Touch

In the moment of the goodbye, she hugs me….not a quick, rapid, throw-arms-round-as-I-buzz-on-to-next-thing hug, but a deeply present, warm I-see-you-we-are-connected-see-you-again hug…heart to heart stuff…. I literally and metaphysically find myself moved. I sink in for a second – yielding and accepting the feel of that message in my body, ready to be received, ready to give back connection, affection, love….there is a brief pause, where we’re just kind of together, and then she disentangles herself and goes… for a moment I am discombobulated, filled with good chemicals …at peace.
Then I sort of exhale and go about my day – a little heightened.
A small moment, a shifting one… how utterly delicious.

Not everyone likes to be touched.
Physically, psychologically, emotionally, sometimes socially, the phenomena of someone reaching us, connecting with us is a profound one.
It’s risky.
It can be thrilling
It can terrify.
Given, got.
Offered, accepted.
Withheld, denied.
It can’t be one-sided.
It’s a relational thing.
This stuff’s loaded.
Touch can be kind, enlivening, empowering.
It can be cruel, belittling, damaging.
It can be intrusive, a violation.
It can be instructive, a revelation.
We have, often for good reason, different boundaries and barriers around connection.
This stuff leaves you vulnerable.
It could do you over.
It could move you into different places and spaces,
It is not to be underestimated.

I’m interested in touch – what am I in-touch with? Out of touch with? What am I connecting to? Disconnect from?
I ask the same of clients… it helps to know this stuff.. or at least get a sense of it…

I have a client who hates to be touched – hugging literally makes them shudder – we’ve talked about it, each fascinated by the other’s ease of preference – I’m physical, a hugger, an arm toucher – the opposite would leave me more disconnect – I don’t understand what that preference must be like.
They spend their life being hugged and touched by folk like me, and it leaves them cold, irritated… compounded by the fact that society seems to value touch and hugs…. their boundaries constantly crossed inadvertently…Why do I need to bloody touch folk? Why can’t you let me be?
These are fair questions.

When I go and see Mum, deeply bitten by dementia, it is, at times, touch that connects us back, words won’t work here…. hands held, eye contact…a hand on a cheek… these are the gestures that garner a response.

In a novel I read recently, Karen Joy Fowler writes: “They are called feelings for a reason. It’s because you feel. Them.” Things touch us, they move us – we feel. Our physical experience of being in the world, so often overlooked, is such a vital part of who we are and how we are with others…how in-touch are we with this?

I’ll make the argument for opening up, taking the risk, being bigger, connecting more, putting yourself out there, being in-touch with yourself and with others… and I am one of the first who longs to lock-down, protect myself, hide away, out-of-reach.
I struggle with big crowds. I get overwhelmed in the Social Media maelstrom at times….lots of people professing connection… sometimes, the warmth I see and experience through virtual, social spaces, truly touches me…sometimes it feels hollow, vacuous….a scant touch, brief and care-less.

Which is why, when someone hugs me with such open heartedness, such generosity and love I’m bowled over for a second…and then I hug back….
Oh yes… this is what it feels like to be connected…. Wow.

Facilitation: We Move Folk… or Try To…

Much of the work, when we are facilitating, is about moving people’s “states” – working to move their learning, how they see the world, their current story…. this isn’t something we talk about widely in the training of facilitators… but for me it’s a no-brainer. We move folk… or try to.

So Movement is an interesting one – as humans we can be as stubborn and immovable as donkeys. We can be deeply entrenched, utterly unable or unwilling to shift our position or thinking…. And yet we are predictable, persuadable, biddable, impressionable….so somewhere in here is possibility.

I’m clear, when I facilitate (and coach), that I mostly cannot move you if you are not open or able to be shifted. Your life experiences, your wiring, your world-view are there and if you choose to remain within those – if the defences are up – there is little I can do.
I can learn how to persuade and influence. I can make a good case, rationally and emotionally, for a shift. I can ask good questions. I can create experiences and conversations that compel. I can create a little smoke & put you in front of mirrors (not so much my style, but it’s out there, if you pay attention) I can set the environment and the “tone” which give you the opportunities to shift. I can set something up that is as enticing and beguiling as it is possible to make a thing… and still you have to meet me someplace toward it – you need to move.
(and even if you move.. you might move back… so long-term sustained states are better than short term fixes?)

I suspect when we design stuff, this shift of state is what we reach toward, consciously or otherwise.
I’ll come back to this in a bit….

I’m a social scientist by training. Sociology taught me a lot about understanding social systems. We as humans pull toward being interconnected, interacting, joined-up-in-more-ways-than-we-act, social. We influence each other – someone commits an act of terror in London, there is a wider social ripple that effects us all. Someone restructures the organisation… new team and power dynamics run….
We can’t live without cause and effect – movement is inherent in all of this – changed states, shifts and patterns.
Systems are, by their very nature, dynamic. They move and respond in order to survive and thrive. Bits waste and fall out of favour (atrophy) bits develop (emergence). It’s a dance of sorts.

When you facilitate, in the room, it is no different. You work the system, often dancing in the moment, whether you know it or not.

If you work with a group from a single Organisation, folk replicate the system the come from – they carry the rights/wrongs/ culture of the place they come from. It’s in their thinking and actions, in their behaviours and their energy – the system you work with in the room is an echo of a wider system. What is favoured one place, is a bit “meh” elsewhere.

For example, if you’ll forgive the broad-brush stuff, when I’m working in Oil & Gas sector in the Middle East, I might get a repetition of engineering thinking in the room, Sector thinking (lots of emphasis on safety), the cultural mix of Northern European liberalism, Ex-pat nomads and Middle Eastern conservatism, … brought under a shared purpose of pulling oil out of the Gulf safely, which is where the cultural differences must be dropped a little. What might be valued/ permitted in this room is expertise, proven theory, certainty, formal process and action – creativity and innovation might be viewed with a little scepticism… or flat fear.

In a UK Local Authority, the emphasis might be more on social thinking – systems, social care, social justice – what might be valued/ permitted in the room might be freedom to explore ideas, acknowledging complexity, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building… formal process and theory-based slide decks and definitive answers might just not work.

Or when working with a group from lots of different systems, an Unconference or a cross-sector workshop, I know that individuals tend to replicate the social system they know – the norms and behaviours from their world – and group work here can be more hectic, less settled for a while, especially if norms and permissions collide…..

None of this is right or wrong .. You mostly roll with it- but going back to the point above, if you are looking for the shift, if you want to successfully facilitate Movement (of learning, ideas etc) understanding the System & what it tolerates, values or rejects can greatly help your design & approach… and you can’t absent yourself from it – you will have an impact on the group you work with…

Movement & The Facilitation Shindig

we’re going to work with the theme of Movement at the May #FacilitationShindig. I’m going to use a couple of things to explore Movement in and around the system.  (If you don’t know about the Shindig yet, have a look at www.FacilitationShindig.com or follow @Shindiggery1 ) Broadly, a breakdown of what we’ll cover looks like this:

  1. As with every Shindig, one of the core principles is It Starts With You – we’ll look at what moves you and what keeps you grounded. The system is about to get mobile around you in the room – you need to be a stable point, not dragged about by others’ stuff – to be able to stand, relaxed, open, not-anxious, curious…
  2. Practical activities help you do that (be organised, understand your “flow” etc) and we will focus on physical elements which help – practices of physically centring and re-balancing. I’m drawing from Embodied Work from my teachers in this field, particularly Wendy Palmer and Amanda Ridings. Wendy looks at the physical, embodied nature of being in the world and asks how we can actively connect to our strength dignity, and warmth. In the room it is this: can you connect to the Good Stuff and extend it out, extending your personal space, creating a felt-sense of calm, inclusion etc ?
    You can find out more about Wendy’s work here:

  3. Beyond-self. Looking at understanding and moving the system. We’ll look at mapping – using 3D System Sculpting – and some stuff around movement in the room (what do we need to think about/ try when we move folk round? What happens if we are faced with physical restrictions?)
  4. Finally we’ll look in to and use Constellations – roughly speaking, this is about experiencing where we stand in relation to each other, to the sytem, to a situation or a pattern – looking at it from a number of perspectives.

So we are looking at Movement – in every sense of the word – and how that fits in our practice as facilitators and what more we can do with the dynamics we work with and are influenced by.

register your interest for the event on the 4th May click here

 buy a ticket for 4th May Movement session click here

 

 

 

Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

Coaching. Walking. Thinking. Changing

foot-prints-vector-176664The first time I met her, I was struck by her energy and boldness; her ambition and enthusiasm; her physical presence. She was direct and clear. She knew precisely what she wanted from coaching. She was organised and focussed. We met in a slightly grim, windowless, stuffy room in her Public Sector workplace and we more-than filled it. It could barely contain us. Halfway through the session, we had flip paper laid out across the table and she was showing me the inside of her head using big pen strokes and fast words.

I was grinning from ear to ear at times … She demanded to be heard and seen. She was quick and certain, pacey and knowledgeable. She was already doing a lot of reflective work. I noticed I was finding it easy to listen, encourage, agree… but I was there to coach… Repeat to self: don’t collude, but don’t crush. Agree and still question. Disagree and hold to the counter-view. Don’t get sucked in to the presenting narrative….what’s the different story that could be told?

And so I started to look for the different story. Under the certainty and lovely noise, where the pauses and silences emerged. Where the lack-of certainty might lie. What was underneath….?

In the aftermath of the first session, I felt kind of ecstatically knackered – the sense you get when you have been engaged full-on in some sort of creative process…. Sort of done, but in a really good way…. I remember sitting on the Tube heading to my next destination just a little bit spaced out…..

As I reflected on what was going on – there was something niggling me about doing the work in that small, confined room. She needed space – a LOT of space. I needed that to work with her too. And so, after some reflection, emailing and a phonecall, we agreed to try walking as part of our coaching process. I was curious about what a shift to a bigger landscape might do for the conversation and the coaching process – she was curious about the health benefits of getting out and walking.

The first time, we walked out from her place of work, steady paced and I was fearful that without my trusted notebook to note down the “what are we working on today” stuff, I would lose a thread or a topic or something…. It never happened. Over the next 4 sessions (not over Winter months, so we didn’t get any rain.. more about that anon) we walked out from an agreed fixed point (mostly Kings Cross .. once Piccadilly Circus) and we worked together.

So here’s some stuff about walking and coaching that I/ we noticed

Getting out of the room was useful. It unlocked and unblocked issues and ideas in ways I can’t fully explain. The motion and the lack-of-binding walls helped big things seem smaller and somehow more in proportion. There was inspiration to be found in the changing landscape, at times.

Speaking out into the air was freeing… and sometime scary: not having to look at another’s face and put your interpretation of what they think/ believe took away some inhibition and occasionally added some anxiety. Sometimes she needed to look at me, she felt. We sort of worked out this was for reassurance sometimes… when the unsayable came out – when she was at her boldest – she needed to see I was alongside her still.

The sense of “beside” needs a little attention, at times – “Walking alongside” could assume I was alongside her thinking – it wasn’t always so. I could be walking alongside her and still feel baffled or doubtful or delighted. I found walking meant it was sometimes easier for me to voice disquiet or a counter-view to something she was attached to. We weren’t intensely face-to-face. Discord could fall in to a bigger space. Her inherent “niceness” that so often shone through at work, could be muddied up a bit here.

Our pace varied. Sometimes we noticed we were walking slowly – carefully considering this or that. Other times, it picked up. We kept pace with each other. The physical rhythm was important, somehow… and yet rarely consciously expressed – it sort of just happened and we would notice it later.

Her ability to remember the conversation correlated with points in the walk. She remembered saying Y as we waited for at the traffic lights leaving Kings Cross. She could say to me: “when we were just a bit away from Upper Street, I said: X “ and I knew where, exactly, she meant – both verbally and geographically. If we had spent 2 hours in a teeny-tiny room, or a café or somewhere fixed, this wouldn’t have happened. We both remembered the route and the conversation as it happened along it… and at some point we would begin the walk back to where we started… and somehow in as we returned, she began to gather up her thoughts and plan some actions.

We walked in silence, at times – as she got lost in her thoughts and wandered the routes her mind took her to, I walked quietly beside her. It was generally a companionable silence. Not one weighted with expectation that I sometimes experience in a room – sitting waiting is different from walking and waiting, somehow. It’s a different quality.

We practiced with physical elements of her leadership – standing straighter, Walking with confidence, breathing more slowly, speaking at different paces, how it felt to be balanced or off-balance. In the context of walking, these elements were more easily, naturally perhaps, combined with the work. Again, if we were static, we would have had to move from sitting to standing to practice some of physical elements… and whilst sit-to-stand is not a big move… it’s somehow a big move, if you are used to the conversation being mostly without physical movement.

The weather mattered..and didn’t matter. In the hotter days, we did need to walk with water or coffee at times (the sessions were 2 hours long). We never walked in the rain – We could have of course. I have a notion the drumming of rain on an umbrella might be quite nice – or might bring in a element of physical discomfort that distracted. The practicalities of both our jobs meant we needed to be elsewhere after we saw each other. Soggy working didn’t appeal to either of us. Anyway, in the event of inclement weather, Plan B would have been to walk through a museum or art gallery….it would have been different again.

We got results:  I can’t say we got better results than if we had staying in the room, but I can say that the process was certainly more rewarding and physically better. The outcomes and the actions she chose & implemented were things that stuck.

The note-taking issue: I am curious about if I should have built in time for note-taking at the end. I took my own notes, usually 24 hours or so onward. She did too, but we didn’t close off the session with something more tangible. As I often use drawing, doodle, diagrams with my coachees – encouraging them to express or show me/themselves stuff in non-words… and we didn’t have that slightly more permanent record of the discussion and action, relying more on sensation and experience…

Walking and coaching worked. It demanded different things from “usual” coaching conversations, but on the whole I’d recommend it.

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Shout-out to people I’ve had conversations about walking & coaching with of late:
Jayne Harrison, Hilary Gallo & Euan Semple.

Shout out to Richard Martin for his Walking- Inspired Blog, Pace

artwork shout to SRNR

About me:

I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

Contact fuchsiablue to find out more

Looking At The World With An Eyebrow Up

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I got feedback about my face again.

I’ve had it before and I’m mostly fine with it… know it…. try really hard to work with it – the feedback is about the weird frowny thing I do when I’m puzzled or misunderstanding or unsure. I frown. I’m thinking deeply, which shows up as frowning and that expression gets read in lots of different ways.

The frowning thing has followed me throughout my professional life. I’ve been told I’m dissenting, disagreeable, intense, intimidating…. It seems my face tells people stories I’m only one part of. What I have learned, however, is the frowny thing distances me from being alongside people, it signals: stay away. It’s rarely meant. Although I absolutely can be dissenting, disagreeable and intense (I struggle to own intimidating) my preferred place of being is collaborative.

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Breath & Bravery

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Would I call it bravery?

Nah. I never think of myself as brave.

Naïve? Sure.

Chancy? On occasion.

Stubborn? Oh hell yes.

But Brave? It’s not a word I bestow upon myself.

 

But there is something about that moment.

The moment at the beginning of a session.

Any session ….a one day workshop; a week-long programme; the gathering of a dialogue group; the open-circle with no tables so we can all talk freely (which I both loathe and love at times, with its possibility for equality or exposure); the expectant, shuffling bodies in a conference room; the joyeous excitement at the Unconference, settling into a willingness to co-create and explore…….

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If You Can’t Stand the Heat….

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I’m thinking about heat here in Qatar. I’m thinking about 29 degree early mornings and 40 degree afternoons. Walking out of air conditioned buildings into a heat that shocks – dry, dust-filled mouthfuls of hot unforgiving air. When you open the oven door and the heat slaps you in the face & makes your eyebrows feel they are curling? That sort of heat.

Last Saturday I went full-tourist and rode the brightly coloured hop-on-hop off bus from one end of Doha to the other. I was the only person on the bus to begin with, (so feeling really good about my choices and in no-way conspicuous) As it drove along the gorgeous Corniche, the Gulf mercifully threw a breeze from the sea which was pleasant enough. So I was hot and bothered, but well within my tolerance zone…. then the bus drew into the city and concrete, glass and steel surrounded the little yellow double decker as we stopped for some time at the Central Mall. I began to realise I was slowly boiling….. laughing to myself as I thought of the apocryphal tale of frog-boiling that sometimes gets used in change workshops. The heat and discomfort slowly creeping up on me and I hadn’t noticed. It was only when I went to drink my water and I realised how warm the contents of the bottle was, that I thought: OK.. you are really out of your depth here. You need to go downstairs to the air-conned bit.

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