Optimum Tension

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“The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.”  – Einstein

 

Liam the Bike mechanic is talking us through the intricacies of tuning cycle gears.
He points to the tiny inhibitor screws on the gear derailleur (thing that changes gears on the back wheel of a bike….yes..I had to look up my notes) and explains that loosening or tightening these screws affects the movement of the mechanism across the gear cogs. (forgive my lack of detail, I got the gist)
He demonstrates by tightening one small screw and moving the pedals, clicking gears up and down….he points to the hesitation and resistance in the gear shift – to me, it looks taut and the chain jumps snappily from cog to cog .
Then he loosens the screw massively and the gear shift flops idly, chain rolling without precision onto cog after cog and back down.
The trick, he tells us, is to find good tension.

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Day One – Why Dialogue ?

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Back in September, I posted a blog on Visibility. It was the first time I’d really spoken out to the wide world about the work I  wanted to do – work with Dialogue groups and support consultants and leaders to “talk well” together. At the time, I was aiming to run sessions in December….turns out it takes a little longer than that to gather courage and content – 2 months longer to be precise – and now Exploring Dialogue has dates and a London home in February and March.

And this week, to support the programme and generate interest, I’m running a short blog series to map my thinking and understanding of Dialogue. I’ll look at dialogue through a few lenses – business, brains, body and beauty – in the hope it generates some discussion and new thinking about how we talk and work together in organisations.

Why dialogue?

I was drawn to dialogue work partly because so many coaching clients or teams I worked with described patterns of stuck conversations, difficulties in changing a relationship or skewed dynamics in a team. My coaching training meant I believed the answer was in learning to ask more and better questions, to inquire well in the world – and this helps, of course….. but often the issue was clients could not get themselves heard well.. and asking questions didn’t scratch that particular itch. They couldn’t advocate or speak out their own perspective confidently or clearly – either that or they advocated too forcefully – which led to frustration, misunderstanding and some very tense interactions.

And this resonated deeply with a story I have about myself – one that says I lost my voice for a time. Somewhere in the midst of working in organisations and consulting and lifestuff generally, I found myself rendered quiet. I had become uncertain as to how to offer what I thought and knew effectively. I found myself either saying little or, if I did find the courage and opportunity to speak, I’d say everything really really quickly … and would then experience the conversational equivalent of tumbleweed… silence…awkward…

This would, in turn, of course render me unable to speak well.

Through working with and practicing techniques, models and thinking around dialogue – advocating well, inquiring well, listening well, understanding my responses and assumptions in conversation, reflecting carefully – I began to reconfigure how I spoke and interacted with the world around me and I began working with clients to do the same. And I want to share what I have learned – what I’m still learning

An Invitation

So this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together. It plaits together thinking from Nancy Klein and David Kantor and embodied work from Amanda Ridings and has pinches of Gestalt thinking and understanding Group Process…. and it is more than the theory, it’s experiential – designed to allow you to explore and practice talking well. We’re determined the Exploring Dialogue days will be enjoyable, challenging and offer some deep, long-term lessons in talking well… and cake will figure somewhere, doubtless.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here The flyer looks like a flyer – a conversation will be more satisfying, I’d offer…so I’d prefer to talk to you, if you are interested in attending.

If you are curious to know more please get in touch.

Please also pass this on to someone who might be or comment and let me know your thoughts – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.

How do you do….?

My much beloved big brother sits opposite me in his house near Brighton, glass of shiraz close to hand and he’s in full flow:

“..I mean, you’re my sister and people ask me what you do and….[hands waving vaguely in the air].. I don’t know. I don’t know what you do.”

To which I say “I know” and then try to explain what I do… and trip over myself horribly in tangled, wretched sentences that involve consultancy and organisations and dialogue and teams and people and conversations.

He says HR. I say – no – I don’t do that. It’s more L&D….well… OD really…

He is a dental surgeon in a small, successful practice – they don’t have HR or OD. We’re getting nowhere.

As the conversation continues, we move to what would be my “elevator pitch” (my response “I live in the Scottish Borders. There ARE no elevators. Think I’m safe on that front.” – not that I’m being a smart arse or anything.) .

My job title is Director. Managing Director when I’m feeling grandiose – no clues there about what I really do. Coach? Yes. I will lay claim to the coach title, that’s in there. Facilitator? Yes. That too. I do that. Organisational Consultant? Yes. I work with individuals and teams, typically to generate better conversations. Yes. I encourage potential and performance…but most of the very good people I know working in this field (and some of the not-so-great, if I’m being honest) can lay claim to these things too… Are we all saying the same things in elevators, I wonder?

And here’s the thing for me. The paradox. The crux-y stuff. I resist putting myself ( and others) in a 30 second box…. (think of trying to get a cat in a bath……..it’s THAT response) … yet I move in a world that would have me believe this box is (partly) where I need to be and promises to reward me for it…. How curious.

And I get it. I get that it’s only fair to others if I can distill my work and fuchsiablue to an essence. On some level I understand that is a legitimate thing to ask. And yet I still want to push back against that request…. Partly my response is inner teenager: “why should I conform?” and partly it’s a very real, live inquiry for me “Well, now… what happens if I don’t do as expected? What happens if I refuse to label or distill? Where does that take me? Where does that take the business?”

It’s just… well it strikes me that what we DO as a job is kind of less important, less interesting, potentially, than HOW we do it – how we are being? acting? showing up in between the lines of the job description?… and I can barely work out how anyone’s DOING can be shunted into a 30 second conversation in a fast-moving tin box; never-mind their marvellous Being….. Nope. Sorry. That’s not working for me as a concept.

I don’t see myself as particularly rebellious or provocative, just really rather questioning about the organisational world where something as messy as change or as complex as coaching a person is asked for in the same breath as a tidy, short elevator pitch. Really? You want me to do this?

Four weeks after a conversation with my big brother: should we be in an elevator and you ask me what I do… (after I’ve looked at you strangely for a second for striking up a conversation in a lift) I may say that my job is to get people to say things they feel they can’t easily say… or then again… I might not….

 

On goodness, potency and being an arse….

As part of the action research inquiry into 21st century leadership, our cohort is blogging. James Traeger from Mayvin is considering the notion of Being a Good Person: http://mayvinltd2.tumblr.com/post/25843438083/being-a-good-person

“It is like when we talk about emotional intelligence, when really the words intimacy, caring and even love, are too hot to handle.”

There is SO much in here I want to write about….I so agree that words like intimacy, love and caring at work (and beyond) can be experienced as too hot to handle… and yet they seem to come up more and more in conversations with clients and colleagues of late – either as wholly missing from work/ workplace experience and being yearned for; or being experienced in a work context (usually in some small way) and that experience feeling terribly profound….

I find myself breathless when I hear tales of a good, capable person being told “yes, X is an arsehole, but you’ve just got to get on with it” Where is the kindness here? The listening? Who cares? What do we do to each other?

Imaging if we could be compassionate to the “arse”. Genuinely “see” the person beyond the arse tag. Genuinely inquire into what is making up the arse-hole-ery for a second and try to unpick kindly what the hell is going on…. What would happen? Might the arse become more a whole human being? Might there be some ration, reason, emotion, some humanity in there?

Imagine if such kindness was bestowed on us when we are being arses? Or does arse-ness only happen elsewhere?

I’m playing here with some of James’ notion about “good person” and thinking of the energy it creates…. that goodness can inhabit a tiny space, be a small gesture, a random act of kindness, a compassionate question, seeing the person, and yet its power is potent, raw, potentially unsettling.

Goodness, intimacy, care, love… it strikes me these require us to truly see and acknowledge others – to put ourselves in equal relation to someone else, rather than above or below them. How unnerving it is to hold someone’s gaze as they are in pain or furious or manic or delighted. Easier, perhaps to look away? Easier to say “arse” and be done?

And I’m not holding myself up as being a paragon of loving kindness. I can be blunt as all blazes when I’m going full tilt and it looks like someone is getting in my way; when I’m in that mode of being all full-on and leading from the front and certain, people get overlooked, I am guilty of saying “arse”…. And it rarely serves me well.

Better, perhaps, to be fabulously mindful of the shape and size of the wake I’m creating and who’s caught in it. Better for me, my colleagues and clients if I can show up curious and considerate… occupying a slightly smaller space perhaps, but producing more potent outputs…. OK ok, so I’m working on it…

See Robyn Bomars’ Blog, where she undertakes 38 Random Acts of Kindness on her 38th Birthday, see the responses generated and tell me this isn’t powerful stuff. http://mixmingleglow.com/blog/?p=1358

(thanks to Alison Smith @alisonrbcm for the Tweet about Robyn)

Showing up

A huge question on my mind already during this Masters process: Where are You?

I’m asking this of myself as I reflect on my first assignment – handed in all neat and on time, with a kind-of-cohesive argument about my views on organisations and change & some nifty referencing. I did as I was asked, reflected on my good bits & messy bits (a little) brought in theory like social constructionism and phenomenology (a little), played with metaphors (a little) talked about my work (a little).

In the assignment, I’ve been a “good” student and a “good” writer – making everything clear and clean and easy….reducing consulting life to a little. A little pinch of dissent, a little work on the relationship, a little contracting, a little event, a little confusion, a little unexpected outcome… the assignment makes my consulting practice look pretty easy – I did this and then such-and-such happened, so then I did this and noticed something of interest…. Tidy.

Yet what I’m presenting is fairly far removed from my actual experience of working with clients and organisations. I don’t experience my work as “a little” anything. I experience profound privilege when a coaching client recounts tales from deep within themselves; my skin goosebumps when I’m facilitating and the sheer magic of folk creating new ideas or battling old baggage unfolds in the room; I feel weary and scared sometimes when working with a client who seem to genuinely believe I have the map to the Holy Grail about my person. This stuff… well it really isn’t little.

Tonight I was listening to a colleague on the course who was giving me a lush and lovely smooth version of a Thing That Just Happened…. And there was something unsatisfying about the tale… all even and calm and neat… and I found myself saying “but where are YOU in this story?” I wanted to know how they felt, how they were, what their woes and their triumphs were. I wanted to hear where in the tale they were utterly, totally present and whether they had to work hard to stay there…..

Good, long and feisty conversation –can you beat it, I wonder?

After talking, I walked across the college grounds and started to see that the question I asked out, was the question I want to ask in…..

Where am I in all of this consulting malarkey, really?

Where do I show up? Where am I impactful? Where am I enough?

And the questions build and continue…..I do so love the questions… and the trick, for me, is to work to ensure I never stop loving the questions…and strive to turn up as fully as possible when trying to answer them.

And I want to know…. Genuinely know… from others out there….

Where are You showing up ?