Yearning for A Different Conversation, Yearning for a Turning Point

One of the teams I have the pleasure of being part of is an Art of Hosting team comprised of me, Jerry Nagel, Dave Ellis and Bob-e Simpson Epps. We most often have hosted open enrolment programs in the Twin Cities and we have worked together on a few other initiatives. One of the joys in working with this team is the rich and deep learning we are in with each other all the time. Our backgrounds are more varied than the colour of our skins as are our experiences.

When we check in together about hosting conversations, the topic often turns to difficult and challenging conversations, particularly around race, power and privilege, the need for which is growing more pressing every day. The essence of our many conversations is floating through my awareness as I read about the great unrest that is alive in the world today; so great it has its own pulse, its own life force and it will not stop until we turn to face it with courage, compassion and humility. All of us, not just some of us.

As Bob-e and Dave and my other African American or African Nova Scotian friends remind us regularly, this is not a problem people of colour can fix. Not alone for sure. It is not a problem of their making. And it is a complex problem that is an entangled, interconnected mess that fuels and feeds itself beyond what any one person or any one organization can do.

An article this morning in the Waging Non Violence newsletter pointed out that Policing Isn’t Working For Cops either. Kazu Haga wrote:

“This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”

 “Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation, and his soul is greatly scarred.” He said that the work of defeating segregation was for the “bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks.” He understood that to be a white supremacist, to hold hatred in your heart for so many and to inflict violence on others destroys your soul.”

<> on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown – embodying grief well beyond his own

People’s lives are at stake. As near as I understand it, this has always been the case. The unrest that is being stirred up – whether by presidential campaigns, referendum votes, violence and terrorism or the killing of unarmed black men or policemen in the line of duty is not going to go away. It will not be suppressed.

At the last AoH training in the Twin Cities, we were reminded by participants in the room, that many people – especially people of colour, people who are part of minority groups – walk in multiple worlds – the predominant culture that does not easily see its own worldview or predominance and the world of their reference groups be it their family, culture, colour of skin, way of being or lifestyle. Many who walk in multiple worlds do so with such grace that those in the dominant culture has been able to turn a blind eye to it, filter it out as if it does not exist. And they do so because it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye. It can too easily be a matter of life and death.

In that AoH training, I sat with a Hmong man in his forties who has lived in the US for most of his life. He, like at least one other person in the room, moved to the country that at the time was oppressing his own country and his culture. A large family of siblings, many did not survive. He shared with me the structure, ties and traditions of his culture which he feels bound to and in which he lives in community with his family and other community members. He shared how that world differs from the larger world he interacts with every single day. A world he has learned to navigate because he has to. He is aware of the differing worlds and differing cultures in a way that many who interact with him daily have no awareness.

A couple of months later, in Boston, sitting with a distinguished Black man in his 60’s who works with the Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, I am heartbroken as we speak about life in general and our children. He has two sons in their 20’s. I have two sons in their 20’s (and one in his early teens) and we have very different experiences of “educating” our children when they became of driving age. For me, it was to make sure they went to Driver’s Education so they knew the rules of the road and learned from someone who could teach them to drive without my or their dad’s bad habits. For him, it was teaching his sons, over and over again, what to do if/when they got stopped by the cops. Because they would sometime get stopped – as some of my friends point out – for “driving while black”. And now we know even that might not keep them safe.

There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll stop here. What I know from the conversations I am able to have with the people I know and love, the people I come into contact with in heart filled spaces, is that we are longing for a different conversation, one that leads to different results, that transforms our differences into progress by acknowledging, seeing and validating others’ perspectives and experiences as real and true. We are yearning for a turning point. We’re not quite sure what this conversation or the “space” it needs to take place in looks like yet. But it cannot involve guns or jail. It needs to invite exploration, compassion, curiosity and understanding. And we need it now. It is already late. Too late for those whose lives are lost but not forgotten. Very late for many who are deeply traumatized. How do we confront ourselves and each other in such a way that we put an end to the violence? How do we do it across whole countries?

I saw a picture today that said something like don’t be overwhelmed, be true and you have an obligation to continue the journey. I didn’t repost it because I thought, Yes, be overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. And, even in the overwhelm you can look for things to help you remember who you are – watch the birds at the birdfeeders, listen to calming music, go for a walk, pet the cats, remember your purpose and your soul’s journey – then do what you can in the places that you can. I cannot, in this moment, affect a whole nation. But I can carry on my work, I can hold spaces for the pain and overwhelm, I can NOT turn away from all that troubles me in the posts rolling across my screen. I can stay in it, with it and with my friends who more than ever need me to be in it with them, who need me to be a disturbance in the world so we can all live in it in truth, beauty and grace. It is only together that we will find the turning point for which we yearn.

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Dave Ellis, Jerry Nagel, Bob-e Simpson Epps, Kathy Jourdain

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.

Worldview Intelligence Causes You to Think Differently

In addition to describing the shifts in her thinking and actions due to Worldview Intelligence, Tracey Jones-Grant also spoke about the impact of the Art of Hosting. An example: She has been bringing the thoughtfulness and intentionality of check-ins and check-outs – a practice she learned in the AoH training – to her team meetings. At the end of one meeting where a controversial topic was introduced, she asked her team, “What resonated with you from today?” She was amazed at how many people went back to that particular topic with more questions and reflections. It surfaced something that would have impacted informal team conversations following the meeting.

Worldview Intelligence

Tracey Jones-Grant was one of the first people to experience the Worldview Intelligence program a couple of years ago in Halifax and it has changed her. “You don’t just walk away from it and go ‘done with that, what’s next?’ It seeps into your skin and blossoms as you learn how to verbalize it.” The impact grows even stronger with the passing of time and application of skills and concepts learned.

Of her experience in the program Tracey said, “You are in that first question, the next thing you know your perspective is changing and it happens in a gentle way. It causes you to think differently, which causes you to act differently.” It doesn’t necessarily happen dramatically overnight. You learn the skills and then you practice.

worldview awareness day panoramic From the first Worldview Intelligence program – Halifax, NS August 2014

Tracey is a long time diversity trainer and her experience with Worldview…

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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.

Stealth Hosting

Inevitably in an Art of Hosting training someone will ask about how to bring AoH patterns and practices to a group or organization that is not familiar with AoH and may not be ready to receive them with open arms. When we say, “That is when you use ‘stealth hosting’”, people laugh and the room lights up.

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Jerry Nagel and I, and colleagues we co-host with regularly, almost always start an AoH training with PeerSpirit circle practice. It sets the tone for the whole training. While most people love entering this space, find the opening practices thoughtful and calm, slowing the frenetic pace many are caught up in, inviting people to take a breath, to show up in the fullness of who they are, the thought of bringing it to their organization, understandably, gives them pause.

Art of Hosting uses language that is not a part of the organizational cultures many people work in, that is not familiar and can sound strange. Hosting. Harvesting. Container. Collective intelligence. Not to mention World Café, Open Space or Circle Practice. Then there is the use of a talking piece and a bell.

The use of language is purposeful and, we are really clear, it is not necessarily the use of language that allows these practices to be successful. It is the intention with which we bring them. We might never use the terminology of AoH with a client as we are not interested in promoting any particular practice as much as we are interested in meeting the needs and outcomes of the work we have identified with the client. When we talk to the client about the outcomes, we can often offer them a range of ways to get to outcomes. They can be quite receptive when they see the link to what it is they want done.

world cafe Fredericton 2013Many participants in a training see the possibility of starting to bring AoH practices using check-ins and check-outs, but the idea of naming circle practice or bringing a talking piece feels intimidating and risky – and we get that. We offer there is no need to name circle practice and you can use or not use a talking piece, but you do need a good question. We suggest not using the same question all the time as it can grow stale and in anticipation of the same question people can tune out. If you tune the question into the purpose of the meeting it is useful and can be a great place to start.

If you do use a talking piece, then using something that is either playful and fun or related to the organization is a great place to begin. This can be done in a light hearted but intentional manner. You can preface it by saying, “We are all here physically but sometimes it takes a few minutes to bring our attention to the topic at hand. Today we want to try something a little different, to begin with a check in to help us do that, to bring our full attention to the task at hand.” We might say at an AoH training that we want you to bring the fullness of your humanity. That might not work in your team, but turning our attention more fully to the task at hand might get better mileage.

If you want to use a talking piece you can introduce it quite simply. “Just to make sure we all have a moment to collect our thoughts and speak without interruption, let’s use a talking piece. When you have it, it is your turn to talk. When you don’t have it, it is your turn to listen. We’ll send it around the room until we have all had a chance to speak.” Get people’s permission and it will feel less impositional. Often we are sitting at a table rather than in a circle of chairs and there is nothing wrong with that.

If using a talking piece feels too risky or strange, you can simply say, “It would be good to hear everyone’s voice here before we begin, so let’s go around the table one at a time to answer our question.” The key is to re-enforce and honour the practice. If people continue to talk all over each other, then it can defeat the purpose. But if you can interject gently or humourously, you can bring things back on track. It is not to control what is happening, but it is to invite a flow that achieves the objectives you have for the practice. There is clear research that the sooner people are invited to speak in a meeting, the greater the likelihood they will continue to contribute. If this doesn’t happen, there is a greater chance the dominant voices will, well, dominate.

While it might seem strange at first, invariably your meeting participants will notice that the meeting has a different quality to it than when they jump right into item 1 on the agenda. Before long, people are often asking to begin with a check in. The same with a check out. It doesn’t have to be long and it can seal the meeting before everyone wanders off to the next meeting on their schedule.

For other methodologies you might want to use, you can strategize good ways to bring them into practice. From our own experience working with clients, we match outcomes to methods. If a client wants to connect people, allow them lots of opportunity to talk with each and get to common themes and patterns on a particular topic, then World Café could be a good option. If they want to engage people in ideas, get commitment to initiatives or get to issues and opportunities you don’t know exist, Open Space allows participants to create their own agenda and follow their passion to the ideas that have the most energy for them. In teams and organziations we’ve worked with that are experiencing a lot of tension and want to resolve it in a healthy way, circle is a good practice.

Purpose imageIt is not absolute what to use when, but when you are clear on the purpose you are working towards, and have an understanding of the way the methods work, selection becomes easier. In your organization, as you get clarity on outcomes, you could offer out ideas. “We’ve never tried this before but I have experienced (method) and it was a really great way to do (whatever it is you want to do).”

I once did a World Café with a window installations company with the whole staff including the installers. The purpose was to identify the biggest irritants in the work environment and causes of delays in their ability to get installations done in a timely fashion. We didn’t call it a World Café and they certainly didn’t need 20 minutes per round of conversation but we did have small groups and we did mix them up between rounds, using questions that got us to our end objective, which was their list of priorities to be addressed in that year by the company leadership.

If beginning with your own team is fraught with anxiety, find another environment to test out and experiment, to grow your skill with new patterns and practices. Work with another department or in a voluntary capacity. And, there are good reasons we say, don’t work alone. It is always easier to share the risk, plus we are more creative, when we work with other people. And, we have each other’s backs. You can make it fun and stay tuned into outcomes. The more you try it, the more success you have, the more you will trust the methodologies to deliver.

Look for success stories to share with your team or your boss or whoever it is that might need to approve a new way of moving forward. We are capturing a few under the category of Art of Hosting Works here on the Shape Shift blog – small inspirational-you-can-do-it-anywhere examples to long-term projects.

The language we choose with Art of Hosting is intentional. It signals a different approach, a different way of thinking about and doing things. However, if we become attached to the language, we risk losing the intention of what we are doing – bringing people together in different ways, to engage them more fully, hear them more clearly and find connections, inspiration and ideas that might not have existed before.

Take some care. Stealth host any opportunity you get. And we would love to hear and share your success stories too.