Wild Mind Writing Revisited– Discipline & Grit

 

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So having tried a little Wild Writing recently, I wanted to know more. I bought Natalie Goldberg’s book and have been trying some of the exercises and experiments. It’s bloody hard!!!! And I’m slightly laughing to myself, because the tough-ness of it has come as a surprise.

What is the “it”? I think I mean the discipline – here on the FB blog, I choose what to write – I’m moved by some magical muse thing and I batter down thoughts and share – in many ways I’m lucky because I don’t really craft too much or worry too much anymore. Which is kind of an indulgence. The wall gets hit when asked to write to a set topic… or go deep, to write about something hugely painful or personal…or when asked to experiment outwith that to which I’ve become accustomed. Then? Oh Holy Hell!!! It all goes awry and I’m rambling, shambling, wordless, frustrated……

This week I had the deep joy of watching Stephanie Davies, Founder of Laughology do her thing with a group of managers in Manchester. I’m only beginning to get to know Steph – she has been generous in the extreme with sharing her knowledge, her stuff and her experiences – and I hope we get to do pretty much any kind of work together in the future…not just because she properly makes me laugh, but also because there is some real potency to the work she does… Steph was, in her time, a stand up comedian, with all the knocks and the bravery that it takes to stand up in public and be funny (which is, by the way, my idea of HELL) Subsequently, she undertook a deep-dive into researching and understanding the psychology behind humour, happiness and motivation. Her workshops are based on deep cognitive and behavioural models to help other folk understand and develop themselves…. you can learn to be more humorous, more happy and you can understand motivation, make choices differently and grow, personally, professionally, socially, cognatively..… Steph takes the business of happiness and humour very seriously …it’s good stuff.

What we talked about that resonated deeply is the notion of the need to have some Grit. Grit is the thing – the tenacious, determined, Bugger-That-Didn’t-work-what-if-I-tried-this-instead-not-bloody-giving-up thing – the sort of secret sauce in the seeming ease and effortlessness of mastery. She talks of finding the joy in struggle. That giving up can feel good… but pushing on and pushing through leads to someplace… potentially even better… (and of course, there is a place for both persistence and for yielding – I’m an advocate of NOT just banging your head off brick walls repeatedly for no reward – that’s not the joy of struggle – that’s the route to madness).

A large part of developing oneself is about practice (look also at  Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset , Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit , Matthew Syed’s work on Continuous Improvement or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, ). Through practice, through trying different things, different variants, through trial and error, experiment and fail, we develop – our thinking, our actions, our maturity, our resilience, our tolerance. Interestingly enough we don’t just learn new, we also let go of old stuff that’s not working for us anymore – synapses in the brain that are unused kind of atrophy and die – making space for new synapses at any given point in your life.

This is the type of work and thinking which gives me hope – talking to managers about working with a growth mindset, about not being fixed – showing the science and the reasoning behind it all – keep up your management practice – try it, study it, work with it and you will be a bigger, better person and encourage those around you to be bigger better people…

And as much as I love the science… I am wired ( have wired myself?) to be more artful…

So it is as I find myself in struggle with writing wild practice and the exercises Goldberg suggests.. as I face a sense of failure and frustration when the silences and word-flow stops, as my synapses reach toward each other and mostly fail to grasp each other – I’m beginning to understand that this is the discipline that will take my writing to a different place. When I feel myself unsure and stuttering – clumsy and bambi-legged – here is the edge of my competence and control – can I push on? If I just keep going, keep paying attention, keep on experimenting with different tones and words and structures and rhythms and exercises – I know I’ll find myself in a different place… ah well – back to the notebook.

I know I’m learning. I can grit my teeth and find joy in the struggle… ish.

 

NB: I find I’m reluctant to share some of the wild writing here on the blog – all sorts of interesting learning right there about public/ private/ persona stuff. And so I especially want to thank everyone who sent me their Wild Writing, following the last blog – your courage in sharing, your trust and your insights have me humbled.

Back to Basics

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The ebb and flow of work in this consulting life is always fascinating. I have, for quite a while now, neither actively sought nor said yes to doing face-to-face classroom-based skills training for managers. If I’m brutally honest, this is partly due to some sort of sniffiness on my part (I’m not proud of this by the way) It’s the work I cut my teeth on and I suppose I feel I’ve sort of graduated, it’s not big meaty change stuff, it’s not gnarly coaching stuff… it’s starting back with basics. My story: I’ve kind of done that. Others are better at it than me. Not my bag.

And so it is, as it always is, that the universe conspires to remind me to get over myself. I’m in the midst of two pieces of work, in very different circumstances, both of which have the requirement to go right back to basics and pass on some skills mainly around coaching & feedback.

It’s been an interesting journey. One thing I realised is I know a lot now. Still got a lot to learn, but no point in pretending otherwise anymore. I’ve been round the block a few times, sat in a lot of situations… if you work in this field, you get to dip in or deep-dive into many cultures, circumstances, scenarios… it is astonishing what you pick up.

The other is the importance of knowing the basics and how much you actually rely on them. Coaching, for all the stuff written about it, for all the skill and practice required, seems to come down to three things: Listening, Questioning, Self-management. (I’ll come back to this)

This particular realisation came when I was asked if I could “do” coaching skills in 4 hours. Me? “do” coaching skills? In 4 hours? Are you serious?
It’s a deep and in-depth, terribly important thing…..
And when I lost my pomposity and started to listen to what the client was needing, the answer to that was: you can and you can’t.
You can stand for 4 hours and bestow your wisdom and a few old chestnuts to a group of new/semi-new managers. Run some exercises. Give out some handouts. You could rock up and slightly dial–in your efforts, find old notes, reconfigure that which has been done before, blah blah blah…. And they would leave with some 2D stuff – on paper or in their heads, which may or may not be relevant or used… and I can make a fairly strong case for why this is rubbish work, scattergun and a likely waste of budget.

Or.. you can use the 4 hour frame to get to the heart of what might be required. Cut it down. Get specific. Get efficient. You can talk to the client about the time before and after the 4 hour frame – what “pre-work” works for this group? What might they like, appreciate or actually pay attention to?
If you make it look good & it is short and relevant – if it is welcoming and makes a compelling case for turning up to find out about how coaching & feedback can be useful management tools…might that be better work?

Then seek to make the 4 hours matter….take seriously the notion that folk can learn stuff in 4 hours – people can have lightbulb moments and discussions that can open them up to try – to feel encouraged. If the design revolves around LESS content and more sensemaking of that content, surely that’s a thing?… how about we do 4 things well? Would that be good?

How about we look at it like this:
Listening – the active stuff where you pay attention to what is being said and HOW. Also Listen to yourself actively.. what are you experiencing? Practically? How do you to this?

Questioning – the art of curiosity – good questions, asked from a place of cheering someone on to do more/ different/ better. What does that look like? What questions do that stuff? What demeanour helps the other person believe they can do a thing?

Self management – holding silence, acknowledging your own limitations, being willing to talk to others to get a perspective on how you handled something, seeking to find a co-created, shared solution WITH the other person. Including them. Not dancing by yourself.

The importance of practice and reflection – try. Try listening so you can summarise someone else’s words – Try listening to yourself and the guff you muddle your head with. Try asking questions kindly. Try staying curious when you thing you know. Practice these – 3 times a day. Then talk to other folk about what’s working and not working for you – get their perspective – this is skills development – this is HOW you learn and shift behaviour.

OK – It’s not Masters Level – but the importance of this stuff – and how well it can serve you in YOUR WHOLE LIFE and the joy of where it can take you… you can get that across. Can you make it compelling enough that they want to know more, seek more, try more for themselves? Those ripples go beyond 4 hours. That sounds good….

And then in the aftermath – what? The client has no budget for follow-up? OK – so what will they do to support the 4 hours? For me, this was a deal breaker. If I was to agree to squish my beloved stuff into a short space of time, I needed guarantees that it would have places to grow and expand beyond the classroom.

So I made the argument for the follow up – coming up with ideas, cheap solutions, means to continue the learning – buddying up, coming back together at a later date – I’d prefer to do this with them, but in this instance it was never on offer – and now at least there is someplace for the 4 hours to go… and I’ll check in to see how that is happening & keep nudging a little.

Don’t get me wrong, my preference is to work with depth and discernment… but it has done me no harm to distil what I know, to draw it right back to the heart of the art and work with that. And I haven’t run the sessions yet – it’s coming up soon – so it could be a disaster, with terrible timings and folk leaving without proper handouts with neat models… or it could be the start (or continuation) or a journey for loads of folk and ripple out to the folk they manage. OK. That’s pretty cool….

Wild Mind Writing & Doing What I Do

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Of course when Nick talks about “Wild Mind Writing” I become very alert. Everyone in the group seems to have heard of it – a practice, attributed to Natalie Goldberg, by which you write, free-form, without edit, censure or pause for a period of time.
Don’t stop.
Keep writing.
Keep writing.
Even if there is nothing to say – write blah blah blah until the words come.
Don’t worry about spelling or syntax.
Don’t stop.
Keep Writing.
And, Nick invites wryly, go for the jugular with it. Don’t mess about. Write wild.
(I hear this translated into Scots: “gie it some laldy, girl”)

I haven’t heard of Wild Mind Writing before – or maybe I have and haven’t been paying attention – but the practice, this practice, is as familiar to me as drinking tea… it is precious, beloved and necessary.

I write. I write pretty much every day when there is time and if I don’t, after a few days I know about it. I write to make sense of what is. Of what has been.
I write to organise my thoughts.
I write to my future self – capturing the here-and-now – knowing one day, I may want or need to look back and understand how it was for me then.
I write to learn and to show myself that I have learned.
It is, in many ways, an utterly selfish act – for me, for my sanity, for a sense of myself… and sometimes it becomes less-so, when I share it or blog it….
I write as I think. Short sharp sentences. Or longer, more fluid more complex ones. I delight in words. In vocabulary and expression and rhythm.

I’m darkly chuckling at the topic we are asked to Write Wild on.
I have a history of being inarticulate around the business, my practice, my Why.
So when Nick turns the flip over & the words: WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO? pop up, I sort of groan/smile. Of course it would be this.

Before I share what I wrote (and it is personal..and it feels risky to share it…and that’s what happens when you write-and-share yourself.. when you put bits of yourself out into the world for scrutiny, because Lord-only KNOWS what folk will make of it…and I’m still not always OK with that…and I think it’s important to do it anyway) I’m making the invitation to try this out.
Set a clock – 5 mins or 10… we did 7 mins.
Find paper & a nice pen with flowing ink… or fire up your laptop.
And write. To yourself. To anyone. To No-one. And see what comes.
And when the first layer of words are gone?
Go deeper. What next? What more? What else?
See where it takes you.

Feel free to send it to me (julie@fuchsiablue.com or post it below in the comments) …. I’d rather read 5 minutes of someone’s rough and ready genuine inner thoughts than 50 pages of crafted, polished blurb.

So as one who works with folks in transition, as one who wants folk to learn and develop, to grow and be just kind of amazing….. Why do I do what I do?
These are my words:

I do what I do because I get something from it. Personally, Professionally – what is the something? Dunno. Satisfaction, personal progression – a sense of learning and newness – a sense of getting better and wiser and more able.
I do it to push myself. To encourage others by sharing what I learned – and I love it and it scares me and it costs me. I have to show myself everyday. That’s actually hard for me.
This is my practice, my 10,000 hours, the thing I seek as my mastery, my vocation – because there is privilege in passing stuff on. In showing and sharing because through this I am alive – I am in relation to others – connected to different worlds.
I get to travel. To explore. It is anthropological and satisfying. It is terrifying and frustrating. I’m wrong. A lot.
I hear stuff that makes me want to spit. Cockwomblery and W*nkpuffinage… so much BS about organisations and future and disrupt-hack-fecking-VUCA….
For me it’s quieter. It’s about self. It starts and ends with you. With me.
The more I know myself? The more I understand my context and reactions and can articulate these? The more I face into my fears? The bigger I become – more expansive. More generous. Kinder. Wiser. More robust.

 

image: Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock

Working in Less Obvious Ways.

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I’m over it.

To be honest, I’ve been over it for days – the news, the TV, watching the politics and the games and the claims and the counter claims. The inauthenticity of pre-prepped speechifying. Entire massive hulking gnarly issues conveniently disappeared. The egos. The stubbornness and blindness. The platitudes and clichés. The energy it takes to sense-make in the midst of all of this.

My deep need to hold to a change narrative that involves kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance, creativity and collaboration….My lived experience that true lasting change doesn’t happen without some of these things. How very sorely tested that belief feels right now – like I’m a dreamer, an altruist, a hypothetical tree hugging cloud-starer who doesn’t understand real power and politics.
Only I do…. I just don’t have the appetite to play that game. That mean, selfish, self-serving game.. which at the same time seems necessary…. And if I’m not in the game, how can I ever affect it?

It’s a puzzle.

What I’d say to my clients is: step back. Look after yourself for a while. Stop engaging with the poison around you, it will soak into your being. Go find some anti-venom. Find connection. Love. Kindness. Stuff that sustains you. Find purpose. Get folk round you who you trust and enjoy. Get stronger. Refocus. Return with renewed, different vigor. Work from there.
There is more power and courage in walking a different path, than re-treading the old ones. If you feel that stepping away is woose-ing-out, take heart..it’s only that way if you stay gone – the world needs you here. Stepping away might be just what you need… but come back. Gentler, stonger, heartfilled, joyeous, detoxed.

Physician, heal thyself.

So I’m taking my own advice for a bit. Turning off the telly. Listing to music which lifts or soothes. Seeking out those who nurture and refresh me. Walking the dog. Having silence around me. Cooking good food. Attempting to run a little faster. Putting time in on my travels to see the world through less-tainted eyes.

In a conversation recently, there was an element of: lucky you. That you can do that. In your job. You can just potter about & mull on stuff.
Nope. That’s not how this works. Running a business is rarely a part-time thing, if you want to make an actual living out of it. I’m carving that time. Intentionally. Trying to hold some regard for myself and others around me.
This is the work – my work – in all of the madness.
To look after myself and those around me.
My reach isn’t National.
I hold no power to put money in your pocket
This work could so easily be written off as unimportant….
But it’s not. It’s more vital now, to counter hate-filled, venomous, broken-ly furious narratives that take us down paths of division and separation.

I’m here and I’m part of this…. So I’m working to do the best I can… in less obvious ways, perhaps, but I believe they have power.

image courtesy of Brutallyhonest.org

Stories & Telling & Asking & More

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Yes – I’ll help set up a storytelling zone. In the exploration of the social age, I’ll happily find a place for folk to gather and talk and think and question and share. I’ll make a nook – a place to hang out and meet and mull. Laura will make a Newspaper office right next to it, handing out nips of whisky and chatting over typewriters…..stories created here & captured there…. That works.

Stories? Sure, that’s part of what life and work is about – your story, our story, the story of the organisation; tales of the unexpected and of the known – specific tales that bring hypothesis somewhere more understandable or tangible… the Theory is this: my Reality is that…. Ah.. this is helpful – I can see more clearly now.

If I coach you, we work with your story – your narrative of yourself. How you see yourself and tell yourself to others. How you know yourself. What you allow yourself to do.. or not do… or think… or say… I’ll offer counter narratives.. can we re-write this together? Can this be a different tale?

As the Safari unfolds, I hear metaphors & how useful these can be to work with. How a shared story helps people gather and understand. How the plea for Purpose in organisations is also a plea for a simple narrative – what do we stand for here? Will you stand for that with us?

I hear about working in small streams; river tributaries that might eddy or might flow out to the ocean; I hear of someone quilting – piecing odd fabrics together to create something beautiful and new and original.. the pieces becoming a whole different entity; we hear Social Media sharing not as an act of self-promotion, but as an act of generosity – sharing content and knowledge specifically to generate change… the self-lessness a thing I forget about at times in the midst of broadcasted cultivated messages….

And so much I don’t know about stories – what do we do with messy narratives that don’t follow a proper arc? The archetypes available… the questions you can ask: are we in an organisational tragedy? Comedy? Farce? So much still to learn, to ask, to discover.

Catherine and Selby work with creative voices. Poetry and music bring narratives to life – protest songs and lives spoken into being… lyrical, lilting riffs that are unexpectedly touching, moving and powerful. The words sung or spoken have a effect that cannot easily be expressed….articulated in emotions and sensation – beyond words in many ways… I enjoy the irony.

Later, I leave early, my own fairy tale of being able to push through a flu-like cold thing truly undermined by the very factual story of shivers and temperature, of sand-papered throat and woolly brain-function. As I find myself sitting on the floor of a packed train, feeling terribly sorry for myself and telling my woes on a Slack channel to my beloved friends, Amanda asks: Would you like a story?
And I relax – Yes. Tell me a tale from beyond this train – and she does… and it is beautiful and human and poignant… and then Fi shares her Tale from the Underground… and I’m elsewhere and warmer and more connected all at once and somehow it makes things better.

There is power in stories… and in those who tell them.

——–

Thanks to inspirers/ co creators Geoff Stead, Carol Read, Julian Stodd, Damian Corbett,  Sukh PabialJonathan Anthony  Johanna Wyers, Amy Burvall, Stephanie Morgan  SeaSalt Learning Crew including (but not exclusively) Laura Williams, Valerie De Pauw,  Hannah Moxom, Phillip Kingsbury, Paul Draper, Rich Stannard, David Jarrett & Emily Pykett

to Amanda Arrowsmith & Fiona McBride

seek out #socialAgeSafari

Check out Spoken Artist & Poet Joseph Selby & bluegrass/ folk musician Catherine Burke

Gearing up for the Learning Show

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This week is one of my favourite conference events of the year. The CIPD Learning & Development Show kicks off at London’s Olympia Conference Centre on Wednesday (see #CIPDLDShow)

The show is, in many ways, in its infancy – this is the third year the show has unabashedly focused on all things organisational learning and change, expanding the professional conversations about all things People in the workplace from an HR focus, to a broader platform.

I have the honour of being on the “Blog Squad” – attending seminars and sessions and reporting in real-time on much of what is being said (I usually report out on Twitter… colleagues @Kingfishercoach @Wildfigsolns & @PhilWillcox tend to be fast-fingered on the keyboard & do proper reporting blogs. My efforts are more of the tweet/storify sort). Over the last two years it has been a real source of learning, joy (and sometimes exhaustion after 2 days of listening and meeting folk) to be involved in these events. I’ve been privileged to hear some world class speakers, been party to case studies which have supported or challenged my thinking and had the chance to meet up with colleagues and friends within the profession. I’ve had the joy and camaraderie of working alongside some of the best practitioners in the UK, who Blog and report on their own time – and mostly meet to charge devices and eat cake in the Media Rooms.

So, in the esprit de corps, I’m going to do the thing where I bestow some hints & tips for those attending the upcoming show.. covered rather beautifully in the graphic above by the glorious Rachel Burnham @BurnhamLandD

Download the App – Trust me, if you have a day or two days, over 160 suppliers and 50 free learning sessions to choose from in the Exhibition alone.. an App telling you where you are, where others are and what time stuff is happening is just flat helpful.

• Go to the Exhibition & go to the free sessions You can pick up a lot from the short presentations and Case Studies. My own favourites include the Ignite sessions ( 5 minute presentations from a range of practitioners on a range of topics – 20 slides. 15 seconds per slide – see Wednesday Afternoon 15.55pm in the Topic Taster area) and if you are up for it & there alone – try Speed Networking as a means to get to know folk.

• Go counter to where your interest lies – Have a rough plan of who you want to see and why – but go for a couple of wild-cards too. It’s a Learning Show – go Learn new stuff. Push yourself to see something you don’t quite understand or believe in. You might be surprised at what you hear and find.

• Look after yourself – Take water, comfortable shoes and make sure you find some quiet time to reflect and check you are getting what you need from the Show.

• Follow the hashtag #CIPDLDshow / try to tweet a little if you haven’t before, or find someone who will help you do it.

• Speak to people – if you are feeling lost and like you are wandering aimlessly and somehow “everyone know what they are doing/ is having a better time than me” – go find someone friendly to talk to, even if it’s the good people who serve the coffee… or grab me if you see me wandering by looking lost myself. Conferences are made by the conversations they generate. Go have some.

On Wednesday evening, the (now annual) @LNDconnect aftershow meet up will happen – we have nearly 100 people booked to come. The @CIPDEvents team have very kindly sponsored some nibbles & generally being supportive of all things LNDconnect – huge thanks to them. We’ll be asking people to think of future #LDsight questions and mull on agile learning & the Conference for the CIPD team.

Follow @fuchsia_blue the #CIPDLDshow on Wednesday 11th & Thursday 12th May
I’ll see you there x

Noodling

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This has come out of the #ldinsight chat today on what have we learned from the Friday Twitter chats.

In response to the plea to let things emerge and the very lovely open space principle that “the right people will be arrive” to be in a conversation – I’m thinking about the difference between being interventionist & making stuff happen vs being non interventionist & letting stuff happen as it happens.

So I’m thoughtful that most of the client systems I hang out in err to the interventionist – lock it down on a plan, with dates and budgets. Plan. Organise. Control. THIS intervention means THESE are your Learning Outcomes (Really? They are? How do you know? Are these my only Learning Outcomes? Am I allowed more? Fewer? Where’s the part where I got a say in this intervention?)
See… too much of that stuff & it all gets a bit daft.
I’ve worked with people and systems who cannot leave well enough alone – changing for changes sake, just because they need to intervene… it’s arguably harmful.

And then there is an alternative route – emergent possibilities – working in a way that is inherently more complex (LOADS of stuff runs, mostly all at the same time, as many ideas as you have folk) Slower – it takes time to work with emerging agendas, you need to let stuff run to see where it is running & if that’s working. It’s free thinking, self-organising and non-interventionist. It’s arguably a tougher route. Certainly it requires a whole bunch of personal maturity and resilience to just kind of let stuff go.. inner control freaks start rearing their head, people can feel very unsettled …

Both suit folk. Lock it down, intervene to ensure an outcome, seems safer, faster… and then generally, in the long term, the unlocked stuff leaks all over the place, muddying the nice neat boxes constructed.
Emergent agendas – going where it goes, with whoever happens to be around, working with what is new – seem more creative, more fluid, fairer…

Which leads me to noodling.
I can noodle. It’s a bit of a fuchsiablueism – by noodling I mean I can work with a big bowl of muddled up noodles and love the complexity, follow the threads, play with the forms.. work with what emerges. I can do this for ages – it’s fascinating.
I’m also guilty of some personal noodling – blogging might be part of that – hanging out with a thought – poking at it and considering it… noodling away by myself without fully paying attention to the world around me, my context, the relevance of my stuff.
I like a bit of noodling. I like the emergent, slow stuff. I had to learn how to sit with some of it, because most of my early working life geared me to NOT NOODLE and get to the point/ purpose…that and I was not bestowed with infinite patience… it’s an ongoing battle for me

My point is: if I don’t want to disappear into some strange noodley ether, I kind of feel I have to find anchors and reality, structures and systems that allow me to come back.
When I’m facilitating, it’s as important to bring stuff back to the core point, the purpose, as it is to enable and encourage folk to go away from it. Emergent work just doesn’t work for some people. It’s freaky and weird and scary. Just like a neat 16 box matrix is likely to make me want to gently bang my head off the desk… but you kind of need both.

If I’m going to be useful to clients, to the folk in my life, I can’t just noodle.
If I want my practice to be enriched, lively and stay relevant… I have to do a bit of noodling.
It can’t be all or nothing.

Now mulling on if I can get the concept of noodling into a 16 box matrix and sell it worldwide for interventions…….

Thanks to Meg Peppin & Jo Stephenson for the inspiration

Designed to Last

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My Dad was, for a long time, an Estates Manager – managing large country Estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system – ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex eco system.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” – basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a Dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the Dairy Manager….During those “rounds” he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My Dad had a real sense of custodianship about the Estates – he & we were only here for a brief time – the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just Management… it’s just being a good person.
A good person in a particular context.
Which might change.
But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom – especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.
Listen. Talk.
Pay attention to the here an now.
Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were other.
Understand what we do & why we do it & how we could do it better for the long term.
Look to the future.
Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.

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

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