Some of you may have noticed by now that I have created a new project with Gordon White. I am pleased to have the opportunity to combine my creative efforts with someone who has had as much mediation, restorative justice, teaching and writing experiences as he has.
Together, we have created an outstanding experience for those of you who want to dive deeper into how to make value-based decisions with others and increase your authentic, intimate conversations. Our course is called “How to Have Difficult Conversations” – but really – what are difficult conversations but opportunities to make change, where the stakes are high!
Check out our course here. We’ve made it on-demand and self-directed, so that you can buy it anytime and start learning about the practice, step-by-step method we put together – right now if you want to!
And, if the course doesn’t appeal to you, I also want to hear from you! My deepest desire is to be a contribution – and I can’t do that if I don’t hear from you! So, it would be a real help to me if you could take a few short minutes to fill out this survey about what else I could do and offer you! Thank you again for your readership. It means the world to me that you open HEN and that you find my words of value to read. To our visions of a better world! Thank you!
“Desires directs focus. If your desires are vague, your focus will be blurred. If your desires are heartfelt, however, your focus will be sharp and clear.” Sonia Choquette
Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from famed adult development expert Dr. Robert Kegan, from Harvard. He spent many years listening to thousands of conversations and charting out what the levels of consciousness are in adults, picking up where child developmental psychologist Piaget left off.
One take-away from that weekend workshop was when Kegan said he thinks we as a species are being pulled to evolve to a higher state of consciousness because of the deterioration of the planet. He said new ways of thinking will be required and that perhaps it’s a survival impulse in humans to be growing into these higher states.
Although I did that workshop in 2006, his remarks stayed with me all this time. So it was with interest that I read an article recently by Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. The article was entitled: “Ten Lessons from Covid for Stepping into the Decade of Transformation.”
Scharmer starts off by explaining how in 1989 he was co-leading an international student group in a program called Peace Studies Around the World that took place in East and West Berlin. It was months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and in discussions with some of the leaders of the civil rights and opposition movements in East Berlin, he noticed that even the people who were on the front lines of forces that eventually would bring down the Berlin Wall, had no idea at the time what a far-reaching impact their actions were about to have.
I remember hearing an Irish peace-activist priest speaking once about the peace that eventually broke out in Ireland. He too was on the front lines and did not realize at the time that all the little actions that he and the myriad of others who nudged peace along were doing, were all part of the tipping point.
Scharmer says he’s seen such “tectonic shifts” several times and thinks that before they happen, almost no one actually believes that such profound changes and shifts will occur. Malcolm Gladwell also documents tipping point phenomena in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
Scharmer believes we are presently in a somewhat comparable moment and movement to the time of the falling of the Berlin Wall. It’s a movement, he says, that isn’t just about changing social structures but also about shifting and growing human consciousness.
That recalls for me the remark Kegan made about the inherent impulse for our species to evolve consciousness. Could we, in fact, be being driven to a species-wide evolution – perhaps akin to the way birds fly in a mumuration?
We may all have this impulse going on deep inside to evolve our consciousness.
Scharmer asks: Is this the moment when we should articulate the future we want to create with much more radical clarity?
He then outlines a series of lessons that can be learned from Covid as applied to our consciousness. I will summarize 5 of those ideas for you here, in my own language. As I understand it, these 5 point the way for what we can, and are called to, cultivate inside ourselves, to move us towards our collective desires:
- Feel – Scharmer talks about the dangers of not feeling or de-sensitizing ourselves. What I see in my mediation and difficult conversation practices, is a whole host of us wanting to avoid difficult conversations. We want to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. Yet, it is the very embracing of feelings of discomfort and tension that can help us stay with, and empathize with, each other. It’s time to privilege feelings along with empathy and embracing our individual and collective vulnerability.
- Connect – We are in an age of interconnectivity, which Covid in particular has propelled us into. We can all see that when the virus is a pain in one place, it is in a pain for all. Our call is to keep connected.
- Create – The way we listen and pay attention to our conversations impacts their outcome. That is certainly what I have seen as a mediator and someone who helps others have transformative conversations. Scharmer says it’s the same thing with societal institutions in that the way we pay attention to them can reimagine and reshape outmoded ways of thinking, patterns and institutions.
- Attend – Like so many others, Scharmer says attention matters because energy follows attention. Wherever you put your attention, that’s where the energy will go. He believes that when we “bend the beam of collective attention back onto our own process and when we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and the eyes of the whole, then we begin to unfreeze the hardened state of social reality into a more fluid state that allows us to reimagine and reshape reality as needed.”
- Integrate – Scharmer points out how there have been more and more collective blind spots and shadow work emerging – in the recognition of the horrible things we do to each other. He believes there is great healing in facing those shadows and allowing the light of day to do its transformative work.
To read the full article yourself and the other 5 points he speaks about, check it out here.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Barack Obama
Since the beginning of January, I have been on a quest to settle into a deep sense of well-being. I came across Jeffery Martin’s work on fundamental well-being and each month for the whole year, I want to use this space to reflect on the experiment with you!
Last month, I noticed that when I tell myself: “I have enough” – that statement automatically generated feelings of gratitude. I wanted to take that practice into my month and see what fruit it yielded. Each time I recalled it this month, it gave me that same sense of gratitude. It’s been powerful medicine and it is a practice worth strengthening. I wonder if any of you notice the power in that statement!
What calls me this month is to pay attention to my feelings. I know enough about conflict and difficult conversations (with myself and with others) to know that emotions are central to pay attention to. What is newly emerging for me is the complexity of what emotions may be pointing to and asking us to pay attention to.
Our feelings motivate us to action. When I feel something, it is often connected to either:
* a thought memory from the past
* a present-moment need
* a desire for something in the future – a holy longing.
Feelings are so important to pay attention to, and yet feelings are not generally privileged. In conflict, we anesthetize our more vulnerable feelings by allowing feelings of anger and rage to be dominant. These too are important feelings and can point to injustices.
Yet, they can also cause us to blame others and separate ourselves from others – to other the other. This is the constant paradox with feelings – they offer a gift of finding our way home to our deeper selves, yet they can be deceiving. Just because I have a strong emotional reaction to you, that does not necessarily yield me my truth at my first “feel.”
Emotions are, perhaps, a bit like dreams: they need interpretation.
For this month, I want to pay more attention to my feelings and see if they lead to:
* a memory
* a present moment need or
* a future desire.
Let me know what you think!
“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.” – Daniel Siegel, MD.
Avoidance is our number one strategy when faced with a difficult conversation so it’s a common occurrence to be faced with someone else trying to avoid talking with us!
Let’s picture the scene. Here you are, all revved up to have your “conversation.” Maybe you’ve done your work to prepare for it. You’ve prepared every which way to Sunday. You’ve talked about it in your head. Perhaps you’ve run over some possible scenarios with others.
What counts is you are ready!
You put out the invitation and a few things that can happen that you don’t want to happen:
1) The other person say “Yes” and then doesn’t show up.
2) The other says “Sure I’ll meet” but then cancels at the last minute.
3) The other says “Okay – when I have time” but is always too busy and doesn’t initiate.
What’s going on and how can this change?
Firstly, what’s going on. To give you a blanket statement for such complex creatures as humans, will be impossible. What I’m about to say might not be going on. And, if you are willing, play with this possibility for a moment.
None of us really do things we don’t want to do, at least not consciously. Just like other mammals, and even little cells in petri dishes, we move away from perceived threat.
So, if you accept that, it is your insight and little opening. The other person is avoiding you because they perceive you, or something about the possibility of meeting with you, as a threat.
That insight provides an opening that leads to a few useful questions:
“What can I do to lessen the threat?”
“What’s in it for them to meet with me?”
These questions, although universal, can also provide you with some useful directions. I’ll give you three to entertain:
1) What’s the Benefit?
Sometimes you can frame the invitation (or re-invitation), by letting people know what’s in it for them. I’ll illustrate what I mean by way of a story.
I was coaching someone in a role play for a conflict resolution class once. The woman was role playing with someone who was pretending to be her grown up daughter. They were simulating a conversation the older woman wanted to have with her “real” daughter in “real life.” The conversation was supposed to be about how the mother was financially supporting her daughter.
The mother asked for the conversation with her “fake” daughter this way:
“I want to talk with you about cutting you off from your financial handouts you get from me.”
Because we had the luxury of it being a role play, we could stop right after that to ask the “fake” daughter: “How did that land for you? What was the impact for you of hearing that as the topic to talk about?”
Fake daughter: “Um. That didn’t work for me at all! This is NOT a conversation I want to have with this mother – at any cost.”
Believe it or not, this came as a surprise to the “real” mother! Perhaps it seems obvious to you, but sometimes when we are in it, it’s not obvious to us. The mother was stuck only seeing the topic from her own point of view. Just like if we are standing looking at a bitten apple, if we are standing on its smooth, unbitten side, that is all we see.
We reflected on how the mother might frame the topic in such a way that there could be “something in it” for the daughter. With the “fake” daughter’s input, mine, the mother’s and the other two students observing in the class, we came up with a new frame. This time, the mother said she wanted to talk about how she could support the daughter in her growing independence. The “fake daughter” was more open to this frame and that enabled them to come to the table to at least start the conversation.
You could say this is manipulation. And, it is only manipulation if you are attached to a particular outcome. Finding something that is in it for both of you is what a values-based conversation is about. It starts with finding something to talk about that could be a “north star” for both of you, not just one of you!
2) What’s the Risk?
Sometimes what motivates people to come to the table is knowing what the risk is if they don’t come to the table. This conversational move is much riskier than sharing a benefit, but can be part of one’s repertoire. What are you afraid of if you don’t have the conversation? And, more importantly, what might the other person be afraid of? Spending some time thinking about these questions can help you, even if you don’t share what you’ve come up with.
In some hierarchical organizations, this idea of risk is used to good effect when an officer, for example, ranked lower than their boss, can point out some possible risk if they are not given the authority to speak in that situation: “Respectfully, sir, there seems to be an issue it would benefit you to know about and that’s the reason why I’d like to request a time to talk…”
3) What Can I Both Acknowledge and Assert?
Sometimes people need space. The person might be feeling pressure to meet with you, and of course, that’s a turn off. No one wants to be forced to do something.
Yet, there may be a need to meet from your point of view. So, in that circumstance, you want to let the other person know you want to meet and you want it to be when they are ready too. Acknowledge and assert.
This starts with connection. You want to acknowledge that they may be busy or not quite ready to have a focused conversation with you and you want to respect their need for space.
And, once there is connection, that they feel you understand where they are coming from, what can you assert? Can you share that that you want to get to the root of the problem, and close enough to when it happened for it to meaningful? Can you share that if you don’t meet, you don’t get the opportunity to solve the problem together and get to the real root of the problem? You won’t be able to truly get what’s going on for them so you can fix or change whatever they’d like you to and they won’t have a chance to hear from you, so that you can work out something that works for both of you.
Acknowledge, assert, then acknowledge again. Let them know you want to give them time to think about what you talked about and to get back to you when they are ready.
In this way, you are telling them you want to respect that they may be busy and need time and you are also saying waiting may cause you both to miss the chance to resolve this in a good way. And you give them choice.
Let me know how it goes!