Chopsticks – #21daysofWriting – Day 21

Today’s topic is from my dearest and one of my oldest friends (not as in her age, as in our longevity together) Anne-Marie Garner. I love this woman beyond words. She is a powerhouse, generous to the core, smart, funny and cool. It’s an honour to be her friend. It is she who launched the beautiful Knot, Albert children’s book ( and website & merchandise – she worked HARD)  that inspired this challenge in the first place, so it is only fitting that the last blog in this series is hers.

What is WITH spa slippers?

Suzy looks at the snow-white things half attached to her feet. She shuffled here like a 80-year old Boca Ranton resident, slightly itchy towelling robe wrapped about her, hair scrumpled up in a scruffy bun. The slippers are, she reflects, only slightly whiter than her legs, and have no backs – elegant stepping ain’t happening here.

The other Hens have been squirrelled away by therapists. The waiting area is ambient, warm…  fancy magazines and a water cooler, the scent of every aromatherapy oil known to womankind heady in the dark air. Suzy scratches her bum cheek surreptitiously – her bikini is damp from the hot tub and steam room – it’s making her skin itch against the robe. She feels the nerves tugging and looks for distraction.

She has a nosey at the round lady and her daughter opposite. They are definitely mother-and-daughter. You can see how Round Lady looked in her 20’s. They too have “spa face” – facial oils seeping into pores, making their skin glassy and pink. Both are flipping through magazines, glass of cucumber water beside them.  Suzy likes the lady’s blue-grey toenail varnish colour.

A neat, black-haired, white-uniformed therapist, with what looks like chopsticks holding her hair up, arrives with a slip of paper. “Suzy?”

Suzy stands, her long figure unfolding and she tugs at the robe – tightening the belt, trying to make the weird garment longer.  She follows the therapist down a series of small, dimly lit corridors with low, melodic music and is aware, as ever, of her height and size. The therapist asks her some questions, Suzy answers politely, tummy knotting.

They arrive in in the room. The therapist invites Suzy to sit on the bed and introduces herself as Bethany, a slight Australian twang in her accent as she goes through the healthchecks and procedures. Full body massage today. What pressure does Suzy prefer? Any injuries or allergies?

All formalities done, Suzy is asked to “pop’ her clothes off – paper knickers available if she wants to wear those- and get under the blankets. Bethany leaves, chopstick-headed. Suzy is glad to get rid of the robe and her damp costume. She hangs it up so it might dry out more. As she fumbles with the paper pants, she is aware of her body. Her limbs, her torso, the weight and wobbles. She’s naked in a strange room. She tries not to dwell on that. She feels a welling nervousness, breathes. Gets face down under the covers.

Wrapped in warm blankets, alone in a room with some tribal shaman music playing, the air thickly scented, Suzy feels the opposite of relaxed. Stress. Claustrophobia. God she hates Spas. Faux-relaxation. You leave your brain at the door and are allocated timeslots. “Me time” on someone else’s timetable. Deep breaths Suze…..

Bethany knocks quietly and comes in. “Everything alright?” she asks, moving around the room, getting stuff ready. Suzy says yes… what else is there to say? She has her face in that weird hole thing on the massage table. Facing the floor. She feels very alone and a little teary.

Bethany holds a vial of something under Suzy’s nose.
“I’ve gone with aromatherapy oils that will soothe you – deep relaxation – just have a smell of these two and tell me which you prefer. Number one?” Suzy inhales deeply – oooh that’s good. “or Number two?” Who knows? Suzy thinks. And opts for the first.

Bethany begins with the legs. Suzy tightens at the initial touch, but then the warm oil kicks in and she allows herself to relax. Bethany checks the pressure is ok and Suzy find herself saying:

“I don’t really like massages” Christ! Where did that come from?

“Not everyone does. Are you alright though?” Bethany hasn’t stopped.

“I think so.”

“You are carrying a lot of tension – if you want me to stop at any point or if things aren’t ok, let me know?”

Suzy breathes. Settles. Her mind starts to drift after a while.

Chopsticks. She would be wearing bloody chopsticks. Who wears chopstick in their hair to work? Surely that’s not good health and safety?

They were cheap, the ones that triggered it all. Sitting in Wagamama’s with newly-snapped sticks, a black bowl of rice and veggies in front of her – it looked enormous. She was one of a group of teenage girls on a shopping trip, all fancy after the exams. She remembers sweating at the sheer size of the bowl of food. Eating single grains of rice with the chopsticks. Picking precisely and trying hard not to throw up. This was new. Previously she’d have eaten it and gone to the loo. One purge and everything sorted. Today she couldn’t even face the food. Her mate Maria noticed. Commented. Suzy tried to eat, mixing stuff around hoping it would disappear.

She remembers her black nail varnish matched the bowl, as she held the chopsticks with the paltry rice grain clamped.. and how well it covered up her nails underneath, yellowing from the stomach acid they so regularly came into contact with. Forcing that single grain toward her mouth…..

Bethany has moved to the other leg. Concentrate on that. Concentrate on that.
But the motion of hands, sweeping over skin, connecting with muscle and sinew, the rhythm of her body being pushed and pulled….

The panic attack, when it came was, frankly, mental. Wagamama’s became really muffled and hot, her vision got blurry-then-clear-then-blurry. She couldn’t breathe. Like something was sitting on her chest. Her head faint and her brain feeling like… it was on another planet – she could hear one part of herself really clearly, and another part was just white noise. Mouth opening and closing like a dying-fish. Wanting everyone to just fuck off and feeling black, deep, terrifying nothingness. Her friends freaking out….. there’s a whole part after that she has no recollection of. She knows there was an off-duty paramedic who helped. She flat refused an ambulance, seemingly nearly screaming the place down – when she got her breath back – and the manager took her, Maria and the paramedic off the restaurant floor, into a back room. Her mum arrived an hour or so later, apparently. The other girls waited in a coffee shop nearby.

What followed was months of “intervention”. Shame upon shame upon realisation. Her body, painfully underweight; hidden so well by clothes. Her face gaunt and yellow; hidden so well under a mountain of make-up. Her teeth ravaged by puke – she runs her tongue carefully over the £4k dental work her job eventually paid for. Therapy. CBT. Learning to cook. Some weird lesson where she had to “make friends” with a raw chicken breast. Her whole post GCSE life altered by chopsticks and rice grains.

Bethany has moved up to her back.

As the motion of the massage connects in to Suzy, she suddenly feels sadness – all that time wasted. A life on hold as she battled herself, her body. There are muscles in her back now and soft fat and tissue. She can feel the density of herself – her solidity, her suppleness. She can feel that she is here – not trying to vanish, not a ball of self-loathing and small, hateful nothingness.  The tears come from no-where and  surprise her. She feels them on her face and the realisation makes her sob.

Bethany says gently “Things are shifting. Do you want me to stop for now?”

Suzy shakes her head, trying to breathe, unable to speak

“You can talk, if you want to,” She says, kindly. She softens her touch. Her hands less-pummelling, more soothing.  As she continues to move, it’s like she’s coaxing something from Suzy…

“I was ill. Eating disorder. I was gripped for a long time.”

“And now?”  her hands sweep up the spine, over the heart-space in the back

“Now I’m not ill” She sobs again, deep, big, fat sobs. Oh God this is awkward.

Bethany keeps har hand firmly shifting, moving patiently. Not stopping until asked.

Suzy re-assesses where she is. Her head is jammed in the face cradle, crying. She realises she’s face-down on something like a padded toilet seat ….. the number of times she had her head down a bog and swore never again. It’s ridiculous. She wants to laugh, suddenly. She hiccups between a sob and a giggle… feeling the laughter rise, her sides contracting. She is properly laughing now, the massage bed moving. The tears from before are now different tears and she is aware that Bethany has also started to shake with mirth…

“Another shift?” Bethany says, her voice high with amusement.

“I think that’s enough.. I think I want to stop now” Suzy says.

Bethany gently smooths her back a couple of times and wraps the towel over her.

“I’ll stay for now, unless you want to be alone?”

“No. Stay.. but can I get up?”

“Slowly”

Suzy gets up and wraps herself in the blankets – she looks, shiny-eyed at the therapist, who looks back kindly, gently.

“It’s the chopsticks” she says – and begins to tell the story.

Reflection

So this one feels like I’m finishing on a “Well.. I started fairly safely 21 days ago– now I’m just going for it”. I’m so far off L&D and Leadership and Change & my work world, I need to re-orientate myself – this blog was only ever meant to be a work one. And that’s ok.. I’m just conscious of it all.

I started with Chopsticks as in musical chopsticks and messed around for ages with a piano recital scenario – but it was unfamiliar territory and I got tangled up.

In this, stuff about physicality and touch – how small things can evoke big stuff – I’m on territory I know and recognise… I can write from here. I see shifts in emotional states, catch those moments that become realisations,  when I coach. I’ve been the girl on the massage table, realising a physical shift can lead to emotional shift too. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

Tomorrow is Day 22 – and there it’s about What Next and What more.

For any and all of you who have read any/ all of the Challenge Blogs, I am eternally grateful – so many of you have commented, contacted me, cheered me on. It’s been quite extraordinary. Thank you. J x

Colour – #21daysofWriting – Day 6

Day 6’s topic comes from the brilliant, creative Christine Locher Second foray into fiction, with a flash of colour, I hope

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Scotland – 1920 ish

Isla sits on the end of the bed, breath held, no sense of how long she has been sitting there, waiting. Hands on her lap. Feet resting on the floorboards. The clock on the mantle ticks solidly. Everything is still and very very quiet.

She becomes aware that she is cold; and with that comes a sense that she needs to move. So she does. She smooths the skirt of her dress, the fabric soft beneath her fingertips, and slowly rises.

She stands for a second, no clear sense of direction, and catches the image of her face in the mirror above the fireplace. “I am pale” she thinks. She regards her dark hair, curled and pinned. Her blue eyes and prominent nose. Her mouth and the angles of her jawline. She sees dark circles and an unsmiling mouth, a gauntness that makes her look older. She tries to smile, but her nerves stop her eyes from catching the feeling. She turns away, her spirit stubbornly refusing to spiral downward.

Today is the day.

She is ready.

She looks down at the dress. A fine thing. An expensive thing. Beautifully fitted and perfect for the occasion.

She takes a deep breath and goes to seek the others.

 

The men have gathered in the kitchen.

The bottle of whisky on the table, dram glasses gathered around it, belies the fact that it is morning.

They stand, suited, smart, hands in pockets, glass in hand or leaning on the sideboard. Some sit at the table. There is talking, gesturing, fiddling with pocket watches or cigarettes or pipes. A shaft of low winter sun strikes through the gloom, dust motes and smoke moving through it.

She enters the room quietly.

Her father has his back to her. Uncle sees her, nudges Father and nods toward her.

Father turns, expectant, arms opening to greet her as he turns. He takes in the vision of his daughter.  He looks at her for a few seconds, staring. His arms drop.

“What’s this?” He says, quietly.

She doesn’t respond

“Isla?” Still quiet. Ominous. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”

She still says nothing, aware that the room is now silent; that all the men are looking her way; that the moment she knew would come is now here. For all she’d prepared for it, she now feels woefully under equipped and afraid.

She opens her lips to say something… but her tongue is thick and her mouth dry.

Father is standing facing her directly, still across the room. His eyes have ignited – cold fury shining from them.

“Answer me, damn you, girl. What the bloody hell is going on?”

 

“There’s no need to swear at the lassie, Gregor.” – A voice behind her. Mother.

She watches her father shift his position, less certain what to do in the face of his wife.  “Agnes. She’s wearing… she’s wearing…” He gestures at his daughter, unable to finish.

“Red, Gregor. Our daughter is wearing Red.”

He considers this for a second.

“What the bloody hell is she doing wearing red?” He explodes, “It’s a funeral for Christ’s sake, no a…. a… hoor’s convention”

Agnes stands beside her daughter, long black coat buttoned up, the cold from outside still radiating from her. She takes Isla’s hand.

“Isla, my lass. Tell your father why you are wearing red.”

She hesitates. Looks at her mother. Mother nods, gently encouraging. Eyes still on Father.

“It was Robert’s favourite dress, father. He bought it for me. In Paris”

Father looks at her, incredulous. “What?” his contempt is searing.

She takes a deep breath. “This is the last dress Robert bought me. He loved this dress. I told him I would wear it to the funeral”

Father looks between Isla and his wife, trying to take it in. “No. Absolutely No.”

“Gregor…”

“No. No. No. What will people say, Agnes? The Minister? What will the Minister make of it? I forbid it! No daughter of mine goes to her husband’s funeral dressed like that!!”

“Gregor..”

“Hush, wife. I’ll not hear it! I forbid this, understand?”

He rounds on Isla “What possessed you, girl? What are you thinking? A Red Dress, Isla? Paris you say? It looks like he bought it for a…. Tart. Get up the stairs and put on proper mourning attire, or I’ll thrash you like…..”

“THAT IS ENOUGH” her Mother thunders.

Isla doesn’t move. The men seem frozen, too. Only the smoke in the light-shaft moves.

Gregor looks stunned for a split second, then recovers. He puts his whisky glass down, purposefully. The silence is agonising. He moves toward them, menacingly.

“Speak to me like that, would you? In front of all these people?” He hisses, quietly.

Isla is terrified. She bows her head, quivering. Her mothers hand squeezes hers and releases.

Agnes pulls herself to her full height, still smaller than he, and stands between him and his daughter.

“Aye. I would.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

She says nothing. Holds her ground. Dares him silently.

In the silence, in the safety of her mother, Isla thinks about the Red Dress. About Robert, returned from the war unlike so many of his brethren. About how he had passed through Paris on his return home. About how her had greeted her, victorious, with the dress. About how he had not seen her for over a year and when she put it on, he looked at her like she was made of purest gold. About the times she’d worn it since. About the promise she made to him, as he lay, riddled with TB. About her fury with God himself that He would return her Man and take her Man in such a fashion. About the bairn growing in her belly that meant this dress would not fit weeks from now…she takes strength from her anger, her grief, her dress.

She steps out from behind her mother and stares him down.

Gregor is taken aback under the eyes of his child. He’s never seen her thus. His own eyes glare back at him, defiant.

“I’m wearing the dress father.”

He shakes his head, enraged.

She restates “I’m wearing the dress to Robert’s funeral and that is the end of it. No man will stop me. Not you. Not the Minister.”

He considers his position. Looks at his wife.

“Are you proud of yersel, Agnes? You’ve raised a bloody Pankhurst bitch”

He spits on the floor.

Agnes simply unbuttons her coat, the crimson velvet beneath revealing itself to her husband.

“Aye. I’m proud.”

 

 

 

Reflection

I loved writing this. Just loved it.

I hung out with the notion of “colour” for a few days – debating how to frame it. the name fuchsia blue? The colours of emotion? what to choose what to choose….

At some point on Sunday night I thought about a red dress and the scandal of it… that was a hook for other things.. how it once would have been more scandalous (therefore age the thing) how the outrage needs to be placed somehow (funeral? wedding? although in lots of cultures, colours at weddings and funerals are essential). It began in Wales, with the father outraged in a Welsh accent ( you’ll see why tomorrow) and moved home to Scotland, where I understand the tone and texture of the language.

It wasn’t particularly planned.. the crimson reveal happened after I’d written Agnes was wearing a coat… it kind of came together by playing it through – what felt real or not…

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.

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

How to dine with your enemy

“How do we create a dialogue that invites the other to join – anyone we dislike…?
What a challenge in co-creating a future with those we disagree with on such a fundamental level.”

Sarah in the SeaSalt Learning WhatsApp “Pub” 23rd March 2016

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Wowsers, this is a big question… asked in the wake of another Terrorist attack, this time in Belgium.. and I don’t have the answer, but somehow I want to answer. And I’m going to work a little in the abstract here, because tipping over into the current situation is likely to polarise or inflame… and I’m trying to work quietly and carefully to offer thoughts –possible ways to “invite the other”, without being “smart-arse-I-know”, without being sentimental, without knowing, really, if it is doable, but with a deep-held belief that it is.

There is no quick fix. Dialogue that invites us to dine with our enemy does not just happen. It’s hard work, it takes relentless patience and practice, it requires surrender of self, of position, of certainty. It’s not particularly joyeous – though it can be. It can be thankless – you can feel misunderstood, insulted, frustrated, angry, exhausted…. but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The first step isn’t creating the dialogue. The first step is creating the conditions for the dialogue – any dialogue – to happen. And by dialogue I mean simply a place where we talk WITH each other, not AT each other. Conditions are things like time – these conversations, the ones where we are actively inviting a counter-narrative into our lives in order to change outcomes, take an inordinate amount of time, if they are to be done well.
Not an hour, but hours. Not a day, but days. You inch your way toward each other, repelled and rejecting, but also if you are lucky, determined, to get a result.

And space – If I’m going to sit in conversation with someone whose views are fundamentally abhorrent to me, I don’t want to do that in a confined room, where they can fill it with their toxicity or I could fill it with mine – I want big airy places and time to walk it off/ wash it off afterward. The physical space required to do repugnant work is often overlooked.

Bill Isaacs uses a metaphor of a Container for Conversation in his work Dialogue: The Art of Thinking together. Part of his study took place in a steel mill. Above the workers on a day-to-day basis was a vast cauldron of molten steel – thousands of tons of liquid metal held right above the heads of the workers – and they carried on operating underneath it because they trusted that it held. Some of Isaacs’ work is about understanding what creates containers for conversation – how can we construct vast cauldrons where hot-headedness or steel-hard opinions can be melted, contained, held until they can be cooled and forged into something else?

So the conditions for the dialogue mean we have to forge a container – this is the bit that takes time – we’re not properly IN the conversation yet

The container created requires a suspension of judgement – give it up. Who are you to say you would or would not do a thing? or think a thing? In certain circumstance, in context…. What if you are wrong? if you are not prepared to ask yourself that question, if no-one is ever prepared to ask themselves that question, then there is no dialogue -it’s entrenched & we are talking AT. It requires a dropping of your view, however deeply held, however fond you are of it…and writing it in neat sentences in a blog cannot BEGIN to cover how challenging that can be.

It requires that everyone listens to each other – and listens well – shuts up and pays attention, not just to what is being said, but to how…and to what is not being said… and to what is being inferred or assumed. Listening like this gets underneath the surface anger/ hatred/ apathy/ smugness/power-statement/whatever defence you choose for yourself to keep others’ opinions safely away – it leaves the other properly heard. It means they have some responsibility for the bile or the bilge or the constructive stuff that comes out of their mouth, because it isn’t falling on deaf ears – they are not shouting into the void, they are being heard and their words cause responses and reactions.

It requires speaking authentically – airing outrage, naming fear, saying the unsaid, remembering joy and beauty exist, speaking with love and hope, even when that feels kind of weird and risky – it speaks to trust. And authenticity requires working with the full gamut of emotion – nothing can be off limits. If it is there, it is there

It requires respect. Respect for self, for what you bring and who you are and your own importance, along with that same respect, or more perhaps, for your opponent. The best dialogues contain respectful opposition – where differing views can be held, looked at, discussed and acted upon without treating someone as a pariah.

and then there is trust… I have to trust you will stay with me in this conversation. I have to trust that, even though we have such deeply counter-views, you have something to add, that you are worth my time, that I can learn something or act someway different as a result of sitting with you this way. At the start I might well see you as inhumane, as thick, as evil, as other. I might want vengeance, or to shake you hard so you understand what you have done. I might not be able to look you in the eye. And to show trust, I have to get over myself. I may have to sit in your disapproval or rejection. You might see me as any number of worthless things. If we are to build trust, I have to work with that, tolerate it a little.. and I might fire back at you when your view of me becomes intolerable – I’m showing you who I am and I’m no push-over. We have to give a little of ourselves up, reveal ourselves a little – good and bad – I have to trust you won’t throw that back at me and if you do, I have to try again, with a reset until something shifts.

Time. Space. Suspend Judgement. Listen. Respect. Trust. Speak your Truth – simple, yet not easy.

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I’m always aware when I write or think about this stuff that it can be read as “woolly” “fluffy” I hear “bleeding heart liberal” in my head – I label myself as a dreamer, as an altruist. Do you know what? It’s not fluffy at all. It’s bloody bloody hard work. It’s far easier to not do this delicate stuff and just crash forth, mono-opinioned, braying and squash everyone else in your sightline. (good morning, Mr Trump). Well…easier for you, maybe…

I don’t work at the upper echelons of mediation or delicate negotiation (I tried negotiating with the Unions a few times – I have a terrible track record). But this stuff is not about negotiation. It’s about long-term, deep understanding of how you conquer your own fear and prejudice – and it can be taught and practiced. You can develop tolerance. There is hope.

Where my heart quails is that this really is what it takes to work with The Other – dedication, time, slow understanding – and we are so busy, so information/ counter information filled, that can feel impossible. But it happens – there are thousands of ways these conversations are happening – not big fat showy conversations, but on the-ground groups, communities, places dialogue can and will happen.

The above isn’t perfect – I’m hoping others will comment below and add stuff to help it get better/ different – but this is the How , as I see it Sarah…(couldn’t have typed all of that on WhatsApp) x

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Julie Drybrough is 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

The Poetry of Propaganda – (AKA when the “soft stuff” gets hard core)

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How do you persuade the deeply entrenched to surrender their positions?
If changing systems requires changing behaviours and behavioural change is, typically, triggered by something deeply personal (unless you go super-coercive, but that’s not an ethical/legal position most organisations would go for.. (thankfully?)) what does that mean?

When someone has made up their mind about something. About what is right or wrong. About what they can and can’t do. About what is or is not fiction or fact – and their position is harming them, or an organisation, or a country….. what actions can you take?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me from Jose Miguel Sokoloff’s TED talk as he explains how he & his team helped persuade Colombian Guerillas to demobilise.
I was first made aware of his story through the This American Life Podcast.
Sokoloff is, by trade, an advertising exec – more used to dealing with selling soap or dog food than getting involved in gnarly political/social change issues…but his reasons for taking up the challenge were, in part, emotional ones: He had never known a day of peace-time in his own country.

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Vapour, Iron & Barriers to Change – a Story

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This is not what he’s going to want to hear.

Under pressure.
Scrutinised.
A big structural change to deliver.
Budget cuts to the quick of the organisation.
He wants a neat process.
A plan… with outcomes and goals.
Delivery of that plan. Stat.
Seemingly this is where I come in….

Only…
It strikes me, as we talk that he already has this – he and his team have long since mapped the process. They understand the outcomes they are seeking.
Hell – they even took the plan to the Board and it’s all approved.
For months now, it’s been All Systems Go.
They are more than capable of delivering a plan. Stat.

So I’m wondering – why am I here?
(That question seems to annoy him. He is, after all, a very busy man…)

I’m here because I am a Consultant – He needs someone to come in and make the change happen. Run workshops. Facilitate conversations. That stuff.
(I bite down my question… Why can’t you already do that without me?)

The plan isn’t working. The outcomes and goals are not being “owned” outwith the team. The need for cuts and restructures is not widely accepted.
There seem to be barriers and blocks… hard to say what they are…
The Board collectively said yes.
This means The Board are onside.

Really?
Let’s break that down..

Well they are onside – but This Director will struggle to implement the structural cuts in Q2 & 3 because the looming deal means all hands to the pump and the disruption to resourcing is too high a risk. As a key income stream to the business, this area needs protecting.

This Director is going forward – LEAN methodologies in place now – so everything is being looked at carefully and, y’know, that all takes a while to show results. But they are absolutely committed to losing 25% of their staff and budget. It means their reach will be smaller in the Organisation, but they are fine with that.

This Director is close to the CEO and is pushing hard for things to change in their area – already the four Regional Heads are three and the resourcing has slimmed down massively. Staff are warning that it is too much too fast – there is currently a risk to retained knowledge –but that is just resistance to change, of course –that’s what you expect to hear at this stage of the game. This area is really role modelling what needs to be happening.

This Director has taken the Heads Of out for a couple of days. They have come up with a plan for how they can keep everyone and raise productivity. It’s not The Plan. It’s better. They have always prized themselves on their innovation and ability to overcome the odds. This Director is much-loved by the Team. They are the priority.

So here’s the news: The Board are not onside.

Collectively perhaps. Individually…. not so much.
I see fear. I see procrastination. I see care. I see carelessness. Protectionism. Jostling. Attachment.
Individually they have a lot to lose, staff, status, outcomes.

If you want the whole to change… you kind of need to put a lot of attention on the parts.
You want to get things moving differently? Help your Leaders deal with their emotional, relational and attachment stuff.
(Perhaps that’s why I’m here after all?)

He’s looking at me in a way that makes my tummy knot with anxiety.
On the one hand, my dialogue training tells me to inquire into both my own feelings and into the look he appears to be giving me (don’t assume, Jools. Don’t project your own nonsense onto someone else. Notice the phenomena. Work with the data. Ask what you don’t know.. he might really like what you’ve just said)
On the other hand, even my paltry knowledge of reading body language and facial expressions tells me pretty clearly:
I’m on the end of contempt.

He wants answers. I am here to give him answers.
To get the plan going.
To enable the outcomes.
To fix the barriers. Stat.
I’m meant to provide a process. Something clean and clear…. not start on about bloody-messy-fluffy-woolly emotional guff…..

I’m letting him down.

I feel squeezed.
I’d really really like the business… I sense it slipping away as I speak the truth as I see it.
Yet I can only speak the truth as I see it.

So I try to unknot my tummy and breathe into what I know to be true:

Far from being woolly and fluffy, the emotion and attachment stuff your leaders are experiencing is made of iron wills. Your barriers are metallic in their essence – not vapour-fluffy, but hard core emotion.
You want them to own damage to their organisation?
You want them to be onside with cutting jobs, budgets & risking their reputations?
You want the organisation not to be heartlessly, ruthlessly ravaged?
You need to start softening iron wills.
You need an Emotional strategy to back up your Business one.
A place for your leaders to express fear, understand where & why they procrastinate, work with care that doesn’t compromise the whole plan by overly protecting, be considerate not ruthless….
Right now all of that is being left to chance.
How about you have a cohesive plan that takes into account impact of your leaders’ emotions?

And you’re not onside with what I’m saying, I can see that – because you have your own pressure and attachments to this working. I get that, right now, this is not the answer you want….But this is the answer I’m offering you.

And breathe……

Silence ensues and I wait.
The sense of lost work and crumbling credibility drifts over me. This emotional nonsense doesn’t hold up in this world of data and process. It’s too out there….

I sit, checking in with myself – am I still breathing? How hard are my hands shaking? How much adrenaline is currently in my system? I’m working out if my knees will give as I stand. Ah well… if I fall over it’s not like I’m going to see him again.

I finally put my attention back on him.
His expression has changed. There is less contempt now – something is shifting….

He sighs.
Fatigued and irritated he asks:
So what, specifically, would your Emotional strategy to back up this Business strategy be, then?

and it’s here the work really begins….

* this is a composite tale. I never blog directly about clients. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or organisational situations, living or dead, is purely coincidental… though quite possibly likely