few colleagues have recently been writing about what it – Art of Hosting – is – again.

Self-organizing is not to be confused with no organization or structure-less, which is what confounds some people and organizations as they try to understand what it is and is not. The seeming lack of structure always evokes the questions from participants like, how do I do what you do? How do I get involved? Who do I talk to? The seeming simplicity of many of the processes, when they are hosted well, makes some people believe that very little preparation time is needed and/or that anybody can do them. And, anybody can do them. But, good preparation goes a long way to ensuring good process and succcess. So does skill, experience and expertise. One Art of Hosting training does not a practitioner make.

There is a structure of involvement or engagement for the Art of Hosting that seems hard to describe, is not always obvious but is pretty simple. It does require some initiative and determination by people who want to be more involved since there is no official leadership development track like there might be in an organization. It can be harder to involve people in existing opportunities for a variety of reasons and many who truly want to deepen their practice create their own opportunities, whether that is internal to their organization or jumping into organizing an open enrolment program and inviting stewards (a requirement for an AoH training) to come and work with them (which is how both Jerry and I began our AoH paths).

In the lightly held AoH structure, there are Stewards, Practitioners and Apprentices. Some of us are all three of these things. In Philadelphia, where Jerry Nagel and I recently co-hosted an AoH training with two new colleagues, Rich Wilson and Mike Ritzius, we heard the term “leading through learning” and it seems a beautiful way to frame some of the AoH leadership and learning structure.

We are all learning even as we lead. Some – those of us who have been around longer and have been deep in the practices on an ongoing and regular basis – have more learning and experience that we can share with others even as we continue to learn from others, including new people in the practices. Others, on balance, may have more, sometimes much more, learning to do. We are not all “equal” in knowledge, experience or depth of practice although all are invited “equally” into the field and the key question may well be, where are we, each of us, in our own learning journey.

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Rich Wilson, Jerry Nagel, Mike Ritzius

The experience Jerry and I had in Philadelphia with our two new apprentice co-hosts was exemplary – which got us thinking a bit about what makes for a good apprentice. This story is a good one to illustrate some things that work well.

A year ago Rich and Mike came to an AoH training in Minnesota that Jerry and I were co-hosting, having been introduced to Open Space through EdCamp, seeing the power and engagement of the structure and curious for more. Rich describes being persuaded to bring an idea he was pondering into the Design Process on Day 3. He says after the session he folded the paper up – really small – and promptly hid it when he got back home – the ideas generated were, in his words, “terrifying”. And yet, they worked on him and in him as the two of them went back to their jobs at the New Jersey Education Association. Mike and Rich began bringing the practices to every initiative they were involved in – with greater and lesser degrees of resistance and lots of successes.Philly Open Space

Because they embarked early on with Jerry and me in creating a call for an AoH training in their area, which largely drew people involved in education and organizing, we got to hear about those successes along the way and we offered mentoring or coaching from time to time on their processes and approaches in the work they were doing. They were willing to ask for what they needed and they kept doing their homework and kept bringing the patterns and practices to the people they were with – leading through learning.

When the four of us sat down to design our three day AoH offering, Mike and Rich jumped at the opportunity to lead and co-teach some of the patterns since they had been using them in their work and developing a good understanding of them – teaches like the Chaordic Path, the Chaordic Stepping Stones, Divergence-Emergence-Convergence, The Four Fold Practice, Theory U, Reflective Listening, Two Loops.

As they offered the teaches, what struck Jerry and me was how well they understood the basics or foundations of the patterns they offered. They explained them clearly. They made room for input from the whole team. They did not unduly embellish what they offered and thus did not get lost in the teach as we have seen apprentices do from time to time. They did not feel the need to prove themselves as “experts”, they were not competitive with each other or with us and they were clearly excited to be working with us to deepen their learning. They value the learning field and they value deepening their learning with and from Stewards on the patterns, practices and processes.

They understand that in order for something to look simple – like a good World Café, Open Space or full on Art of Hosting training – you have to be well versed in the foundational steps, before embellishment, and do the planning and design work in advance. They have had each other to co-design and co-host with and now they have “infected” more people with the desire to have better meetings and get better, more engaged results.

They exemplify leading through learning and we are already planning what’s next. So, stay tuned.

The New Year: A Time of Renewal

relax renew refreshDecember 31. 2014. The sun sets on another calendar year. For so many, a time of making resolutions for a new year. Reflecting on this practice raises an awareness of the arbitrariness of a calendar date in making resolutions. It is not a solstice time. It is not necessarily a full moon or a new moon although in different years it may be. It is not a natural time of beginnings like spring, or like the fall has become for so many.  Yet it is a time of reflection and a time of renewal.

For me, it has the added significance of New Year’s Day also being my birthday. Beginning a new year. Beginning a new birth year. I long ago stopped making resolutions that take the form of promises to myself about life changes I think I should make or goals that I should strive for that often become broken promises or unreached goals. It has softened into reflection, intention setting and renewal.

Some lovely reflection questions:

  • How have I grown in the last year?
  • What places of beauty have I walked?
  • Who has impacted me and in what ways?
  • What and who have I cherished and made time for in my journey of the last year?
  • Who has cherished me? How did I respond in return?
  • In what ways have I honoured my knowing?
  • In what ways have I honoured the practicality of work and life too?
  • What has flowed to me over the last year in large and small ways? What do I want to fuel and seed in the coming weeks and months?
  • How have I honoured my path? How has my path honoured me?

Of course, there are things that have not flowed so well and maybe choices that didn’t work out so well. But these are not things  to focus on or fuel for what is ahead. If there are things to learn from them, by all means, let’s be in the learning. Absorb it. Let it go.

Intention setting. There are a number of ways to approach intention setting.

There are already many flows of life happening and available to each of us. What if intention setting began by sensing into those flows? Feel what works. Not need to name it even while being in the experience of it. What are the flows that want to be amplified? How do we turn our intention to that?

What BIG things are in movement or on the horizon that are worth setting intention for – aspects of work like big projects, new directions, partnerships, offerings; aspects of life like relationships, travel, living. Not just living. Living large, fully, powerfully, intentionally. Which doesn’t have to be flashy or braggy or materialistically but purposefully and meaningfully. Making it count. Your actions, your life, your voice, your word.

Leaving space for all the things we cannot know or anticipate but will recognize when they show up when they are aligned with the intention we set and are fuelling. Who do you want to set intention with – life partners, work partners, friends, colleagues? Nothing that feels forced, and it won’t if it is aligned with what is sensed in the flow of life and journey.

Renewal. Renewal of self. How will I renew myself now? My energy. My spirit. My joie d’vive? Renewal of relationship. What relationships do I want to renew now and continue to renew with intentionality? This does not just apply to the lapsed relationships we all have, but applies to the ones we are in and have now that we do not want to take for granted and that we want to bring the fullness of who we are to, to invite the other to show up in the fullness of who they are.

Reflection, intention setting and renewal. Not just a once a year practice, but a frequent practice. And, with the ending of one calendar year and the beginning of the next, a lovely time for renewal.

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Authenticity and Alignment at Work – Talking It Up With Karen Kelloway

Authentic connection. We crave it. We miss it. We want to bring it. We don’t always know how and we don’t always understand our own role in bringing it, no matter where we are or what our areas of responsibility at work might be.

This is an inquiry that my good friend and colleague Karen Kelloway and I have been in for some months now. Our inquiry led to a lovely audio podcast conversation on Authenticity and Alignment at work.

Karen is a powerful executive coach. She has written a book called Nail-It which provides a fantastic framework for anyone looking at bringing more intentionality to their career (and life) choices. She and I are cooking up a few collaborative ventures. We can’t wait to see the various forms of it that will emerge in 2015.

Karen Kelloway

Karen Kelloway

In the meantime, take a listen. In 20 minutes we cover

  • How to be ‘you’ at work
  • Why ‘compartmentalizing’ doesn’t work
  • How to gain a worldview awareness

A bit of information from Karen: “This is my very first (audio) podcast:) It’s in a secure area of my website so you have to sign in to listen (which means you are then on my list to receive monthly ‘career alignment’ updates). If you do listen in, you can of course Unsubscribe from my list at a later date.”

You can access the conversation here. It is worth signing up to Karen’s list as there is lots of value there. And, you can just listen in and then unsubscribe right away if you wish.

Six Simple Guidelines for 21st Century Leaders

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. One of their questions was: what are the simplest rules you offer to the leaders you interact and work with. I have a hard time thinking of it in terms of rules, but six simple clear guidelines emerged pretty readily:

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Simple, but we are not always aware of where and when our words and actions are out of alignment. In the perspective of Worldview Awareness, this is the idea of Taking Whole or interconnectedness. In this situation, our words are interconnected (or not) with our actions. Coaching, mentoring, peer support or simply the willingness to receive reflections from others provides helpful guidance and reflections for you to learn what is out of alignment and sense into how to bring it back into alignment. But if you don’t want to know the answer, even if you ask the question, people will know it and tell you what you want to hear rather than what helps you most.
  1. Learn to listen.  Fully, completely, without judgment and without filling in the blanks  as the other person begins.  Too often we think we already know what the other person is going to say or where they are headed.  Often, we are wrong and have shut down the opportunity to find out what the other person wanted to share with us and that opportunity may never come around again. When we do not fully listen, the other person will also tune out or become frustrated and we are left with little of value, cross communication and unresolved issues. When we fully tune into another person or a group, the space is enriched, truth shows up, generative space is created, people are heard, validated and seen. A couple of favourite expressions about listening: “When we change the quality of the listening, we change the quality of the conversation.” “When we truly listen, we can listen another person into being.” It goes a long way toward creating new levels of consciousness in a team, organization or initiative.
  1. Ask good questions.  All the time. Ask more questions than the number of answers you give. A good question evokes thoughtful responses, helps you understand the situation more fully and helps others you are with find their own way. There is a craft and an art to framing questions. A simple way to begin is to imagine the responses that a question will evoke: yes/no responses, short answers or thoughtful responses that will have the person reflecting on their own rather than waiting for you to give them the answer. Also, imagine how you are asking the questions, the energy that makes it an inquiry and not an inquisition. Learning to craft good questions takes practice, and it is a practice well worth developing.
  1. Bring genuine curiosity and compassion to every conversation. Curiosity and judgment cannot exist in the same space. Defensiveness doesn’t sit very well in a curious space either. Neither does dismissiveness. When you notice yourself in a place of judging someone else or yourself, you find yourself defensive or dismissive, make a mental note to switch to curiousity. And then do it. Become curious about the other person, the situation or your own responses. And invite yourself into compassion too – for yourself as well as the other person. It creates a space for people to show up in the fullness of their humanity, a generative space where ideas and opportunities flow. It creates an environment “safe enough” for people to risk sharing ideas and sharing passion for what they care about.

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  1. Humility is an asset, more than that, a way of being. You don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. Especially not in today’s complex world. And oftentimes, leaders are removed from the points of intersection between the organization, its customers, stakeholders or the problems or issues that emerge. Twenty-first century leadership asks us to draw on the wisdom, knowledge and experience – the collective intelligence of a team, group or organization to solve problems, take risks and try new things. Finding the place of humility within you will enable you to listen more fully and access the brilliance in others in the most remarkable of ways.
  1. Set a few simple guidelines and get out of the way.  The more you try to control a situation, the more you shut down the potential for better things to happen, the more you send the message to other people you do not trust them to offer good solutions or strategies or to get the job done. Then the less they will demonstrate their own leadership, autonomy and sense of responsibility.  Trust yourself, trust your people and trust the power of the guidelines you set – preferably determined with the people most able to get results, closest to the situation.  Let people do what they are capable of and support them in the process.

The 21st Century is calling us as leaders  to build connectedness in a world of highly divergent cultures, experiences and perspectives, to learn and work together more effectively. Often, less is more.