Worldview Intelligence

As our work with worldview continues, Jerry Nagel and I, and other friends and colleagues we are evolving this work with, have been reflecting on what it means to be worldview aware, wondering if awareness is enough. We imagine it is a step, albeit an important one. Awareness in and of itself can be expansive, turning judgment or assumption into generosity and curiosity. And then what? What does it take to create the transformative spaces we have been witnessing with this work? It takes practices, skills and a wee bit of courage too. In was in the spirit of this wondering that the term Worldview Intelligence arose along with the curiosity of what it means; generating the working definitions that follow.

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Worldview Intelligence

  • The ability to learn or understand worldview(s), to be worldview aware
  • Development of skills that offer ways to address differing worldview situations, invite multiple worldviews
  • Creating opportunity and circumstances to use skills, knowledge and awareness to move from differences to progress, for yourself, your organization or community

Worldview Awareness

  • Feeling, experiencing or noticing that worldview(s) exist, individually, organizationally, in community and across stakeholder groups
  • Knowing and understanding more about what is happening in the world around you by being or becoming worldview aware

Having just wrapped up a two day workshop in Minnesota on Worldview Intelligence, a significant thread of conversation was application. How do we take what we are learning and experiencing and bring it to life in personal practice and in the way we approach our work, in the practices of our organizations? Transforming differences into progress.

worldview awareness day panoramicWe have built and are prototyping a number of frameworks that help us and workshop participants see intervention and application points. The exercises invite skill building – on the spot and afterwards in the work. The response has been thoughtful and transformative as people are seeing when and how to apply what they are learning and understanding that the quality of the messenger is as important as the message – maybe even more so when the messenger embodies the qualities and practices of worldview intelligence.

We have been working with worldview for a few years now, in the Art of Hosting trainings we have been delivering and other venues. What we learned there showed us the need for deeper dives into worldview and the identification and development of skills and intelligence that can impact even our most challenging situations. We will share what we are learning as we go and as we have time to digest the depth of experience created that invites people to show up in the fullness of their humanity – for some, the first time they have ever felt so fully invited.

Worldview Awareness as a Transformative Process

Worldview frameWorldview awareness is the most transformative experience Jerry Nagel, I and the colleagues we work with in Nova Scotia, Minnesota and elsewhere have witnessed so far for inviting diverse perspectives into a conversation or a process – around race, power and privilege (diversity/equity), political differences, silos in organizations or for community engagement.  We have witnessed people finding their way into conversations previously inaccessible because no one had language that engages the conversations in this degree of thoughtfulness, reflection and curiosity, instead of with defensiveness, dismissiveness, rationalizations or judgments.

Conversations previously stuck open up because the language of worldview and worldview awareness offers alternative ways for people to ask about how welcoming, open or inclusive they may be, or their organizational culture might be. In one situation, with one of my colleagues in this work, a dialogue that was needing to happen for many years in her organization opened up because someone was now able to ask, “Do we have an issue with worldview here?” The response, which was a surprise to the person making the inquiry, was, “Yes.” My colleague had been ready to have the conversation for a long time without a entry way into it that would be expansive rather than debative. She understood the power of strategically waiting for the right timing to emerge.

The transformative impact we have been witnessing for years now, in our Art of Hosting trainings and other speaking opportunities, through the introduction of a worldview framework and then inquiry through a world cafe or reflective listening has inspired the development of the Worldview Awareness curriculum for personal, organizational and community engagement, identifying and exploring worldview awareness patterns, practices and strategies. The impact continues to be powerful as shared, for instance, in the reflections on our experience in Nova Scotia during the one day introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness attended by seasoned diversity practitioners and change agents.

Individual worldview awareness invites each person into reflection about their own worldview, what has influenced the construction of their worldview, how it impacts their communication and relationships as well as how they see the world. This internal reflection, guided by curiosity, then generates curiosity about other people and the evolution of their worldview. In and of itself, this can create “safe enough” space for people to share more of who they are. In one AoH training in Grand Rapids,MN at the end of a World Cafe on Worldview, a young Native American man stood up and shared he felt able to speak more and more openly about his Worldview thanks to the collective exploration we were in and the Worldview teach or framework that invited the inquiry.

The idea that organizations also have worldviews is often a moment of insight and inspiration for participants in this exploration. To be thoughtful and intentional about organizational worldview practices and patterns invites the opportunity to think about policy development and employee recruitment and retention in different and more comprehensive ways. It provides a means to explore alignment of stated organization Worldview with its practices and offers strategies on how to invite and host a multiplicity of worldviews inside the organization which ultimately makes the organization more successful on most indicators.

Community engagement, when done well, invites a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives – or worldviews – into the conversation or public meeting. Most community engagement is still done in traditional town hall style – with a panel of experts making presentations and answering questions from the few community members who happen to make it to the scarce microphones placed on the floor of the meeting room. Engagement with constituents needs to be heartfelt and meaningful, not just the opportunity to check off a box that says we consulted.

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Worldview Awareness curriculum, combined with strong engagement or dialogic processes, provides ideas and strategies on how to invite the multiplicity of voices into a process that strengthens the power of engagement and of outcomes, while creating more welcoming and inclusive environments. Worldview Awareness invites the full complexity of a situation and of issues, ensures that people with different viewpoints and sometimes contradictory interests exchange worldviews and often charts unknown territory. This leads to practical outcomes that might not have been achieved otherwise and that can more easily be implemented because all stakeholders involved experience a higher degree of commitment and ownership. The result is better decisions and more sustainable actions (solutions).

One of our dreams is to offer these workshops (tailored of course) to all the places grappling with how to create more inclusive, generative workplaces or communities by accessing new lenses for deciphering the increasing complexity impacting work environments and communities. Worldview awareness offers organizations committed to a diverse workforce the opportunity to engage those they serve, internally and externally, in more generative, compassionate ways in service of the outcomes we all want to achieve.

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Challenge of Leadership in the 21st Century: What’s Needed Now?

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. The previous blog post explored the question of what guidelines or, in their words, rules, would I share with leaders today. Another of their questions was: Why does the area of leadership fascinate you? Why indeed?

Leadership and leadership development has had my attention for as long as I can remember. It currently has my attention because the way I was trained, or more accurately indoctrinated, into leadership (as is the case with many of the leaders I meet and work with, even younger leaders) is much different than the leadership skills needed to navigate the complexity of today’s world.

I came into leadership positions at a young age; at a time when leaders were believed to have the answers, were expected to solve problems and fix situations that popped up. This was a time when letters were written on stationary and mailed, when fax machines (which are now almost obsolete) were just new and the idea that everyone would have a computer (much less mobile devices that process as much and more than computers) was a farfetched notion. A very different world, a very different worldview.

The world has grown far more complex, social media has a strong influence and our environments and situations are demanding greater collaboration and collaborative decision making because no one person has the solution.  We need to unlearn and relearn our habitual leadership skills and strategies to be responsive and still make decisions and take actions that move initiatives forward.  We can only unlearn what is habitual by becoming aware of what is right in front of us that we cannot see, because so much of our worldview – as much as 80% – is unconscious.  This is why Jerry Nagel and I are in the exploration of the transformative power of worldview awareness.

This is a balancing act, working with dynamic tensions of collaboration and collaborative leadership – also something we are learning our way into.  Many leaders are uncertain about how to navigate this 21st Century world with skill and ease, how to draw out the collective intelligence or wisdom needed to find our way forward. In partnership with amazing colleagues, I have been using patterns and practices that help leaders make sense of the world, invite our own ‘not knowing’ while engaging the wisdom and collective intelligence of people most impacted by or having the most influence over the particular issues or challenges at hand.

These are the solutions that have staying power.  This is what this new series of programs at Saint Mary’s – but also offerings in other venues in other cities – offers: insights into navigating the 21st Century, particularly as leaders of any age feel a responsibility for the significant challenges of our times.

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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.

conflict group

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.

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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.

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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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