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.

 

 

Conflict Resolution Strategies At Work in Teams

Many things can interfere with maintaining strong positive, productive team dynamics and often it has to do with the interpersonal challenges that arise out of lack of clarity of role or around decision-making processes. When things go wrong, trust is compromised and when trust is compromised it is hard to regain. Some teams never recover. And, thankfully, not every team experiences this level of dysfunction either. This post addresses processes for those teams that have and that have the support for the resource and time investment required to recover. Yes, it is possible although not easy.

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For senior leadership teams falling into this level of challenge can have devastating impacts personally and professionally for each member of the team. Examples shared here are from consulting work with senior teams experiencing dysfunctional relationships, sometimes so challenging that the professional reputations of everyone on the team was at stake because the issues became widely observed or evident in the organization. In almost every story, team members were barely speaking to each other, tension was high, trust was low, blame was rampant and team members undermined each other in a number of ways. Some of the most meaningful, impactful, rewarding work that Shape Shift Strategies Inc. does is with such teams.

In every team and organization there are two dimensions or polarities that are always at play. This is the polarity between a focus on the task to be done and a focus on tending to the relationship of the team members. Relationship tending is seen as something we should just know how to do and is the first thing sacrificed for money or time. It is also the thing that most often gets in the way of accomplishing the task. People who like each other enjoy working together, are more inspired, motivated and get far more done. They are more likely to have animated conversations that lead to new discoveries and creative solution finding and more likely to look forward to going to work.

For teams in conflict, accomplishing the task is at risk. For teams in conflict that want to address the conflict, it often requires a significant investment of resources and time – the very things that seemed in short supply to begin with – and focus on relationship – the very thing that seemed self evident as not needing tending.

tug of war ropeAddressing the human dynamics of teams in deep conflict is a several stage process that takes thoughtfulness, care and intentionality. The process outlined below is for teams with up to ten or twelve members. Beyond that different processes are needed.

Step 1. Individual interviews.

The purpose of the individual interviews is four-fold. One purpose is to give everyone an opportunity to individually tell the story of their experience, not to be confused with the facts of the situation. Each person will tell the story from their perspective or worldview and can get out any frustrations they have, speaking openly and honestly. A second purpose is to provide an opportunity for each individual to reflect on the situation, how they may be contributing to it, what happens if the situation is not resolved. A third purpose is for the consultant to build connection with each individual prior to having the team meet to address the issues. Often, many people on a team will point to an individual as being the primary cause of the problem and these interviews help uncover the system at play and the hidden dynamics. A fourth purpose is to discover the themes and patterns across the individual stories.

The same interview guide is used with each member of the team and usually an hour is allotted for each interview. They can be done in person or on a call. The interview starts in an unusual place – often with what they wanted to do when they were in school, finding out how they got to their current job or career, why that position now, hopes when they started in the job leading up to the current situation and inviting reflection on the future. It is a deep sensing interview, designed to invite them back into their humanity and to go deeper than simply asking them what is wrong or what needs to be fixed now.

Following the interviews, the information is compiled into themes and patterns as an offering back to the team in the first meeting often in a mind map. Team members are assured that nothing will show up in the mind map unless it is heard from at least three people.

Step 2. A first meeting.

The first meeting with the team is always interesting. The team members do not know what to expect. They are nervous. They don’t know what will be revealed and they are anxious about conflict. They know their own perception of the conflict and are sure they will have fingers pointed at them by others. They feel isolated.

We use circle process – with or without a table in the middle. More and more it is circle without a table, without the protective barrier of something in front of them or something to semi hide behind. Inviting them to show up fully. When people show up in an unexpected and unfamiliar form it is immediately disruptive and uncomfortable. As a consultant facilitating this work, you need to be very comfortable with other people’s discomfort and create an environment that helps them breathe through it.

With one team, when the team leader walked into the room she was immediately taken aback. There was a projection table on wheels by one wall. She sat in her chair, also on wheels, rolled back to the projection table, put her coffee on it, awkwardly rolled her chair and the projection table back to the circle as a source of support. I watched with curiosity. At the end of our day and half session, she commented on her own behaviour, noting her initial discomfort and her growing comfort with the form of our meeting as progress was achieved.

We start with a check in. Maybe around each person’s hopes for this process and naming any tension they are carrying. This often immediately begins to surface similarities or common experience. We review the mind map of the themes and patterns, which is usually in the centre of the circle as we begin – with talking pieces in case we choose to use them.

With one team I worked with, it took until the end of the first day of working together for someone to become brave enough to say, “That could have been my interview.” You could hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone else acknowledged the same thing. It was a shock and a relief to them to discover that what they had each been carrying individually was also being held by them collectively – similar experiences, similar fears, similar hopes. Common ground they had not witnessed in a long time and did not know existed until they saw it in front of their eyes.

We use Appreciative Inquiry (AI) because even in the most distressed teams there is always something that has worked or does work. Reminding people of this by asking them what their best experience of collaboration, their best experience of resilience their best experience of team, their best experience of the organization or other relevant topic has been reorients them to what does work and helps them understand they can make it work again while also surfacing what it is each person values about the organization, the team, each other, themselves. As highly intelligent people, individuals are often surprised to find themselves in a situation where they feel like they have failed or are failures and seem to have no strategies for success. It is good to surface what they do know and where they have been successful to create a bridge to the future.  We also use AI to collectively generate the principles by which the team wants to engage this work of building or rebuilding their relational field.

By investing time in this , we are creating the foundation for the team to enter the difficult conversations in a healthier space of curiosity, generosity and possibilities rather than defensiveness, debate and blame, where they can hear each other instead of only wanting to be heard. Where the conversation goes from there depends on what is most alive for the team, what has surfaced in the themes and patterns and what the team needs to be able to engage in good work together. When a team is in this level of disarray, these initial meetings focus almost exclusively on tending to relationship. The team has to slow down to go fast later.

Step 3. Ongoing meetings.

Issues and patterns that have become entrenched in a team are not easily shifted. A neutral, external support can bring voice to things the team itself cannot name, can bring new strategies and patterns into an existing situation and can challenge the team in gentle or tough ways about its patterns and interactions with each other.

There are many reasons for ongoing meetings. One is simply that entrenched patterns cannot be shifted in a day. It takes reminding, accountability and learning to trust that new patterns produce different results – like using a check-in and check out process for each meeting. Check-in brings people into the room mentally and emotionally and sets the tone for the conversations that are needed. Check out seals the day, allows people to express what is most present for them – gratitude, reflections, questions. Sometimes check out provides purpose and intention for the next meeting.

Also, a consultant can bring in Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001patterns of human dynamics that help people name and understand their dynamics,
like the divergence-groan zone-convergence framework or surface hidden dynamics through systems mapping or provide strategies for thinking or planning differently like polarity mapping.

Sometimes it is as simple (and difficult) as holding space for the team to be in its own discomfort. One team we worked with, in the first meeting we had in a hotel, the room went completely silent whenever the wait staff came into the room. Not a peep out of anyone. The wait staff were asked to come and serve the break or the meals and leave directly afterward, leaving clearing the room for later. Over the course of the first three meetings, the tension in the room dissolved and conversation continued no matter who was in the room. With this team we used a parking lot for the conversations that began to spin around without resolution and we moved to the next conversation. Later we came back to the parking lot and it was amazing to see how easily most of those issues could then be resolved. More foundation and less edge.

Another benefit of meeting with the team on a regular basis is that the team gets to surface and review its progress – something not always tended to in the regular course of meetings and interactions. We also get to identify the dynamics that get in the way of team effectiveness – like lack of clarity of role or no discernable, reliable decision making processes. Once the team addresses these issues there is more ease in the relationships and a greater possibility of having a conversation rather than making assumptions. The team develops its own common language and short cuts into conversations or dynamic identification. One team I worked with would slide from one conversation to another with no clear resolution, agreement or decision. After having this pointed out to them several times, they began to notice their own pattern and took themselves back to finish the first conversation before moving to the next. They also began to do this with the teams they led in the organization, changing the tone of the meetings and the relationships.

Initially the consultant might have to offer the purpose or intention for each meeting, to attune people to where they are in the process and keep things on track. Before too long, the team can collectively elicit the purpose and intention on its own by tuning into what’s been going on since the last meeting and identifying anything they feel needs their collective attention.

As soon as it is reasonably possible, the focus of the meeting needs to tune back into the task(s) or work of the team and find a reasonable balance between task and relationship tending. As people see the impact of relationship tending on moving the task along or easing work flow, they are more willing to invest time there too.

Step 4. Concluding the process.

At some point, the consultant is no longer needed on a regular basis, often four to six months into the process. The team should become self-accountable with shared leadership and shared responsibility.

With one team, our last meeting was in a boardroom at a hotel. The leader, who had quite an adverse reaction to the first circle, remembered there was a big board table in the room and was feeling regret that it would impact our circle, only to turn up and find out the board table had been pushed back against the wall, leaving room for our circle.

Another team was able to use their resources more effectively. When trust was low, three or four members of the team would show up to a meeting when realistically one or two would do. As they addressed their issues and grew trust, they were able to trust that the perspective of the team could be conveyed by one individual.  And, instead of undermining each other in meetings with others – behaviour which contributed to the whole organization seeing their dysfunction – they began to support each other, even when they did not fully know where their team member was going. Instead of challenging them in front of others they would offer something like, “I’m sure if my teammate has offer this as a possibility, it has been well thought out and we should all pay attention.”

The whole organization began to see and sense the difference before they could really articulate what they were seeing. Like magic. Only it wasn’t magic. It was damned hard work that paid off.

group conversation

Not all teams need this degree of intervention and many times teams later end up disbanded because team members take on new challenges or sometimes there is a re-organization in the company that breaks the team up. But the skills learned during this kind of experience are transferable to many different situations and individuals see, and others witness, that they have grown their leadership capacity.

Conflict Resolution: The Allure of the Role of the Prince

When you are engaged in conflict and can’t see your way out of it you often wish that someone would come along and rescue you: a White Knight in Shining Armour.  And very often you do find a version of the white knight.  This is the Prince in the Princess-Dragon-Prince* framework that was introduced two blog posts ago.  It is the Prince who rescues the Princess from the Dragon in our traditional fairy tale stories.

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The Prince is perceived by the Princess (the one telling the story of conflict) to be a supportive, possibly neutral third party providing an unbiased perspective.  The storyteller is validated when the Princess perspective is acknowledged and confirmed by this neutral third party.  When the Prince agrees that the Princess had no choice but to respond the way she did, the Princess can feel justified in adopting behaviour that, under normal circumstances, might be considered inappropriate.  The Princess or victim perspective is further supported by this validation.

The danger is that it is easy for the Prince to get caught up in the Princess’ story or worldview and see the conflict solely from the perspective of the Princess.  In this way, the acknowledgement comes with emotional emphasis that serves to strengthen the validation.  The trap is that the Dragon is rarely ever as horrible as it is made out to be.  If the Prince validates the Princess without exploring the Dragon’s side of the story, there is no real rescue and the Princess is likely to become more entrenched in the victim aspect of the story.

Another way the Prince may come to the rescue of the Princess is by stepping into the middle of the situation and solving the problem with the Dragon or by removing either the Princess or the Dragon from the situation.  In so doing, the Princess never develops the skills needed to solve the problem on her own or deal effectively with the Dragon or the issues it represents.  The Prince is counted on and expected to solve the problem, and the Princess never owns it.  The Princess continues to be a victim, helpless and powerless.

It is quite common for the Princess to find a rescuer because the allure for the Prince of coming to the rescue can be strong. The Prince may derive some sense of self-worth or identity from always being able to help.  It may be a way that he defines purpose and meaning in his life.   There are some people who are best able to be in friendships or other relationships only when they are able to play the rescue role. When everything is going well, they retreat.

There is power in having other people need to rely on you for problem solving.  When you solve other people’s problems for them you exercise some control over their lives and you may even shape part of who they are.  It is always easier to see other people’s problems than it is to see our own or what we bring to a situation and it is therefore easier to provide solutions to someone else.  In accepting this kind of help, the Princess stays helpless and the Prince gains power.

Business or personal coaches, counsellors, consultants and health care providers may be particularly prone to the allure of the role of rescuer.  These professions all work with individuals to help them change aspects of their lives.  There is a fine line between helping someone solve their own problems and rescuing them.  If a client or patient becomes dependent on you, you are an enabler for the Princess or victim and her continued victimization.  It should be incumbent on a professional in these roles to make themselves redundant as their client learns to take control of their own life.

As a professional providing assistance it is always a good idea to question your own motives and your role in assisting your client or patient.  You can always be asking yourself what it is you gain from intervening in the problem.  As a friend, colleague or family member of the Princess, you may also want to consider your response to those questions, especially if you frequently find yourself in the middle of someone else’s conflict.  It is meeting a need within you.  If you unearth the need, you may find a better way to meet it or perhaps you may change or grow beyond it.  You learn to define or know yourself beyond the rescue role.

As you learn to extricate yourself from the middle of other people’s problems you may find your friendships or your work relationships shifting and changing.  As you understand what motivated your need to intervene, you may find yourself more frustrated and less satisfied with the nature of those friendships because the needs they met are either met in other ways or no longer exist.  Those people may still be stuck in the need to be rescued.  If they are stuck in that need, then they are usually stuck in the problem that generated the need and make no progress on the issue.

In my university days I volunteered for the Help Line.  We responded to a whole range of calls from immediate crisis to ongoing needs for support.  One summer I had a job that took me on the road and so wasn’t able to volunteer for about 3 months.  After a 3 month break, I was astonished to notice how many of the regular callers were still calling with exactly the same problems and issues they had had 3 months ago.  They weren’t interested in moving on.  They were looking for a rescuer but they weren’t really interested in solving the problem.  I moved on.

The most effective rescue roles are those where we help people learn how to become their own Prince and rescue themselves.  This doesn’t hold the same allure for many rescuers because you allow people to discover things for themselves instead of supplying them with your own solutions.  However, the benefit to the Princess is that the solutions are more personally relevant and they are longer lasting.

When you find yourself in the role of the Prince, consider the allure for you and the motivation for being in the role so you don’t inadvertently turn yourself into a different kind of Princess – someone who always has other people’s problems dumped on you.

* While the Princess is referred to “she”, the Prince “he” and the Dragon “it”, all of these roles are played by both men and women.

Princess Stories of Conflict: Rescuing Yourself

In the last Shape Shift post, the Princess story framework was shared, showing how it is a beautiful way of resolving conflict, inviting you to examine the way you see the conflict – your worldview – and the way others see the conflict – or their worldview perspective.

Princess triangle_000001

In conflict, as you tell your story from the Princess perspective, very often you are waiting for a Prince to come along and rescue you from the Dragon or whatever your dilemma might be.  You want someone else to solve your problem for you.

The Prince you are waiting for could be a third person.  It could be a boss who you want to solve a problem with a coworker.  The boss could also be the Dragon and you want another job or someone higher in the organization to provide the rescue.  Or maybe you are waiting for a friend or family member to play the role of the Prince.

Alternatively, you could be waiting for the Dragon to turn into the Prince and thus provide the rescue.  When you want the Dragon to be the rescuer what you really want is for the Dragon to admit that they were wrong, you are right and offer you an apology vindicating your Princess perspective.  Usually you have to wait a long time for this to happen, and it rarely ever does.

It doesn’t often occur to you that perhaps you are the one who might be wrong – or may not be right.  Even if you are right, that doesn’t necessarily make the Dragon wrong.  Or, perhaps it is you who needs to offer the apology.  Remember in the Dragon’s perspective of this same conflict, they are the Princess and you are the Dragon.

Ultimately, what is helpful is to transform into the Prince and rescue yourself.  Why?  In doing so, you reclaim the power that you traded for sympathy and make yourself stronger.  As you recognize all three roles within you, you come closer to wholeness within yourself.  The things you are looking for to make yourself complete are never found outside of yourself, they are always found within.

paperbagprincessIn the same way, your rescue cannot come from outside of yourself.  If it does it is only temporary.  In order to be truly effective, it must come from within.  If it comes from external sources, the problems which precipitated the need to be rescued will only come back around in the same way or in some other variation and everyone one of us has had experiences which speak to this.

In order to transform yourself into the Prince, the first step is often giving up the need to be right.  When you have the need to be right and you want other people to validate that for you, you are entrenched in your position or your own point of view or worldview.  It is very difficult to acknowledge there may be other perspectives that are just as valid as your own.  Giving up the need to be right doesn’t mean you aren’t right and it also doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person is right.  But giving up the need to be right opens up space and opportunity to expand the story.

The need to be right does not stem from factual truth, it stems from emotional truth.  It is the emotional truth that drives the conflict, not the factual truth.  The way you act reflects this kind of thinking: “I feel that you hurt me in some way and I want you to apologize for that hurt.  If you don’t apologize, I will show you what it feels like by acting in a way that will create the same hurt in you.  Once you know what it feels like, then for sure you will apologize to me.”

This strategy rarely ever works because so much of what it tries to do is implicit not explicit.  “I want an apology but I will not ask for it or explain why I want it – because you should already know that.”  Trouble is, that other person cannot read your mind, as much as you may think they should be able to.  And often, they are too busy reacting to your reaction to decipher what your encoded message means.  Thus, the conflict escalates.

Stepping out of the need to be right, even if you do so begrudgingly, is a very effective way to de-escalate the conflict.  As you acknowledge what you may have contributed to the conflict, very often the other person will also begin to acknowledge their own role.

It is really easy to get people to agree to the idea that they would prefer their relationship or their interactions to be different and better – preferably if the other person changes!  As much as you may think differently, that Dragon has no more interest in perpetuating the stress and anxiety that goes along with the conflict than you do.  As you take charge of the situation and take the initial steps to a new form of relationship, you begin the process of transforming into the Prince.

You can do this from any perspective.   Earlier in this article, the scenario of the Dragon being your boss was posed.  For many people this seems like an impossible situation because the boss is the boss and if they engage in conflict with their boss, they fear losing their jobs.  I recently had a client in this very situation.

My client and his managers were meeting with my client’s boss.  The boss royally dressed down these department managers for a good hour, deflating and demoralizing everyone.  My client felt just as demoralized as his managers and he felt helpless to respond.  After a few days and a lot of thought, my client asked for a meeting with his boss to discuss that situation.

He told his boss that the points the boss had made were valid points and that steps needed to be taken to rectify the situation.  He also told his boss that his approach had been totally demoralizing and had the exact opposite effect – de-motivating staff to want to rectify the situation.  Much to his surprise, his boss apologized to him.  Then he asked if my client would like him to meet with his staff to apologize to them – which he did.

Later we evaluated what happened in the original meeting.  I asked my client how he could have handled that situation differently.  He said that he could have stopped his boss, asked his own managers to leave and then had the conversation with his boss one-on-one, later bringing the staff back in after some appropriate course of action had been decided.  His original response was the best he could do at the time given the unexpectedness of the situation and his own reaction to it.  The point in evaluating it is to build a repertoire of alternative responses to possible future scenarios so that there are choices more readily available.

My client could have stayed in his Princess story of what a terrible boss he has.  And certainly there is room for improvement in the boss’ management skills.  However, his boss’ behaviour is largely out of my client’s control.  When he began to focus on what was in his control he effected a change in his boss’ behaviour that he couldn’t have imagined.  The first thing he did was acknowledge what was valid in his boss’ message.  It turned the tide and created movement that enabled a resolution to be reached.

And remember that conflict is not always overt.  That is largely the problem with it.  We try to avoid it and yet we stay stuck in our Princess stories.  Whenever you find yourself thinking that someone else needs to change or do or say something you are in a Princess story and you are held hostage by it.  By thinking of the story from the Dragon’s perspective, or of what you contributed to it or of what is within your control to change, you begin the transformation process.  The only true way to resolve conflict is to transform yourself.  That White Knight in Shining Armour really is you!  Loving how fairy tales are reinventing themselves.

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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

Understanding Worldview and How It Impacts Us As Hosts – guest blogger Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry on January 6, 2014)

Each of us has a worldview and a personal story about how we perceive reality. Our worldview combines the cultural and personal beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas we hold to form maps or models of reality. Our worldviews come from our collective experiences in society – from our parents and friends, the books we read and movies we watch, the music we listen to, our schools and churches. We then interpret these experiences into an individual worldview.  (Jenkins, 2006; Schlitz et al, 2011)

World view eye

In practice, we use our worldviews, without necessarily being conscious of it, to construct complex conceptual frameworks in order to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in. (Schlitz et al, 2011) These maps or models help us explain how we view the world and why we act as we do in it.

Our experiences within the contexts we live in, be they religious, geographic, or cultural, all contribute to how we interpret reality.  Often this vision of reality is not fully articulated in our conscious awareness. In fact it could be so deeply internalized that we don’t question where it comes from. As practitioners and hosts of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter this is an invitation into personal inquiry.  Understanding our own worldview grows our capacity to host others better.  Especially because our worldviews influence every aspect of our lives – what we think about, how we act, what assumptions we make about others, what motivates us, what we consider to be the good, the moral and the true. It gives coherence to our lives. It is the channel through which we interpret reality as we see it.

Worldviews are an individual phenomenon and a group phenomenon. (Jenkins, 2006) Everything we hold to be true is found in community. A community is not just a geographic or placed-based clustering of people living together as a village, town, city or nation. A community can also be a discipline in science, a faith community, a community of practitioners of a type of music, art or sport or a community of practitioners of the Art of Hosting; and these communities are part of a world of “multiple simultaneously existing local realities” (Hosking, 2011). These local constructs or realities are primarily constructed through language based processes such as the written word, art, music, dance, speaking, symbols, sign, etc. (Hosking, 2011). Thus, it is through ‘language’ that we represent our worldviews and it might be through language that we will begin to understand another’s worldview.

Worldviews are not necessarily or always fixed. Individual and community/cultural worldviews often shift or change. These changes can be quite small and hardly noticed at first, but eventually have a transformative impact.

Worldviews can also change quite significantly as evidenced by many changes in the past century resulting from scientific advances (flight, Internet, space travel, atomic energy, etc.). Some shifts can be so transformative (or converting) that people change religions or physical characteristics. So, while worldviews are locally constructed, they can shift based upon changes in local or global constructs as well as individual or collective experiences. On a personal level, these types of changes often manifest in some form of spiritual experience that impacts a person’s view of self in the world (Schlitz, Vieten, & Amorok, 2007).  In effect, we have the ability to change our worldviews with awareness, consciousness and intentionality.

If our worldviews are mainly locally constructed, then we could ask, “What consequences do these local, cultural worldviews have for our ability to work together?” – an inquiry relevant to Growing Hosting Artistry. One answer is that they can create barriers to understanding and finding common ground for working together. Which raises questions of “What to do about it?” and “How can we avoid collisions of worldviews and instead come together in ways that build understanding and respect and allow each of us to hold on to that which is most important?”

The invitation, individually and in our hosting work, is to be in inquiry, to be curious; to be nonjudgmental; to approach hosting from a stance of not knowing; to practice generosity; to value good conversations and recognize that good conversations can lead to wise action; to remember that the practice is the work and to remember that many world views can exist in the same place when we step out of either-or thinking into the welcoming of many different perspectives in the same space and time, celebrating difference rather than insisting on sameness. Growing our hosting artistry on the individual and collective levels creates more invitational space for ourselves and for others to show up in the fullness of who we each and all are.

Jenkins, O.B. (2006) Worldview Perspectiveshttp://orvillejenkins.com

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., & Amorok, T. (2007) Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., Miller, E., Homer, K., Peterson, K., & Erickson-Freeman, K. (2011) The Worldview Literacy Project: Exploring New capacities for the 21st Century Student. Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California.

Hosking, D. M. (2011) Telling Tales of Relations: Appreciating Relational Constructionism, Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht, Netherlands.

Transformative Questions Can Shift Worldview – Guest Author Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (Originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry, January 3, 2014)

 “The success of the intervention is dependent upon the inner condition of the intervener.” William O’Brien (deceased), former CEO of Hanover Insurance

QuestionsQuestions. It seems that when one adopts inquiry as a core part of a way of being in the world there are always questions. Some are simple: “How are you today?” Some are reflective: “Why did I say that? How can I help in this situation?” Some challenge us to explore areas of interest more deeply: “What is the theory behind…? How can we be intentional about collective transformation?” Some are at the core of our worldviews: “What is really real? Who am I? Why am I here?”  And sometimes a question can change our lives by creating the conditions to alter our worldview. The asking of a simple question can be a transformative experience.

Jerry Nagel Floor Teach ed

July 3rd, 2003 I experienced the transformative question that started me on a journey that would shift my worldview, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was part of a small group of people working on agriculture and rural policy issues in the United States that had traveled to Europe to examine how environmental and social values were impacting European agriculture practices.  During dinner one evening a powerful question emerged within the group that influenced our conversations for the rest of the trip.  The question was “Have we been asking the same questions [about rural development policies] over and over for so long that we don’t even know what the right question is anymore?”

This transformative moment started me on a journey of exploration, learning and self-reflexivity that has led to a shift in my worldview, a change in professional focus and a reconnecting with a curiosity about human behavior that I had explored in my early teens. It also reconnected me to a strongly held belief in human possibility that developed in my late teens and twenties and a deeper awareness of our connections to something greater that, for me, is sensed most during my times in nature.

in nature

As I explored ideas, methods and programs to find the right questions for addressing the current rural policy issues in my work back home in Minnesota in a change lab initiative called the Meadowlark Project and through my participation in the Donella Meadows Leadership Program, I couldn’t escape a similar question that was simmering within me, “What was my own personal ‘right’ question?” Having spent my professional and intellectual life working as a research economist on rural development with a worldview that assumed that if we created investments in the material well-being of people and communities (jobs, buildings, roads, etc.) then rural communities would thrive, it surprised me to discover that when I challenged my professional worldview I was also challenging my own personal worldviews and related sense of self or identity as an economist.

There were two big learnings from my work with the Meadowlark Project Change Lab. First was a recognition that while we all wanted to have the difficult conversations about the challenging and complex issues the Change Lab was working to address, we didn’t have the skills to have them. Second was a realization that while addressing the material well-being of a community was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to build a wholly healthy community. To do so both the material and human side of a community’s life needs to be addressed.

I found myself drawn more and more to actions that connected the work of rural development with one’s own or a community’s set of values and beliefs, which also connected with the work of my own personal explorations.

 “The essence of our leadership journey is about growing into our true identity as a leader and, by doing so, accessing an intelligence that is greater than ourselves and encompasses the whole.” – Petra Kuenkel, Mind and Heart, 2008

As someone trained in economics, my worldview was deeply embedded in the notion of ‘man’ as an independent actor making rational choices of pure self-interest. I found myself challenged by the paradox that we humans experience ourselves as separate, unique and free individuals, and the social constructionist perspective, which I was learning about and coming to accept while writing my doctoral thesis on worldview and Art of Hosting, that everything that we are and all that matters actually comes from our relational experiences as humans and that this begins the moment we are born (and possibly before).

These paradoxes troubled me for some time, as I also sensed that exploring them was part of the journey to connecting with my life journey. So, while keeping one foot solidly planted in the work of answering the emergent questions about rural development policy I also committed to an even more intentional self leadership exploration of the deeper questions of “Who am I? What is my nature?”

The challenge it seemed to me in this exploration was to let go of attachments to specific images of myself that would prevent me from not only participating in whatever evolutionary changes this journey might offer, but also prevent me from seeing the whole and my relatedness to it. I was beginning to understand that my journey was becoming an exploration of the ‘range’ of me rather than the ‘one’ of me.

The work my colleagues and I have taken on through the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter invites us into a wholeness – a way to connect how we are in the world with practices that support our actions. It also invites us to continually be aware of our worldview(s) and the impact on our hosting.  For me, as an AoH practitioner and host, this is an essential element in the exploration of growing hosting artistry.