Organisational and societal life is in massive flux – what William Bridges calls “the nowhere zone between two somewheres”. In this turbulent landscape how can we forge new connections and rebuild partnerships to create organisations in which we want to work? and a world in which we want to live?
Here are ten points, you could think of them as cairns to guide you when you inevitably get lost. I write this as a quick despatch from “the nowhere zone” as I re-charge and re-find my bearings.
1. What is your Stand? Resilience is required in many situations now and it comes from engaging all parts of yourself. What are you committed to being and creating in this situation? Check your Stand: does it have a quality of aliveness about it? Does it ring true from your head, heart and gut?
2. Remember your field of vision may be very limited. When fear and anxiety are heightened, as they are currently, we tend to be more self-referencing and defensive. We think we are seeing into others’ worlds but more likely we are projecting out our own fears, fantasies and stories. The first step is awareness: spotting and acknowledging this is happening.
3. Difficult, painful and confusing stuff hits you – notice how you typically respond. It is a very understandable first response to blame whoever is sending this difficult stuff your way. We are social creatures and others seem ready to join us in what you might call BMW (Bitching, Moaning, Whining) behaviour: there’s a certain pleasure in blaming, it feels cathartic and it simplifies a complex world. I’m the hero or the victim and they’re the difficult, insensitive or incompetent party. Story complete. Truth ascertained. But is this really helping...?
4. Pause and count the cost of blaming others. How much time and energy do you and others spend bitching, moaning and whining, getting hooked on the stuff, what they did to you or others. People report that more than 50% of time and energy in organisations is caught up in this way of being and then we wonder why things are stuck. Notice and name this pattern and its consequences: the feelings of impotency and frustration grow, relationships with others are weakened, and things usually get worse.
5. Seek first to understand before you are understood. Remember this is the first law of conflict resolution. To resolve a stuck or difficult situation we have to explore each other’s stories: how we each understand the situation and why. This requires us to engage our curiosity rather than our judgement; we don’t know everything there is to know about this person or their context.
6. Context matters: know where you are and where others are. We are usually blind to the context (Top, Middle, Bottom, Customer, Dominant, Other) that we and others are in. Most of us just see the stuff coming at us from the other person; we need to also see the context out of which those actions come. Context shapes our experience of ourselves and others in ways we don’t recognise. Barry Oshry reminds us we are dealing context to context as well as person to person.
7. Create the conditions for dialogue. If we want to create sustainable partnership we have to speak up from behind our wall: others can’t necessarily see what we are dealing with, our intentions, the values that drive us and our experience of the other person/group/organisation. Sometimes, there is important history and unfinished business that needs to be named and completed before we can move on. The key is to be descriptive of the stuff, the behaviour and the impact on us (and our team/organisation) and not judgemental or attributive, tempting though the latter is. We also need to listen carefully to others - what feelings lie beneath any accusations or blame? What context or world are they in? How can I ease their condition and the challenges they face so we can both move forward? What might be at stake for them in this situation?
8. Feelings are important but not in the way you thought they were. Feelings are complex and require some discernment: don’t treat them as sacrosanct, enquire into them. Firstly, our feelings can be clues to the context we are in: our feelings of vulnerability and disregard may indicate we are in the Bottom world;, our feelings of burden could be clues that we are in the Top world. Feelings are based on perceptions and thoughts. As we start to see more of the world of others, behind the wall that obscures our view and hear their intentions and motivations, our thoughts and therefore our feelings about others are likely to shift.
9. Connect up the system: which parts of the system need to be brought together in order for us to move forward? Many times, there are the wrong people in the conversation, given the issue at hand. Three simple questions to ask yourself in terms of bringing the right people together: Who knows about this issue? Who has relevant information and perspectives that need to be heard in order to move forward? Who cares enough to do something? Who has energy and motivation to act? Who can? Who has the resources and decision-making power?
10. Reconnect to the larger purpose that sustains this partnership. We are in a tough environment so we also need to celebrate our efforts, our successes and progress along the way. And periodically with our partners, and maybe especially when the quality of partnership is tested, we need to reconnect to the larger purpose that draws us together – what is that larger vision to which we, with all our differences, are jointly committed?