I was surprised by the generosity of friends and family when I was in the hospital for three weeks last year. Flowers, gifts, offers of help, cards from all over the world, visits – it was overwhelming. My good friend and rowing teammate Beth knows I love flowers and pastry and she was always showing up with deliveries, not just for me but for all the nurses. I returned from treatment one day and a floral arrangement had been delivered. It was from Beth. It was not her typical taste, nor mine, but it was very cute because some dense white flowers had been sculpted into a little white dog’s face. Beth said she told them to deliver whatever was the most fun and uplifting. I checked Central Sq. Florist’s web site and found this image:
There were hospital staff of all levels in and out of my semi-private room. When you’re a patient you’re in the midst of an ever-moving stream of humanity. One of the women who came in regularly, I can’t remember if she brought meals, cleaned or took vital signs but she was very sweet and spoke little English. When she arrived that day she stopped dead in her tracks and I couldn’t understand until I realized she was staring at the floral arrangement. She was speechless. She didn’t move. I don’t speak Spanish but she managed to ask over and over: “Is real? Is real?” I didn’t know if she was asking if the flowers were real or if the dog was real and I was afraid to offend her. She just gazed with the most beautiful smile. In the following days she’d bring her co-workers by and shyly ask if they could come in and look. They had the same reaction. At one point I was getting frustrated with so much stuff piling up in my room and no place to put it. When the ladies came by I asked if they would like to have the arrangement. They looked at me like I was crazy. At first I was afraid I’d offended them, but one managed to say: “you don’t like?” I tried to say I liked very much, that it came from a nice florist and a friend, but I had so many things that I’d run out of space. I don’t know if they understand but I knew they didn’t care. They quietly left, saddened, and I realized they could not believe I was willing to easily part with something so fabulous.
When you’re in the midst of a health crisis you can get so caught up in the technicalities of recovering and self-involvement, that you can miss the little miracles right in front of you. I thought of this one as a gentle, loving nudge by The Field to remind me to stay present, to look, to accept, to connect. That message still comes through 16 months later when I’m disappointed or frustrated. And the messenger looks like a little fluffy white dog with black button eyes, the flowers that looked like a face.
In rowing, one of the calls that coxswains and coaches make is “let it run”. That means the rowers stop rowing and the boat continues to move through the water on its own momentum, until it stops. Pause drills are similar. Rowers stop rowing and start again at different points in the stroke in order to feel balance, synchrony and flow.
Speakers can use these techniques because the need to “run-on” and never, ever pause completely prevents them from connecting with or relating to their listeners.
This stems partly from fear of being interrupted and losing air-time. Interruption is rampant in the attention economy. Politicians interrupt, commentators interrupt and celebrities interrupt each other even if it means hijacking a major award show:
Roger Ross Williams / Elinor Burkett at the 2010 Oscars.
Taylor Swift / Kanye West at the 2009 VMA’s.
Those aren’t the only kinds of interruptions. Others include the streams on listeners’ devices as well as on the backchannels that are now being integrated with talks and presentations. Anonymity gives cover to troll-like, negative behavior that can spread through the audience, sometimes turning it against the speaker.
These changes present new kinds of challenges for facilitators and moderators. But what can a speaker do other than try to outrace, drown out or crowd out interruptions, multi-tasking and waves of unfavorable reaction?
Stop, feel and accept the individual, collective and spatial energy in the room.
Connect with one person at a time on the deepest possible level through the pauses, letting the message resonate. Its better to be in relational presence with a few listeners by holding the space rather than to desperately or forcefully fill it up.
Rowers practice letting the boat do the work for them by allowing it to glide under them as they take their rest. In the collaborative, connected world, the lines between speakers and listeners are blurred and the dynamic has shifted. To attempt to control and resist those changes is a missed opportunity to “let it run”.
There’s an infinite amount of things about which to be righteously indignant. The ego loves it when you respond this way and rewards you with a jolt of satisfaction in the form of superiority and anxiety relief. Both are very temporary and you want the next hit which is only a mouse-click, channel-change, phone call, mail delivery, argument or interaction away.
Righteous indignation is a massive time-suck and a creativity killing monster. There’s a lot of advice about how to break the habit. But like diet advice and most resolutions, they’re failure methods because they don’t address the underlying intention: resistance.
I prefer this. When you feel yourself getting hooked have a talk with yourself and write it down, by hand on paper.
Ask yourself, how dare I:
- not give form to my ideas, solutions and content that create a positive experience and energy that spreads
- not reach out to somebody who needs my support and understanding
- not still my mind to allow the creative insight and inspiration that is my birthright to come through me
- not trust that there’s evolution happening and its my choice to be aligned with (leadership) or against it
These are suggestions; you get the idea.
When you hold up a mirror and employ a proprioceptive technique you’re much more likely to dislodge the resistance that shows up as the habit of righteous indignation.
I dare you!
How Dare You
Sankam via deviantArt
When my granddaughters Sam and Em were little they loved to play “Mrs Meanie” with me. I’d pretend to be the mean school teacher who would not allow freedom, fun, laughter or any frivolity. Of course this would send the girls into paroxysms of giggle fits at which point I’d pretend to go into conniptions and chase them all over the place with threats of dire punishments as they’d yell “ha ha Mrs Meanie!”. It was pure silliness that when on literally for years. The minute I’d walk into the house they’d beg “Nano, do Mrs Meanie pleeeeeeze!”
I think of that character often lately with respect to professional service providers and their client relationships. This accelerated change environment that includes rapid technology and business model innovation, increasingly compressed project time frames and downward pressure on fee structures, beautifully lends itself to the emergence of the consultant version of Mrs. Meanie. The challenge is making it as desirable for clients as it was for the kids.
Clients sometimes need it for the following reason: they don’t know what they don’t know. If that’s the case there’s no straight and clear path from their problem to your solution. Its more like a jungle of unconscious and hidden assumptions and expectations.
Some solo psf’s deal with the jungle by ignoring and denying it. Why? Because they want the work. Others deal with it by trying to manage it with lengthy contracts and processes. There’s even a large body of content addressing “firing the client”. These methods are about setting boundaries and not surprisingly, have a high likelihood of failure because every boundary is a battle line to cross. In the old ways of work boundary protection was built into fees. Forget about that in the new ways of work.
So how can you decrease the likelihood of project breakdown and failure? Through the discipline of rigor (the “R” in DRIVE).
Simply stated, through every step of the project, in real time, you honestly express and inquire about the contradictions and internal conflicts you’re hearing, observing and sensing. These aren’t judgments or things you fix, unless of course you ask permission and the client is willing. They are, however, as much of the truth and rationale for the project as are the desire and need for the project.
Clearly, facilitative skills and your own self-awareness will support your rigor discipline. Clients can react very negatively to your shining a light on what they don’t know they don’t know. Remember that argument, hubris and defensiveness from you will only strengthen the boundary lines of protection. Conversely, your consistency, non-judgment and acceptance create a space for both your clients’ and your own growth and development as well as create the cornerstone of your solo professional “Meanie Manifesto”.
The question probably sounds a bit odd to you, like it should be “what”, not “who”.
But the question phrased as is gets to the heart of living up to popular and famous mantras and quotes for change, including:
You must be the change you want to see in the world. – Gandhi
Typical and well-meaning things we do to this end include revising what we do and say in response to change, setting new visions and goals, breaking old habits, trying new things, moving to different places, making resolutions, ending or beginning relationships or businesses, changing appearances, working harder and faster, etc.
Those are all well and good but often lead to frustration and failure when we place all our bets on some combination of our will, skills and knowledge with timing, luck and conditions. Certain people, serial entrepreneurs for example, claim they’re energized by the highs and lows. Others may feel just the opposite, de-magnetized and dejected. But in both extremes, as well as those in-between, the frustration/failure cycle takes its toll in some form of suffering.
Its so ingrained in us, that this is the way it has to be, that over time we’ve become completely identified with the suffering cycle we choose, seeing ourselves in a dog-eat-dog competitive race to survive in a cold, hard, mean world. And the world, which we create moment to moment, has no choice but to give us exactly that experience. Over and over and over again.
I’m always looking for ways to work with people to help them shift out of this worldview concerning desired change in any of the 4 major experience platforms: health, love, supply and (life and business) direction.
Dustin DiPerna, who recently led an Integral Meetup that I attended, gave an excellent, although highly theoretical talk about vantage points of awareness. I’m now integrating a synthesized and more practical version of his theory with the self-awareness cornerstone of my professional services practice.
My purpose is to galvanize my change model to help clients shift their vantage point from:
I am the one who “can or can’t do” things to change the world.
to the vantage point:
I am the one who “is present and poised” in a world of change.
As we grow and develop we may pay lip services to “let it happen” while our actions prove that we still mistakenly believe we can “make it happen”. This tends to happen when the vantage point is “what” and not “who”. In other words its just another concept or strategy used in attempt to hurry things along so we can get what we want or get rid of what we don’t want. But the world is not fooled and we eventually get the message when our cleverness backfires on us that we’re going about change the wrong way.
You can practice this right away with a problem or challenge that’s got you feeling stuck. Try looking at it from both vantage points: from the one who resists things as they are and from the one who accepts things as they are. The second one is your point of power and natural influence.
Elbert Kennard Gallery
Title: Vantage Point
Vigilance: the “V” in DRIVE
One of the 5 elements of the RedShift DRIVE Self-Awareness and Change Leadership Model, and key to shifting identity, in the mindful/practical dimension is Vigilance.
A while back I talked with 2 women who worked, under incompetent managers in a toxic culture, for the same very large and continually reorganizing financial firm. Both hated their jobs, but although their perspectives on the day to day experience were similar, their feelings were different. One woman was seriously depressed, stressed, anxious and negative. The other was cheerful and easygoing. Those respective feelings reflected how each of them responded to her work situation based on what she believed about her work situation.
One identified with “My job is killing me.” and the other with “I can still find ways to be valuable and feel good about what I do in a rapidly deteriorating work environment.”
Mainstream advice is typically about taking action and changing the external. Get out of there and get another job. That may work out fine but in the example, the woman who believed that her job was killing her would likely find herself repeatedly at the mercy of intolerable workplace conditions because she’s not practiced in realizing that her beliefs shape the experiences that result in her misery, stress and suffering.
Cultivating vigilance chops isn’t difficult when there’s willingness to accept personal and cultural creative power and to have faith that what results is always right, even if its unexpected, not understood or maybe even unpleasant. Its not about putting on a cheerful face when what you’re really feeling is rage at the moron you work for and then responding by spending the rest of the day bad-mouthing the jerk. That’s the kind of response that leads to the dead end that completely inhibits individual, cultural and organizational growth and development.
You develop the vigilance habit through non-resistance to life (including work) experience, wanted and unwanted, moment to moment. When you’re open to it, you receive the incoming feedback you need about going the right way and avoiding dead ends. When you’re open to it your outgoing self-expression is naturally influential and non-toxic, even when it challenges the status quo.
How and when do you start? In any moment in which you want to feel less bad. Allow yourself to be still. Remind yourself that this moment is your point of power. Breathe in the incoming and breathe out the outgoing. Notice the inner shift. Smile, thank yourself and continue on your way.
Remember the old saying “its a woman’s prerogative to change her mind”? Its everyone’s now.
Responding to massive and constant change means more decision making. One of the problems that I’m seeing and experiencing is an increase in conflict and loss of trust because people are changing their minds a lot. From my perspective, these problems are less about the reasons why and more about the inauthentic communication.
Why are people who take ownership of the right (and choice) to change their mind, and who communicate that simply and authentically, so rare? Because the ego hates it. The ego’s job is to blame, spin, cover-up, defend, and project.
This means countless opportunities to differentiate yourself in your personal, social, professional and business decision-making interactions. So how do you rise to the challenge?
You can take radical responsibility for changing your mind about your decisions by owning your feelings. Because to deny them means you’re overtly, or more likely subtly, projecting them out onto the world and onto the people you’re affecting. At the least, they’ll resist you. At the worst, they’ll never trust you again.
If you’re on the receiving end of a poorly communicated decision change, don’t allow yourself to get hooked on the angry, defensive or frustrated feelings that arise. Instead of resisting, or running away, stay with it, and keep on staying with it. What you’re doing is building self-trust chops, the foundation of all trust.
To anticipate credit, recognition or increase in status from practicing radical self-trust is to totally miss the point. You’re changing the energy of the world. You know it. The world knows it. That is it.
Recently, I overheard from another room, two 6 yr. old girls arguing. One of their mom’s was trying, with little success, to help them sort it out. From the kitchen I could not only hear, but actually feel the escalation as they got louder and increasingly upset and emotional trying to defend themselves, blame each other and end up as “me victorious”. It reminded me of waves bouncing off walls, intensifying the energy and disruption; and then I was asked to help.
Without thinking I told the first little girl “you are absolutely right because you believe you are right”. Then I told the second little girl “you are absolutely right because you believe you are right”. The result was a startled quiet followed by adorable “missing front teeth” grins. I waited for the expected “but she…”, “but I…” howls and wails to start up again but they’d already forgotten what they were upset about and were on to something new.
If only it were that easy with adults.
Unfortunately our egos have had a lot more time to figure out how to trick us into getting hooked on our thinking, expectations and judgments about people, things and experiences we don’t like and disagree with, all of which are escalating in this period of massive change. When we can’t let go we push back, but it just makes the negative thought and energy waves bigger and stronger.
I learned something profound from those little girls. Acceptance means nobody gets to be wrong, and when we refuse to harden our positions, the waves diffuse and we’re suddenly still and poised to accept that things are as they are and anything can happen. Even a visit from the tooth fairy.
If you feel defeated because you can’t get or be what you want, refuse to have or be anything less.
If you’re stressed out and angry over loss or change, refuse to make others and the space around you stressed out and angry.
If you’re in a crisis and fearful, refuse to merge with it.
If you can’t handle it anymore, refuse to carry the burden and release it to someone, or something else.
If you’re burning with resentment, refuse to judge anyone or anything.
If you’re feeling snarky and cruel about someone, refuse to repeat what you’re thinking.
If you’re in the grip of addiction or compulsion, refuse to be unkind to yourself.
If you’re feeling isolated and unwanted, smile and greet everyone warmly.
The more you practice the art of refusal, the more you accept the responsibility for creating both the good and bad in your life in exactly the same way. At that point, what you’ll feel most is grateful.
We’re made up of more space (dark energy and dark matter) than visible form and matter, but we spend most of our lives totally identified with the latter. Its one thing to think about the concept of spaciousness but yet another to experience it, for even a short period of time. Anyway, why would we want to and how do we do that?
We want to because we now know that the physical and conceptual structures that we’re identified with are unstable and will be replaced with new ones that are yet to be created. We want to be part of that. But fear and worry about that instability, and how it will affect our lives and businesses, lead to more attachment and rigidity that then shows up in how we respond to change: protection, judgment, guilt, resentment, complaining, blame, etc.
So instead of a desired growth direction we get stuck on the survival path. Life and business experience becomes relentless reactivity to an endless series of crises and lack . We know that the way towards new and better experience is through creativity and innovation, but forget that creativity comes through us. Its not something we can reach out and attain. Rather, we have to make space for it and knock down the walls that block it.
Making space for creativity in challenging times requires vigilance over individual and collective thought and action. Space is created by ceasing thinking and constant doing, and by softening the physical and conceptual boundaries constructed in attempt to keep out everything not wanted, like vulnerability. It can be as simple as taking deep breaths and setting time aside for short periods of stillness. It can also be more challenging and require a lot of courage, putting oneself on the line without a safety net for one’s convictions, so to speak.
The challenges we’re dealing with now are opportunities for dropping resistance and defenses to receive the wave of creative energy that is always available. It comes through us when we let it. It takes faith. The biblical metaphor for our self-constructed creativity barrier is the Wall of Jericho. When we blast ours down, we’re then freed to enter our Promise Land. That’s the metaphor for the place and point of power from where we can expand our natural influence, and contribute the best of who we are to what is yet to be created.