Sunday, April 25, 2010

Standing in the Fire

I spent last week in Chicago, the windy city, attending a conference of the International Association of Facilitators. It was nice for a change to be a participant rather than a speaker at a conference. It is good to refresh my skills and learn from others.

Larry Dressler gave a workshop entitled
Standing in the Fire - Facilitating Yourself When the Conversation Heats Up. Dressler challenged us to look inward to find the strength to stand tall in difficult situations.

"The path to becoming truly effective instruments of change is in the conscious tending of our own fires - attending to what is going on inside of us in order to clearly see and intentionally assist in the unfolding of what is happening outside of us."
Larry Dressler from
Standing in the Fire

Larry taught us that there are six ways of "standing in the fire"

1. Stand with self-awareness:

What is the baggage you are carrying with you from your life experiences?
What are your beliefs?
Your judgments?
Your values?
Your tender spots or vulnerabilities stemming from unresolved issues?
Your emotional hot buttons?
What kind of glasses are you wearing to look at the world?

Be aware of them as you walk into difficult situations. They may cloud your judgment and prevent you from accessing solutions in the midst of the fire.

Stand in the here and now:

It is so easy to let our mind drag us into the past, the world of regrets and unfinished business. The things we say to ourselves like the "I should of...", "if only I had...", "I could have..." only drag us down to a place that does not exist anymore in time and space. It is wasted energy. But we can apply the lessons we have learned from the past in the here and now. Tap into the wisdom gained from the past rather than lingering in the regrets.

If our mind is not stuck in the past it is often projecting itself into the future: What will happen if ...? What will they think of me? What should I do next? Tomorrow? Next week? Next month? All that stipulation, guessing and wondering does not serve you well when you are in the midst of the action, in a difficult situation perhaps.

The key is to come back to the here and now. Come back to the present moment. The best way to become present is to breathe deeply and consciously. Then, when you are feeling more grounded and centered, ask yourself "what needs to happen right now in this moment?" Listen to your intuition. Follow your heart. They will lead the way.

3. Stand with an open mind:

Hold your judgments and opinions lightly. Open up your mind to new possibilities. Try on a different pair of glasses to look at the world. Be prepared to put aside what you hold as true and right to consider, and maybe even accept, different points of view.

Adopt a stance of receptivity and humility when you listen to others.

4. Know what you stand for:

Have you ever made a list of the values that you hold dear in both your personal and professional life? What do you stand for? What do you believe in?

Are there values that trump others in your book? In what circumstances?

What is your life purpose? What do you want to be your legacy? What do you want people remember about you once you are gone from the room and... gone from the world?

5. Dance with surprises:

How do I learn to dance well with what happens to me unexpectedly?

How do I develop the fluidity and flexibility to adapt to the curve balls life throws my way?

I have always liked the fable of The Oak and the Reed by Jean de la Fontaine. The oak boasts that it is so much bigger and impressive than the reed. The oak dominates the scenery with its majestic stance. The reed agrees with him but warns that sometimes being strong and immutable can work against you.

The winds are less fearful to me than to you.
I bend and do not break. You have until now
Against their frightening blows
Stood up without bending your back;
But look out for what can be. —
(Excerpt from The Oak and the Reed fable by Jean de la Fontaine)

A strong wind suddenly comes up from the north. The tree holds up well; the reed bends. The wind doubles its trying and does so well that it uproots the oak tree. The reed danced with the wind and remained intact.

Stand with compassion:

Open your heart to others. Instead of making it all about you, consider what it would be like to stand in their shoes for a moment.This can be easier said than done if you are trying to be compassionate with people who disturb or frustrate you.

For example...

First reaction - focus on me:
Why is this person always interrupting me? He always wants to have a word in edge wise and does not seem to want to hear my ideas or opinions. He is inconsiderate. Those types of people infuriate me. They are so self-centered!

Compassionate reaction - focus on them:
Why is person always interrupting me? Could it be that he is afraid that he will not be heard unless he jumps in? Could it be that he is a bit insecure and imposes himself from fear of being disregarded? Could it be that he is so passionate about this topic that he can't contain himself and does not even realize he is cutting me off?

According to Dressler the key to
standing in the fire is to be self-aware and present in the moment. When you are in a heated situation reactions are triggered at many levels - physical, emotional and mental. These reactions happen so fast that many are unconscious.

Think back to a time when you were in a difficult situation.

What did you feel on a
physical level? Perhaps your heart rate was elevated, you were flushed, you clenched your jaw or your fists, you elevated your voice, etc.

What were your
emotions? Maybe you felt afraid or you were angry. Maybe you felt some confusion and embarrassment. Maybe you blamed yourself or the other person.

What was the internal
conversation you were having with yourself? Maybe you thought OMG! I've lost control. How did I let this happen? What will they think of me? Will they still like me?

If you were to put into practice the six ways of "standing in the fire" that Dressler recommends, how would that have changed the outcome of that situation.

If nothing else, the next time you face the fire remember to breathe, deeply and consciously...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Problem-solving: a questions of know-how or self-confidence?

"Maybe we need a course on creative problem-solving" said a manager of training and development services at a local university. She had just finished telling me an anecdote about a woman who refused to help her process some paperwork because "it was not her job and she did not know how". The lady who usually took care of those tasks was away on sick leave and the manager was told that she would just have to wait until the lady returned to get the forms processed. Well that was not going to work! There were time lines to meet and people who counted on her to get the work done. The manager asked to meet with the reluctant woman to explore what could be done. It was a fruitful conversation. Together they managed to find a way to get the work done in the required time lines."I asked her a few probing questions and suggested some alternate ways of considering the situation" the manager said. "We managed to find a creative solution together. It was a win-win for both of us."

Well, in this case, the problem was not just an inability to think creatively I think. There might have been a lack of motivation on the woman's part or maybe she did not have the self-confidence to take action.

If I were to put together a course to help address these kinds of situations in the workplace there would be two parts: know-how to DO and know-how to BE.

In the know-how to DO part of the course we would cover the different theories and tools for problem-solving. Tools like Six Thinking Hats to encourage lateral thinking pioneered by Edward De Bono. Tools to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas such as Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping process. Techniques to challenge your thinking and collect your great ideas in learning journals such as the one developed by Ed Bernacki,
Wow What a Great Idea!

Ironically, an impediment to creativity is thinking. Thinking too logically and rationally. To find creative solutions to problems, we need to rely more on our right brain abilities: seeing the big picture, making free associations, using symbols and metaphors.

In his book entitled
Drive, Daniel Pink talks about an experiment called the candle problem that was devised by psychologist Karl Duncker in the 1930's. Subjects are asked to sit at a table by a wooden wall. On the table there is a candle, a box filled with tacks, and a book of matches. Subjects are asked to find a way to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn't drip on the table.

What would you do?

Many people start by trying to tack the candle to the wall. But that doesn't work. Some melt the wax on the side of the candle with a match and try sticking the candle to the wall. But that doesn't work either. After 5 or 10 minutes people usually stumble on the solution. They empty the box of its tacks and tack the box to the wall. Then, they stick the candle to the bottom of the box.

In order to find the solution, subjects have to overcome what is called "functional fixedness" or, in other words, what their mental model is regarding the function of a box. At first, they don't see alternate uses for the box outside of holding tacks. Their mental model of what a box is meant for prevents them from finding the solution at once. They have to challenge their current view of the world in order to stumble on the solution.

If experimenters leave the tacks out of the box at the outset of the experiment, subjects find the solution to the "candle problem" much quicker. The empty box triggers a different mental model: the notion of a box is a container. The jump to the solution is facilitated by the sight of an empty box.

In short, what this means is that one of the first step to finding creative solutions to problems is to cultivate our ability to, pardon the pun, "think outside of the box". Creativity requires a willingness to let go of what we think we know and be open to new possibilities.

The second part of my workshop on a creative problem-solving would focus on know-how to BE: personal leadership.

That is the most difficult...

How can you motivate people? The truth is you can't. You can only help create the right conditions for someone to find their own source of motivation. According to Daniel Pink, the three key elements to true motivation are autonomy, purpose and mastery.

Determining what your source of motivation is requires some introspection. Reflecting on questions such as the following would provide some precious insights:
Does my work define who I am?
Do I look forward to coming to work every day? Why?
What are my interests? Aptitudes?
How can I find ways to better use my skills and abilities in my work?
Is it time for me to make a bold move and change jobs?

How can you build self-confidence? That is another tricky.

Part of the answer lies in helping individuals reconnect with their own personal leadership. Everyone has demonstrated initiative in their lives whether in their work life or personal life. Helping people remember that they have what it takes to be courageous and successful is the first step in building self-confidence.

Dealing with fears and erroneous judgments is another step towards self-confidence. In the situation I described above, could it be that the woman was afraid to overstep some boundaries if she did her colleague's job while she was away? Could it be that she was concerned about her boss' or colleagues' reaction if she did a job that she was not trained to do? Could it be that she was afraid of making mistakes and being judged harshly?

Have you ever heard of the expression "a career limiting move"? In government, where I used to work, that expression was rampant. It meant be careful what you do or say. Tow the line, don't make any waves and keep your head low. Could that type of culture have a negative impact on someone taking some initiative?

In conclusion, problem-solving is not as simple (or as difficult - depending on your perspective) as finding a solution. The key is to have the initiative to look for it...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yin and Yang - Balance

I have long been fascinated by the Yin and Yang Chinese symbol. This symbol represents the complementary yet opposite nature of the masculine (Yang) and female (Yin) energies. The shape of the yin and yang sections of the symbol, actually gives you a sense of the continual movement of these two energies, yin to yang and yang to yin.

The shapes are not completely black or white. They have a "seed" of the other color within them as a reminder that things in life are not completely black or white. Everything is inter-connected.

The Chinese refer to the sky as yang and the earth as yin. Yang is active and yin is restful. Thus, as activity culminates in rest which in turn culminates in activity, yang becomes yin as yin becomes yang. These two elements are inseparable since they imply each other.

Yin energy is female, shady, dark, cold, water, night, space, rounded, nurturing and soft. Even personalities can be yin. Those who express themselves with thoughts more than action are said to possess yin personalities.

The attributes of yang energy are male, sunny, light, warm, fire, day, time, sharp, movement and expansion. Yang personalities are concentrated, active and projecting. These types express themselves through actions.

If personalities can be predominantly Yin or Yang, could jobs, every day chores and leisure activities have a Yin or Yang quality?

We could say that jobs in teaching, sales, policing, business, and even government depend on Yang energy. They involve a lot of interactions with other people and demand that you project your energy outward.

On the other hand, computer programmers, researchers, librarians, artists like painters or pottery makers, for example, have jobs that could be characterized as Yin jobs because they spend most of their time on their own thinking and creating. Their energy is focused inward.

What about every day chores?

Yin chores: folding the laundry, ironing clothes, dusting furniture, and depending on your mindset, vacuuming, washing dishes, cooking, raking the leaves outside, etc.

Yang chores: helping your kids with homework, taxiing the kids to and from hockey games or dance lessons, grocery shopping, running errands to the dry cleaners, pharmacy, etc.

Assessing if daily chores are Yin or Yang is tricky because a lot of it depends on the mindset you have as you do the chores. For example, I have a friend who loves ironing clothes because she finds that the back and forth motion with the iron is soothing. Ironing gives her some precious "down" time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I have another friend who likes vacuuming for the same reason, she finds the admittedly much noisier back and forth motion comforting because she is alone with her thoughts and feels an immediate sense of accomplishment seeing clean carpets. The activities can be deemed Yin if they help you tune out and be alone with your thoughts. If you are expending a lot of energy getting things done quickly and with gusto, the activities have a more Yang quality.

What about leisure activities?

Team sports like hockey, volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc are definitely Yang activities.

Yoga, meditation, gardening, and even running are leisure activities that allow you to go inward and spend time with yourself.

Do you have a balanced life?

For me, the symbol Yin and Yang reminds me of the importance of balance. Is your energy usually expended outward or focused inward. Are you
doing more than you are being?

Most of us spend the majority of our day expending our energy outside of ourselves. As a manager, you need to get the job done while attending to the people who count on you for guidance. As a homeowner there is an endless list of chores to do around the house to keep things going. As a parent, your kids' needs often (if not always) take precedence over your own. As a member of a sport team or the Parent Teacher Association or the church choir, you have responsibilities to fulfill because others have expectations of you.

I would venture that most of us have lives that are heavily weighted on the Yang side of the equation. How can we regain a sense of balance? How can we incorporate more Yin like activities in our lives?

How do you feel about spending time on my own? A friend admitted to me recently that she did not know how to spend time by herself. She is actually afraid of those solitary times so she fills her calendar to the brim. And when she is alone, she throws herself into activities like reorganizing the storage space in her closets, redecorating a room or doing strenuous yard work. Does that describe you too? Or have you developed the personal discipline required to stop the merry-go-round regularly so you can replenish your energy.

Using the descriptions above as a guideline, evaluate if your life is in balance or out of balance.

As for me, they say you teach what you need to learn... I still have a long way to go to incorporate more Yin time in my life. I would love to hear how you do it. Can you teach me a few tricks?