Gossip: a common practice that undermines trust in organizations

Gossip: a common practice that undermines trust in organizations

Issue – Triangulation aka Gossip

Triangulation is the discharge of relational discomfort/disruption/energy with one person through conversation with someone else.

Client Story

A leader I work with has an open-door policy in their organization. The leader is open to other people’s opinions of their or the staff’s actions. People in the organization take advantage of this policy. People feel safe with the leader. The leader works hard to see people’s perspectives.

During these conversations with the staff, the leader listens and paraphrases – repeats back what they had heard. Shares their understanding of the issue. Offers a resolution – which is sometimes just a listening ear. People leave the office feeling heard and cared for.

Being open to feedback was a tough practice for the leader. It was uncomfortable to hear these opinions. They felt defensive but knew to hold back this response and keep listening. They worked hard to create a healthy workplace. It hurt to hear what was wrong, but it was essential to their overall goal. When the conversations ended, they had a lot of unsaid responses and hidden discomfort.

To release these thoughts and feelings, they talked to a peer in confidence about others. The peer would listen and validate the leader. Both would leave the conversation feeling connected. The peer felt like a confidant and friend. The leader felt seen for their value.

This arrangement felt safe. It allowed the leader to maintain a calm demeanor with staff and not disrupt the relationships. They avoided the conflict of different perspectives.

This practice had consequences. The peer felt superior to others because of their role as confidant to the leader. They had inside knowledge about others. This knowledge changed the way they saw people. This knowledge felt powerful. This power over others was felt by the staff.

Over time, the leader heard feedback that is was hard for the staff to connect with the peer. The staff felt talked down to by the peer. People started to alienate the peer in ways that created silos. Work became harder and people often kept their challenges close to them as they were uncertain of who to trust. The leader was able to maintain their image and power at the expense of the peer.

Through coaching, the leader realized they needed to stop discharging their relational discomfort with their peer. It clouded the peer’s opinion of others and eroded their reputation. It disrupted workflow and created silos. The leader needed a new solution to deal with their discomfort.

Identify – Triangulation

This story is about a common organizational challenge called triangulation. Triangulation is the discharge of relational discomfort/disruption/energy with one person through conversation with someone else.

Triangulation is a common, destructive, and often unconscious organizational strategy to manage the discomfort of conflict. It relieves interpersonal distress and eliminates the need for follow-up. This creates relief and connection for some and alienation and disconnection for others.

Triangulation is also called gossip. People are not informed they will be talked about. They are talked about behind their back. This “off-the-record” conversation negatively shapes the opinions of others. It increases factions and silos and creates and us and them relationship. It prevents work from being smoothly completed. It feels like but is not real connection. It decreases overt conflict and increases hiding and going around peoples back.

We triangulate in an organizational setting for a few reasons:

  • It is a practice. It feels right, because it is what we were taught and have always done. We justify the practice by saying we are trying to work something out or share best practices.
  • Conflict is hard and scary. We were never taught how have a constructive conversation about our differences.
  • Time is short. We choose the quick fix of discharge over the long haul of conflict. We often feel so much better after we triangulate that we forget or choose not to circle back with the person who disrupted us.

Triangulation happens in all systems. It keeps problems under the surface where they get more complex. It eventually entangles the entire organization in a web of mistrust and misunderstanding that is hard but not impossible to unravel. It requires some serious communication skill building to navigate this complex challenge.

Triangulation can be an effective conversational strategy to see a situation from multiple perspectives. Effective triangulation is overt and explicit. People agree to others sharing their opinion to forward the issue. As a group, a team creates guidelines for these conversations that everyone follows. Individuals are taught how to engage and are supported in conflict. People have permission to disagree with others. People do not hold grudges.

Notice – Triangulation

To notice triangulation in your organization, start with yourself. Get curious about you, your filters, and your patterns in relationship. Look at your family system. Notice how they deal with conflict or disruptive relationships. This is likely your go to pattern as well.

Notice who challenges you. Name what bothers you about them. When you are bothered by someone in a way that you cannot resolve, what do you do?

If you find yourself in conversation with another person about someone else, notice if you feel relieved about the situation when you are done talking. Notice if you are uncomfortable in the conversation. What creates the discomfort?

Notice who are your go to people. Usually, they are people who agree with you. This feeds your perspective and keeps you safe.

Apply skills – Triangulation

Most of us triangulate. If you find yourself in conversation with another person about someone else, name it. “I am triangulating.” This builds accountability and trust. People recognize you as self-aware. Self-awareness – understanding that you have in impact on the system – helps people feel safe with you. When people feel safe, they do their best work.

Most people do not know they triangulate. If someone else comes to you to talk about another, set a boundary in the conversation. Share with them, “Ah, this is triangulation. I am happy to listen. Here are my criteria: you take accountability for your part, speak about you and your issues – not the other person, and go talk to this person about this issue when we are done.” You may find people either come to you more or they never return.

Triangulation is helpful if you intend to get perspective and then close the loop. Find a person you trust will be honest with you and not gossip about the other. Ask them to be an objective listener. Tell them, “I am having a problem with …. Can you listen to me so I can sort out my feelings and needs?” Tell them how to listen, “Help me take accountability for my role in this situation. When I start speaking about the other person, redirect me back to how I feel and what I need.  Here is how to hold me accountable to have the conversation.” Name by when you will close the loop and  report back to them.

To engage in healthy triangulation – like in the above research example – all people are aware of and agree to the practice for the purpose of learning. All create and explicitly follow predetermined guidelines. There is a structure to the conversations. You reflect and are accountable for your contribution to the problem. You share your challenges, not the faults of the other. You do not blame the other. You are specific in your ask of the listener. And, you close the loop – you go back to the person with whom you are troubled by and use what you gained through triangulating to resolve or evolve the issue.

To learn more, invite perspective. This is our jam. If you want to advance as a leader, get ahead of triangulation and learn how to have productive conflict.

 

The Body Doesn’t Lie

The Body Doesn’t Lie

Risk Management Through Somatic-based Learning

During situations that increase stress, our fundamental capability to gracefully navigate risk exists both in the mind and in the body. The body helps the mind decipher our course of action.

Through the systems that surround us, we learn ways to ignore, dismiss, or override the body. This is beneficial. Instead of screaming out in pain or lashing out in anger, we modulate and use skills to manage or talk about our experience. These patterns of containment and meaning making have a cost. They limit access to our body and mind as a resource.

In our culture, our body is more of a vehicle than a co-pilot. We underestimate and underutilize the power of the body to help us thrive.

Our soma — our body and brain — work together. When we know how they work in tandem, we gain perspective that allows choice in our response. Our body becomes a conscious co-pilot.

To manage risk through the body happens in three ways. We learn how our mind and body choose, decipher, and optimize information to create our story. We learn how our body responds to stress to manage our basic needs to thrive. And we learn ways to increase and understand the communication between the two.

These insights bring clarity and confidence to our response. It allows us to be in choice — open and flexible to alternative perspectives. It helps us create our own safety net to manage risk with others through the co-modulation of our experience in our body and with others.

Managing risk is an essential skill toward a sustainable and thriving world. One that creates space for all people to be unique and contribute to the whole. It makes a better way possible. It uses a common crisis we all face — managing intra- and inter-personal risk — and offers a step toward a new vision.

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The Body – The Key to Risk Management

As a species we are hard-wired to pay attention to discomfort. Discomfort alerts us that something is off. Yet, discomfort also helps us grow. It informs us of the edges of our capacity. Physical discomfort that we choose is easier to understand and navigate. Interpersonal discomfort is complex and risky.

We learn to navigate physical discomfort. You name an objective, train and practice, take ibuprofen when you overexert, and try again if you fail.

We are not taught how to navigate interpersonal discomfort. It is assumed that we know how with no objective, training, practice, and without failing. When we inevitably fail, we often hide our failure. We feel embarrassed. We are unaware that the complex results of interpersonal discomfort is interwoven in our body and stories.

We feel risk in interpersonal situations because something is at stake for us. Our body/brain system contain evolutionary layers that manage our needs for safety, belonging, and dignity. These are layered into our body, nervous system, and brain. These layers and corresponding needs optimize our ability to thrive. Every person has a different way to manage these needs and each need has a different meaning to each person.

Conscious awareness of how we respond to interpersonal stress give us a clue into how we manage our need for safety, belonging and dignity. It also offers us an advantage. We understand the edges of our capability, know when we are close the edge, and employ strategies to optimize our response. When we bring consciousness to our responses and patterns, we uncover a key to manage risk through our body.

Basic Needs to Thrive

We are a complex interchange woven of intricate threads of connection via nerve pathways, fascia, and organs. You are the result of years of patterning, winnowing, and practice.

Our distributed nervous system – the nerve pathways from our skin to our gut – interpret the world through sensation. These sensations stimulate chemicals that send signals via the nervous system to our body and brain that generate the impulse for all we do – our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

The systems that surround you provide implicit and explicit guidelines for how to behave. In order to stay safe, belong and have dignity, you learn, adopt, and adhere to these implicit guidelines. You disregard aspects of yourself that feel unsafe and adopt practices and habits that help you belong. Through this process, you walk your path of dignity.

The result feels like you. You became your habits. You are so fully your habits that to think outside of your box, or act in a way that is different, or have a bigger, new, burst of emotion is disruptively uncomfortable. It actually hurts inside of your body. Your stomach is upset, your breath gets short, you feel sick, your throat gets sore, your body becomes tight and hard to relax, and many other physical manifestations of your discomfort.

These are your bodies alarm bells when you take new action. Maybe you are in a difficult conversation, or you take the lead in a new way, or bring your voice when you are normally quiet, if the move is new to you, your body responds. It sets in motion a series of chemical processes that influence your thoughts, mood, and actions to bring you back to normal – to homeostasis.

Homeostasis[1] is your body at its rest. Your rest and my rest are different. Not only is your essential purpose fundamentally different than anyone else – more about that later – but the way we were shaped to feel safe, belong, and have dignity is different. Every single person on the planet has a slightly different version of homeostasis. And when anyone’s homeostasis is disrupted their system sets off alarm bells. What disrupts our system might be different, but we all get disrupted.

Disruption is generated from a sensation. A sense of something outside of or inside you that challenges your homeostasis. These sensations initiate chemical signals along your neural pathways. Your body and brain respond to these signals in their patterned way.

We react to maintain safety, stay in connection with our tribe, and uphold our dignity. If we don’t know these needs exist and do not understand how to manage them, we get taken on a wild ride through waves of emotion or weeks of shutdown until we arrive at a place stable enough to renegotiate the relationship. Occasionally, we become stuck in our response.

With awareness of our three basic needs to thrive – safety, connection, and dignity – and how we become reactive interpersonally, we gain language to name how our body interacts with the mind. This gives us insight into our interpersonal risk management and when our reaction puts others at risk.

Stress

Interpersonal challenge ensues when stress increases. The part of our brain responsible for complex thought neurochemically goes offline when we react, and we revert to our well-practiced, less flexible habits.[2]

Not all stress is bad. Stress brings us to the edge of our comfort zone. This grows our capacity. It can also push us out of what Daniel Siegel calls our window of tolerance[3] and set us into reactivity.

What we react to is different for all of us. This is called bias. The patterned way your body and mind respond to stimuli from your environment.

You generate assumptions about events and people from your deep memory. You believe these assumptions to be true. But they are not. They are simply well practiced assumptions that appear to be truth because you gather the data that makes them true.

Change blindness[4] is the study or how our brain fills in details of experiences that are not there. The science behind change blindness shows of the 11 million bits of new data per second people observe, our body and brain take in only about 50 bits or less than 1%. Our body/brain system generates over 99% of the information we believe to be in front of us from our deep memory.

Your brain generates a series of predictions says Eric Vance[5] from the 1% of new data you take in. You pull historical stories about the event and create new stories to make sense of it. While your brain strives to make meaning of the event, your body also adjusts – neurochemically. You show your response through emotions and action. You call a friend or cry or get angry at the dog or a fence post. You respond to the events in your patterned way. In the way that maintains your version of safety, connection, and dignity.

This is how the body/brain system works. It uses your life experience to generate possible outcomes from the data and then takes action. It handles the situation in your habitual way.

This way may be ideal for you. But it may not be ideal for others. Or maybe you are tired of producing the same results from your response. Change is possible. It begins with sensation.

Evolution

The brain is an efficient, pattern detection organ. It evolved in four layers[6] beginning with the distributed nervous system – the pathways of nerve throughout our body. As we evolved, our early organisms had the ability to sense and move. They would move and when they sensed a block, signals would travel to ganglia – nerve clusters – along a central line of nerves and initiate a new path of travel.

We sense through our nerves close to the edges of our body. This evolutionary layer still exists. It exists as our sensory motor nervous system. Its foundation is our sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. Senses also include internal sensations of the body, specifically the gut and heart – organs that have more neural synapses than the brain. Sensation is the foundation of our awareness.

Through evolution, we added capability. As the brain stem developed, it allowed for centralized reflexes and impulses. We could fight, flee, or freeze. This aspect of the brain managed our safety. Species were no longer at the mercy of their environment, they gained agency.

When mammals evolved, they needed a quick way to communicate with their young without words. The limbic system was the second centralized mechanism to layer on top of the other two. It enabled connection. This system interprets signals from the brain and body of another creature and takes action. Like a herd of zebras all organizing with their heads out and butts in to see 360 degrees around the herd.[7] They do this without coordinating. It just happens. Just as we know when something is off in a friend.

The last layer to develop was our neo cortex. It is responsible for dignity, social connection, and the management of our place in the pecking order. This is the place that literally gets shut out when we become reactive. We lose access to complex thought and flexibility.

These evolutionary layers exist in the brain and nervous system. Each part has a role to manage your safety, connection, and dignity. All parts work together to optimize your ability to thrive. If you do not know these are at play, you get stuck in your habit pattern of thought, mood, and action. You do not understand that these are simply practiced responses. To create a new output, you practice something else. Which is not easy.

As the Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman[8] states, the main way the brain operates – what he calls system one thinking – is lazy. The brain already uses 20% of our body’s resources. To take in new data and make new predictions uses more energy. To save energy and optimize the entire body/brain system, it prefers to use habit patterns from our deep memory to respond to the world.

If you have not been taught how and why to interrupt these habits, you reenact them. Sometimes you hope for new results from the same behavior, skills, or experiences. Other times, you settle for what you get. Never knowing that you can or how to change them.

The results are predictable. Our habit pattern of thought, emotion, and action is the fastest path to regain our comfort which equates in our body/brain to survival.

Modern ecological research purports that survival is not the goal of all organisms. The goal of all organisms is to thrive[9].

This is why trees in the forest cooperate for light and resources[10]. Trees in the forest people! Trees in the forest cooperate to share resources and thrive. We can too.

We have greatly underestimated our body/brain system. We use it in the way we were taught. It is time to innovate and explore the power of our body/mind to connect rather than compete. Change becomes possible through awareness.

The Mind

Awareness has everything to do with mitigating risk of any kind. To mitigate risk does not mean to strive for comfort. Far from it. To mitigate risk means to do what ever you can to be in conversation about risk before the risky situation happens.

Risk is many things. Risk is a difficult conversation. It threatens your habits of safety, connection, or dignity. Risk is putting your life in the hands of people you marginally trust. Risk is not having the conversations up front and saving them for a better time.

Interpersonal risk is not an easy path. It means you actively build resources that help you navigate complexity. The foundational resource is awareness.

If you are aware, you feel and notice your psychoneurobiological system at work. If you are not, a silent system is working in the background that returns you to a constant state of homeostasis at all costs.

At the slightest hint of something upsetting, our rapid fire, autonomic processes bring us back to our normal. They generate what we see and eliminate anything that threatens our safety, connection, or dignity. Even when the uncomfortable action moves you toward who you want to become or the direction you hope to move, your system tries to stop you.

Your body’s systems help you survive. You may appreciate your system for this. But it is not the way of the future. The system does not yet know the way. You must teach it.

Throughout the last 2,000 years, people have known that awareness is the key to change. They have worked to wake up their observer. To see clearly how they become swept away by their experiences.

The practices they use are quite simple, easy to employ anywhere, and effective. Some people know these practices and choose to use them. Others know they should use them but don’t. More balk at the idea that breath or awareness has anything to do with mitigating risk.

The science is clear. Our nervous system operates autonomically – under our level of consciousness. It manages breath, digestion, and balances our neurochemicals. Paradoxically, our nervous system is also malleable. Through a strong commitment generated by the mind, tied to a deeper, existential understanding of our purpose, we guide our nervous system to heightened capabilities.

When we work with our nervous system, we have the resources to help us and others not only survive but thrive – just like the trees. We have the power to guide our internal and external systems to respond consciously. It is time to step up to take accountability for our impact.

Center

Center is a term used to refer to an actual point two inches below the belly button. It is also a term used to reference a state of mind. These two references are connected. When you need to get out of homeostasis and choose your response, you center. You place your attention on your gut and your breath. When you do this, you bring yourself into the present moment. You pause homeostasis and create a space between stimulus and response[11].

Breath is important here. When you notice the rise and fall of your chest or gut over a period of five breaths or more, it changes the signals sent to your heart – a powerful mood influencer. The arrythmia of you heart shifts through the breath’s connection with the vagus nerve[12]. This is the physiological reason breath is important. It literally has the power to change the signals your heart sends to your brain. It reduces the amount of time you are triggered. It slows your reactivity. It expands how and what you think. Breath changes the story formed in your mind.

When you center, you anchor in what is happening right now. You gain the ability to take in new data. You remember your commitment. This changes the data your brain selects, and uses to predict and manifest your actions, thoughts, and mood. Therefore, it changes the outcome of the experience. You create your own reality. The reality you want to see.

When you center, you are accountable to a new future that has deep meaning to you. It is connected to your deeper purpose for being. It reminds you why you choose to take big risks.

Center is what some people find when they meditate. Center happens anytime you bring your attention to your body. And if you practice, center changes and deepens over time. If you find it when you meditate, try to meditate in a meeting with your eyes open or in the grocery line.

This give you data. Your experience versus your story of your experience. You begin to separate yourself from the stimulus. You gain new capacity to see your window of tolerance in action.

We are not taught to center. When you pay attention to your breath, you impact your body’s ability to modulate your reaction and find space between stimulus and response. When you center, you become aware and accountable for your reactions. You increase your chances for new action and the likelihood of a positive impact on the people around you.

In the 1980’s and 90’s, Italian research scientist discovered mirror neurons[13]. Neurons in our brain that pick up on emotionally significant responses from other people and set in motion a corresponding action in our body. When you react to events that are emotionally significant – like in an emergency, the systems of other people pick this up and react and respond accordingly. It is part of our limbic system that tunes into others to manage the need of safety. In high risk situations, if you do not know this is happening, you can inadvertently create more drama than you want.

Center help us choose our impact. It lets us be responsible for our actions in a congruent way. Centering builds trust.

The first step to center is to notice your breath. Our lungs change shape when we inhale and exhale. This major organ oxygenates our circulatory system. Our lungs are like balloons that expand and contract at regular intervals. They provide an entrainment[14] – a synchronized rhythm – that impacts the whole body system.

The lungs also massage the heart. Nestled in between the lungs, when you take a deep breath, your heart gets a snuggle.

During a deep breath, your heart rate speeds up a little. When you release the breath your heart rate slows down. The bigger the difference between your inhalation and exhalation heart rate the higher your vagal tone. The higher your vagal tone, the more easily you recover from stress.[15]

Your vagal tone was discovered by Steven Porges[16] and his research team – I include the research team as we all stand on the back of those that have come before us. They realized much like the brain and nervous system, that the vagus nerve also evolved in layers.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that enervates your viscera, facial expressions, voice box, and other responses. Porges and his research team discovered three layers. These three layers govern different functions: immobilization – a freeze response, mobilization – a fight or flee response, and social connection – our appease response.

When we are unaware of our breath, our vagal tone continues as we have practiced. When we wake up our observer and bring our attention to the breath, we can change the vagal tone, our affect on others, and we gain choice in our response.

With a woke observer, you see your patterns of action, thought, and mood that before lived under your level of consciousness. You notice when you are off. To add to breath, there are skills of the mind that help us understand how to move toward somatically managing risk in relationship.

Our Story

Our mind creates our personal narrative – how we think about ourselves and others. The narrative is activated through our sensations. We feel, see, hear, a word, action, or emotion and a story pops into our mind: a story line about us or other people.

This happens unconsciously. It is our brain’s role to take data from inside and outside us and rapidly categorize the data and make meaning. This narrative runs in the background of our daily lives. It drives how we meet our three basic needs to thrive: safety, connection, and dignity. These inform everything we do and how we perceive the impact of our thoughts and actions. This narrative is what we have been taught to believe. It is our habit pattern of thought. It is not the truth. It is our truth.

In our complex world, thinking we know the truth provides an extreme challenge. To increase our communication skills and create new outputs that make things happen faster and more smoothly takes more than our current truth allows. To understand and grapple with multiple truths is required. And we rarely learn how to do that skillfully.

The first step is to understand how your story was created. From center, we enter this inquiry. Center provides a space between stimulus – thinking about our story, and response – the reaction to parts of our story not being true.

When you understand that your story is not the story, you are curious in a new way. What is the truth? If my mind and body are not free, how do I free them? You use your body to center yourself and then question your story.

Our sensations drive a narrative. This narrative determines our choices. We make choices that have historically kept us safe, connected, and valued. When you step out of your narrative and into a bigger story it is destabilizing. You become uncomfortable. It feels difficult. We question who we are and why we are here. The questions set you on the path toward your ecological niche[17] – your individual way to contribute to the larger world. The path begins by taking intra- and inter-personal risks.

You learn about your narrative when you reflect on experiences and people, and converse with others. You see how your sensations drive your story. As you open to this fact, you disrupt long-held beliefs. Initially, this is unsettling. You disrupt homeostasis. As you practice stepping out of your story, the disruption becomes more common and less destabilizing. You realize that disruption in relationship happens. And it takes longer to recover when you are unconsciously stuck in your story.

The systems that surround us from birth, our life experiences, and the behaviors and beliefs of our family system influence our story. These are fundamental to who we are. When we question our story, we rock our ego.

Ego is the image we form of our self. It helps us know where we begin and end. It allows us to differentiate from others. It is the keeper of our story.

Ego development goes through phases[18]. Ego helps us know what we believe and take action. A healthy ego is balanced with our soul’s purpose[19] – the deep ecological niche we are here to serve.

When we marry our ecological purpose with our ego, we stand our ground and unsettling interpersonal disruption becomes easier to navigate. We know where we stand. We have examined and continue to examine our story. We see other people as individuals examining their story as well, instead of someone trying to take us off our game.

Say you have a conversation with a colleague about an upcoming trip or project. You hope – and often assume – you are on the same page. There is a short time between this trip/project and the next. Most of your trips/projects have been interpersonally easy. You assume this will be as well.

Then, your psychoneurbiology picks up a sensation. This sensation generates an automatic story that something is off. Your automatic protection mechanisms are activated. You begin to associate how this experience will play out from your deep memory. You activate skills to navigate the challenge.

You use your communication skills and mode of connection to discover more. You may go away and seek counsel about this person or idea. Maybe you confront them directly. Or you appease and try to connect with them to gain more information. These are our three basic moves to settle our disruption: move away, against, or toward.

You still feel a rift. Your body relies on your stories as your resource. You decide checking in would be a bad idea. Maybe you have seen them react before and don’t want to elicit or deal with that response. You are not sure what to say. You begin to prepare for the trip or project with this felt sense of dis-ease.

You come about your method of resolution honestly. Most people are never taught how to enter and navigate these conversations. Under stress, you revert to your baseline skills.

As we infrequently reflect on our narrative, how we navigate interpersonal conversations and situations, and rarely have a safe place to practice new skills, our skill level and choices remain stagnant. We continue to hope for a change but often reproduce the same results. Or surprisingly, get new results but have no idea how we did it and are unable to recreate the positive results.

At this point, all tied up in your stories about yourself and the other person, you operate at an interpersonal deficit. Then, you add risk.

It is easy to see how you become reactive. Not only are your basic needs to thrive at risk, but the very foundation on which you have built your life is threatened. No wonder we react when interpersonal relationships are difficult!

At this point, you breathe. You re-center in your purpose and commitment. You remember you are reacting. This person is also stuck in their story. You become curious about yourself and the other. You center. You observe how you respond to them. You seek a trusted advisor for counsel. Then you enter the conversation, centered and grounded.

Center religiously during discomfort. Your system will cut off your neocortical capability and revert to your “engrained habits.” When you lose this connection – the neurochemical cycle usually lasts about 90 minutes – your system relies on your habit patterns of action to respond to the situation. When you center, you interrupt your habit patterns. In this space between stimulus and response you have a choice.

Historically, our automatic responses were a survival advantage. In the early millennia of our species, we needed to make snap judgments about safety to stay alive, connection to know who to affiliate with, and the pecking order to appropriately contribute to the survival of our tribe. Our snap judgments are still useful. These help us know when something is off. The way we manage our judgments is outdated.[20]

There is more data both inside and outside of us that illuminates our judgment. When we center, we learn how to access and frame the data. This anchoring of data grounds our judgment. When we center, we calm our neurobiology. This helps others become less reactive. When we center, and question our story, we help create the most optimal result to thrive.

To manage risk somatically, we

  • understand the world we see is generated from sensation and our deep memory, and those drive our thoughts, emotions and action;
  • center and find the space between stimulus and response, and
  • question our story.

The Way Forward

The body doesn’t lie. A new way to manage risk is possible when you utilize the capacity of your body and change your story.

A sensation is a sensation. Your automatic unconscious patterns interpret these sensations, make meaning of them, and then act. If you are unaware of this habit pattern of action, you believe what you experience is true. It is true for you, but it is not the truth.

When you name a sensation as a fact and work to reinterpret the sensation, you rewrite your story and find the truer truth.

This process weaves a neural safety net for your benefit and others. The safety net is woven of your resources and skills, and your new story through your conscious commitment to truth on your path toward your ecological niche.

To manage risk through somatic practices, you start at the beginning – your sensations. These are the baseline for grounded truth.

  • Name the sensation in the body: location, pressure, temperature, and movement.
  • Breathe and center.
  • Feel how your body responds to the sensation.
  • Notice how you interpret what you feel and experience.
  • Anchor in the present: where am I, who am I with, what data do I want to gather, and what is my commitment?

Then, examine your story.

  • What do I believe about this person, situation, or experience?
  • How do I contribute to this output?
  • Make space for your story.
  • Question your assumptions.
  • Take in new data.
  • Connect to a broader story.

Somatically managing risk creates flexibility and choice. It allows all people to fill their needs of safety, connection, and dignity with confidence. A system thrives when all feel safe, a sense of belonging, and an ability to contribute and be valued by the larger whole. Somatically managing risk helps people thrive.

The path is not easy. Reactivity is likely. But the more you practice from center, the more chance you will keep yourself and others calm and connected in risky situations.

Humans are tasked to come together in unprecedented and risky ways. The foundation of connection I suggest is different that the transactional connection we learn. The knowledge lives within, not outside of you. You build your net of safety from the exploration of your ecological niche and your own experience.

There is overwhelming pressure to do good work. Crisis creates pressure and inspires innovative action. The visceral crisis to shift your practices exists in your own body. Use the interpersonal crisis you encounter to trust yourself from the inside out and begin the path toward a generative way to manage risk now and in the future.

 

[1] Fogel, A. (2009). The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907136/

[3]Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2016/sep/05/change-blindness-can-you-spot-the-difference

[5] Vance, E. (2016). The Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and HealWashington, D.C.: National Geographic.

[6] Blake, A. (2018). Your Body is Your Brain. CA: Trokay Press.

[7] Blake, A. Body = Brain course. www.embright.org.

[8] Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

[9] LaChapelle, D. (1988). Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life. CO: Finn Hill Arts. 

[10] Wohlleben, P. (2016). The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel and How they Communicate. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books.

[11] Frankl, V. (1946). Man’s Search for Meaning. Vienna, Austria.

[12] Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagal_tone and see Porges, S..

[16] Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

[17] Plotkin, B. (2007). Nature and the Human Soul. New York, NY: New World Library.

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loevinger%27s_stages_of_ego_development

[19] Plotkin, B. (2003). Soulcraft. New York, NY: New World Library.

[20] Brown, A.M. (2017). Emergent Strategies. Chico, CA: AK Press.

What do you love?

What do you love?

Two steps toward leadership mastery.

This morning, as I was driving home from the eye doctor – grateful for their ability to help me have clear vision – I thought, “I love seeing the leaves on the trees.”

During my mental proclamation, my heart opened, and I realized – once again – that love comes in many forms.

Here is a little background. When I was eight, my Mom took me to the eye doctor for the first time because I was having trouble seeing the board at school. Turns out, I needed glasses. When I received the glasses and we stepped outside, I said, “Mommy, there are leaves on the trees!” She felt terrible for all those years that she had not noticed I couldn’t see. I felt amazing because suddenly I could see the world in a whole new way.

It seems for me, the eye doctor is a portal to heart opening. I am grateful everyday I put my glasses on and the world comes into high relief!

If you have never felt your heart open, or don’t know what I am talking about, or it seems like new-age bull$&#! – let me tell you, you are missing out!

Heart opening has the power to help us see the world in a whole new way.

An open heart feels almost painful for me. I feel tension over my chest – as if my heart were expanding and moving forward. Tears come easy when I have an open heart. Sometimes it feels painful to swallow. I can FEEL my chest in a whole new way.

Our ability to feel our heart open is all tied up in our brain, body, and emotions. When we can choose to open our heart, we have a secret power.

The secret power is the connection to our humanity – a deep empathy for all other beings through the ability to remove the armor around our heart.

Heart armoring happens. Our body, brain, and emotions work together to protect us from harm – emotional, physical, or psychological pain. When our heart is armored, it is hard for us to feel love and the humanity of other people.

To a degree, we have all armored our hearts. It is implicitly required to operate in the world. Yet, it is not mandatory.

Sometimes you may have felt your heart open unexpectedly when you see a commercial that is a “tearjerker” or a movie that stirs you or even something more personal.

Heart opening happens. The choice to open your heart is the key here. Do you know how? Once you know, you are no longer missing out.

Here are two steps toward an open heart:

  1. Gratitude. Be grateful. It is an awesome way to open your heart. Offer someone in your life heart-felt gratitude for the gifts they bring to your world. Even if it’s the post person. People impact you. Can you let them in through gratitude? If you can’t, let’s talk.
  2. Awareness. Get clear about what your chest area feels like in this moment. Now, try to soften it. Use your breath. Try taking seven deep breaths using no muscles. Simply inhale – this is a very difficult practice for most. Notice what muscles you use to breathe. The only muscle we need to use to breathe is the diaphragm – a thin, circular muscle that horizontally spans the base of your rib cage from front to back and side to side. Most people use their neck, shoulders, chest, and back muscles. This is part of how you armor. Notice it. Be grateful for the ways these muscles have protected your heart and offer them a break.

When we take time to learn the unique way our heart opens and can choose to open our hearts, we have a secret power. Practice opening your heart. You will be amazed at the results.

Being a great leader comes through choice. Being able to choose to open our heart is leadership mastery.

 

Feel Satisfied: Stop Judging, Start Sharing

Two Powerful Steps to a More Satisfying Life

The body reveals our inner life. Moment to moment, our unmet and often unconscious needs are revealed as feelings, expressions, moods, or actions. Though we experience these shifts, we are not taught how to speak about or understand them.

The ability to sense behind sounds and actions is hardwired into all mammals’ nervous systems and brains. It helps us respond to the needs of our tribe to ensure survival and help us thrive.

In the vacuum between the knowledge of our unmet needs and the ability to speak about them, we jump to assumptions about what we experience in ourselves and each other, moving past inquiry to judgment. Guessing about the inner life of others creates a lot of relational churn.

When we can decipher and speak about our unmet needs and feelings, relational satisfaction improves and conflict decreases. Speaking our need is like air to the lungs.

Recently, I was talking with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Our conversation that normally flows was strained. I felt hesitant and guarded. There was a virtual wall preventing us from connecting. We both felt it. What was it? I wanted to feel connected and in tune, but I couldn’t. Was the block in me – was I being standoffish? Was the block in them? Or both?

Humans are complex organisms. Nuances in relationship—a slight downturn of the lips, a glance away, a shoulder shrug—can cause disrupted expectations at work or home and trigger big reactions in our body that others experience.

Revealing our inner life feels unsafe. So, we try to hide our reactions. This is like a three-year-old covering their eyes and thinking you can’t see them. Everyone knows something is up. They just don’t know how to relate to you or ask about it. We don’t teach them.

When I was young, my father – the head of the household – would occasionally come home from a long day at work disrupted. He would be silent and closed off. He would not play, talk much, or make eye contact. We all observed these actions and were impacted by them.

When asked, my father would say he was fine. My young self knew he was not. His body and face told the real story. Though I didn’t know the word at the time, my father was being incongruent. He was feeling disrupted on the inside, but claimed he was not. This incongruence led me to make up stories about what was going on instead of understanding, often blaming myself for his cutoff when it had nothing to do with me.

As a child, in this short, but consistent communication, I learned two things: 1) If something is wrong, pretend like it isn’t, and 2) Don’t reveal my inner life to anyone. I embodied these skills. This was my normal.

Through feedback from others, I began to understand how even though I thought I was doing right – using the skills I was taught – keeping my inner life to myself was causing turmoil.

Just like my Dad, I was hiding in plain sight. My face and body told the story I was trying not to tell. My voice, actions, and mood said something was disrupted. Connecting to this disrupted feeling, understanding why it was occurring, and talking about it was a skill I never knew existed.

With help and patience, I began the journey to learn and practice ways to communicate the feelings and needs driving what I expressed through my body. When I shared my inner life, I felt lighter, more in tune with myself, and more connected to others. The relationships in all aspects of my life deepened. I became more empathetic. When I could understand my feelings and needs, I could also understand that others had them too and inquire about them.

I decided to apply this skill to the situation with my friend. I had felt my reaction to hide and avoid arising. Something on the inside needed to be named. It was my job to discover it.

Here comes the rub. Hiding feels right. It is what I learned to do. Revealing feels as if I’m betraying some long-held pact or sharing a secret. I am. The pact was a contract I never consciously signed, and the secret needs to be revealed for me to move forward in my life and feel connected.

This is the conversation I had with my friend.

“I feel hesitant and guarded. I need to matter to you and be included in your life.”

Revealing this felt as though I was walking out high above the ground on a cracking limb.

My friend responded with their feeling and need. They felt uncomfortable and needed more clarity.

I was asked to reveal more. It was heart wrenching. My stomach was full of buzzing bees. I longed to get back to the tree before I fell. I felt tears well up. My heart rate increased. I wanted to hide. This physical discomfort was how I knew I was getting closer to the truth.

“I value your friendship and haven’t had much time with you lately.  I enjoy our connection and miss you. I want to add value to your life and feel you’re moving beyond me, and that you may not need me anymore. I guess I’m blocking you out because I feel scared I will lose you as a friend.”

At this point they visibly softened. Their shoulders dropped and they sighed. We were again connected. We entered into a lovely conversation about the benefit we each receive from the other and the commitment to our friendship. The conversation was air to my lungs. That short period of discomfort helped me feel satisfied in my need for connection.

This disconnect between what we reveal with our body and what we share in words happens daily. It is often the subject of my coaching conversations.

We are hardwired to sense something is off with another. We make assumptions about people all the time. To improve your satisfaction in relationship both with yourself and others, you have to break the unconscious pact you signed and reveal the feelings and needs behind your mood and actions.

Usually, we feel compelled to use this skill when we are disrupted. Once you try this process a few times, I highly recommend using the skill when you feel GOOD! It’s just as important to name your satisfaction as it is to name your disruption.

Here’s a process to get you started. See the short list of feelings and need below. Go here for a more extensive feelings list and here for more comprehensive needs list.

If disrupted, begin with the “I feel unsatisfied” column. Find the word or words that best matches your inner life. And share what YOU feel.

Then move to the “I need…” column. Find a word or words that best matches your inner life. Share what YOU need.

When my husband and I practice this with our two children, we often choose three to seven feelings and needs using Grok cards, whittling the cards down over the course of the conversation. You have permission to choose and speak about all that you can handle in one conversation.

When you first begin, it may take multiple rounds to land on your truth. Your listening partner may have follow-up questions. Go to this article on active listening for some ideas on good follow-up questions.

I encourage you to share this widely. When more people have these skills, the world will be a more satisfying place for everyone.

I feel satisfied: I feel unsatisfied: I need:
Relieved Mistrustful Connection
Fulfilled Hesitant Appreciation
Content Detached Consideration
Thankful Frustrated Inclusion
Pleased Impatient Safety
Open Worried Security
Safe Resentful Stability
Secure Ambivalent To be understood
Surprised Detached Trust
Proud Withdrawn Harmony
Empowered Indifferent Order
Friendly Uncomfortable Choice
Alert Disappointed Freedom
Encouraged Irritable Independence
Optimistic Nervous Challenge
  Guarded Clarity
  Insecure Efficacy
  Envious To matter
    Self-expression
    Participation
    Purpose

 

For Coordinated Action – String the Route

For Coordinated Action – String the Route

I am a ready-fire-aim kind-of a woman. I know where I am going. I always have a large-scale plan. It drives my action. But it lives in my head and I figure out the route on the fly. I always get to where I am going, but sometimes the journey is longer than I hoped.

It is like this “10 mile” three-day backpacking trip we did with our nine and seven-year-old kids, and 4-month-old dog. We had a plan – cover 10 miles over three days. This is not a lot for us. Two miles the first day. Four miles the second. Then another four miles the third. Only we pieced together the estimated route from two different hikes. We bought maps of course. But failed to look at them and “string” the route before we left.

On day two, after a lot of elevation and about 4 miles of walking we should be close, but we were in the middle of nowhere. I turned to Neil and mouthed, “How much farther?” He shrugged and pulled out the maps. We found about where we were, then put the compass string on the map to measure the twists and turns of the trail. We had about five miles to go.

“Five miles!” We were nearly out of water – no more streams along the ridge trail we were on. We had snacks enough for a 10-mile hike total – not a 10-mile day. Our kids had never hiked 10 miles in a day. And the poor baby dog was so tired – probably wondering what the heck are these people thinking!

This was a ready-fire-aim experience. We had everything we needed – we just had to conserve water and manage our snacks. We made it. The kids and dog were amazing. Heck, we found wild strawberries along the route! The lake we slept at that night was such a reward. An advance plan would have been nice, but knowing the hike was 19 miles – almost double our distance – we might not have gone. Our coordinated effort – bringing a map, looking at it, managing our snacks and water, foraging, having all we needed on our backs, and having practiced roughing it for nearly 30 years – allowed us to realize our goal.

All around the world groups of people are building amazing futures out of the rubble of the past – they are taking mistakes made by some and using it as fuel for a new way. The coordinated effort is happening. Women, people of color, people of all genders, and humble men, are on the fore front of the movement. Yet, to fuel our efforts, and feel camaraderie on the journey, we must name the plan and string the route.

Stringing the route looks like this:

  • Have a final goal in mind: A safe and just world, where people find their place, and can significantly contribute in right relationship with all things. This is mine. Yours may be different, yet have similar qualities at heart.
  • Talk to your kids about the world you hope to see – read books, watch movies, share articles, and attend events that speak of this goal.
  • Talk to your friends and family about this world. Ask them their opinions of a world like this. What are their ideas?
  • Recognize disparity when it happens. Speak about it. Work to change it.
  • Examine and understand your actions. Work to be kind, understanding, and able to hold the line.
  • Notice others that are working toward a similar goal. Acknowledge them. Show gratitude for their commitment.
  • Practice what you need to build this world: skillful conflict, discerning what to put energy toward, listening, and coordinated action. Help others build these skills.

These are some of the things I practice daily, weekly, and over my lifetime on my way to the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible. What do you practice?

Everyone has their own way of doing things – this is the beauty of individuality. The big change that is happening is through coordinated effort. You are already contributing – take a minute to acknowledge yourself.

Now, flesh out your plan – not an idea – but a robust plan, and then talk with others. Discover how very similar we are at heart, even if our approach is slightly different.

This coordinated effort is happening all over the world. If the news won’t tell this story, we can tell it at coffee shops, on the phone, through text messages, at dinner parties, in schools, churches, and everywhere we go.

When we plan, converse, and practice, we make our dreams possible.

We do not need to be in the same room – or even country – to arrive at the same place. We simply need to recognize our efforts – we are enough, build the skills, train our children, and speak what we hope to see into reality. Naysayers beware.

If you need help figuring out your plan – invite perspective. We love helping others define and build skills for the journey.

The Breaking Point – Account for the Ego

The Breaking Point – Account for the Ego

“Sometimes the body keeps the ego in check.” Andrew Middlebrook

It was a hot July day. We had just finished our first climb. He was rappelling. I was sitting in the shade of 100-foot trees, planning the next route. A few moments later – ones that I will play over and over in my mind – I began coordinating my husband’s rescue.

We had both been climbing for over 25 years. We had taught climbing. We had guided people up mountains all over the world. How could this happen to us?

Technically, one end of the rope was too short and the other too long. For 10 years, we have bought bi-weave ropes. At the end of last year, we bought a single pattern rope with a middle mark. At the top of the climb, he was looking for the weave to change.

We were at our local crag. We had climbed the route four times. There was plenty of rope – a 70-meter rope for a 100 ft. climb. About 10 ft. of rope was left over on each end when we were swapping laps.

Last year in mid-August, 15 miles into the back country, we climbed Mt. Goode, the most technically complicated approach and descent that either of us had ever done – the climbing part was easy. We walked out sore, but safe.

I had the ground to trust his skills. There had never been a reason not to. We always came home safe. Yet, in July, after a 50-foot ground fall, he was carried out in a litter – to an ambulance – to a trauma center. Alive, but clearly not safe.

We teach leadership and communication to organizations and people all over the world. We get praise from many at work and in our community for being life, climbing, and business partners – “How do you do it?” they ask. We communicate. We check our egos. We know we are fallible. We understand we are human just like every one of the individuals we know and work with. And, yet, we all have our “things.”

I am bossy with climbing. It’s my razzle dazzle. I give advice on gear placement, systems, and route choices. My partner is the mountain climber. He’s a genius on glaciers and with route finding.

He’s also a man. Our culture says he is supposed to know better. I am a woman. I must fight to be heard. I must prove my knowledge to be respected. At a crag or in the mountains, people defer to him as the leader. Even though on rock, I am the subject matter expert.

So why, on that day, did I choose not to be bossy? The crag was crowded. Did I not want to emasculate him by giving advice?

I looked. I saw two ropes reaching a ledge. Ropes get stuck on ledges – happens all the time. You fix it on the way down. I assumed he was pulling up more rope to even out the ends.

When we climb with our kids we always check safety. Always. This time, even though he sensed something was up as there was a lot of rope out, he chose not to call out, “Are both ends down?” He wondered, “Is there a knot in the other end?” but he didn’t ask. He didn’t want to bother me. He didn’t want my advice.

I chose not to say something because I trusted him. And his experience. All things indicated I could – the gear, our communication, the easy climb, the beautiful day.

As mountain people, being strong and bold is vital – or we would never get out of the parking lot. But identifying this way can get in the path of safety. It can thwart our respect for our own fallibility. Our ego gets hung up on the words strong and bold and forgets that we are also fragile and dependent. That these too are gifts of being human.

On Mt. Goode, the terrain and remoteness reminded us that we were dependent on each other – our combined skills and the practice of being partners. We had disagreements on the mountain. There was no choice but to talk about them.

At Index, we did not voice what was in our heads. I didn’t want to be bossy – like I knew better than my experienced partner. He didn’t want to seem inexperienced – like he needed my help.

In the span of our lives, we are all dependent. On other people – at the beginning and end of our life, on creatures and plants for food, and trees for oxygen. We often forget this is a symbiotic relationship. A tacit pact of accountability.

Accountability is uncomfortable. We must let go of our own importance and remember our connection. We must be grateful for what we receive and give back in equal measure. We must struggle to be humble.

I did not say something. I did not hold up my part of the accountability pact – the trust of partnership. For that, I am truly sorry. Life is a gift. It is fragile. The ego can withstand a fall, the body cannot.

Now it’s October. As I watch my husband roll around in his wheel chair – still unable to walk – I tear up. I am reminded – we are human – bold and strong, fragile and dependent.

The discomfort of revealing this story to the world reminds me of my humanness. Watching him struggle to get over an uneven part of a street with wheels spinning reminds me of our dependency. Waiting for a grown man to take his first steps is humbling.

I still trust my partner, our skills and experience, and the systems. We will climb again. But next time, my voice will be heard. I am accountable to balance being bold and strong AND fragile and dependent. I will remember. I won’t ever forget.

May we all be safe in our chosen activities.

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Deconstructive Feedback

Why is feedback so hard?

“This is the best tool yet.” said my client.

As a people pleaser, I wondered, “Why didn’t I just give them the feedback formula to start?” Then I realized, to deliver stellar feedback you must first practice three foundational skills.

Feedback in its best form is a conversation. For a conversation to happen, we must have an open mind, listen to understand, and be able to digest both our inner experience and understand what might be at play for another.

Otherwise, we are two people monologuing about our perspectives on life and never intersecting, being impacted by the other, or transforming the way we see the world.

Most of us enter feedback with a goal to give someone advice, information, or an assessment of a behavior. One person in a position of power – I know/have something you do not. Even if it is just an opinion or an idea about their blind spot – not many people liked to be surprised. This makes the relationship off balance at the start and people get defensive. They are already one down.

When we are feeling picked on, called out, or surprised, response patterns get triggered in our body. We then revert to our habits of thought, mood, and action. When we react, our brain goes on autopilot. Effectively cutting off access to our pre-frontal cortex – the place where we make logical decisions and take thoughtful action. We close our mind. This is a terrible place to begin a learning process.

Mindset

To have an open mind, means to go into a feedback conversation with the intention to learn and be curious, not tell or teach. This takes an examination of our mindset. The first foundational leadership skill.

If we enter the conversation to learn, our affect is different than if we enter to tell. We can guise telling as offering and helping, but we all know the difference. Intention lives in the body. It is felt.

When I have some advice for my daughter, she knows it before I even open my mouth. When I give advice to a friend, I can tell when it goes over the line from helpful to pedantic. Therefore, understanding the difference between a telling mindset – and how that happens in our body – and a learning mindset – and how that happens in our body – is vital to our success.

Try it now. Pretend you are going to tell someone about something they were doing right or wrong. Give them a piece of advice. How do you shape yourself? What do you tell yourself?

Now, pretend you are entering a conversation to learn. To be curious about what you don’t know about someone. How do you shape yourself now? What is the story in your mind?

These two states feel different. I am softer when I am curious. Closed off when I am telling. Other people can feel this. We all have a part of our brain that knows how to interpret actions without words. The work of Paul Eakman and others has shown that most facial expressions are universal. We can communicate sadness, anger, fear, or happiness without ever speaking. We can also communicate telling versus curious.

Listening

To give quality feedback, we must know how to listen. Listening to reply is very different than listening to understand. When we listen to understand we are naturally curious. We ask genuine questions that inquire about another.

When we listen to reply, we have the answer in our head and ask questions that validate our assumptions. This is a great recipe for helping people become defensive.

If a person perceives you are unaware or disrespectful of their perspective, they will actively avoid, resist, or undermine anything you suggest. They get defensive and are not receptive to feedback.

If we want people to be receptive to feedback, to remain open and curious – the best state for feedback to be beneficial – we must listen to understand. This is the second foundational skill of leadership.

Feelings

It is helpful to listen and have an open mind. Yet, this is not all. If we go into a feedback conversation feeling nervous, people will know. Many of us have likely heard the phrase – name it to tame it. This means that if we understand what we are feeling, the feelings become easier to work with and overcome.

With any feedback situation, there are two or more people involved. The most productive feedback conversations feel vulnerable – for all people. This means that feelings – on both sides of the fence – abound. We are vulnerable – open to influence. This is a precious state, a gift from one person to another. It is something to be reverent of and prepared for.

Feelings stem from sensations and stir the part of our brain associated with connection and safety. If vulnerable is not a common state for us, we become unconsciously alert. We feel overwhelmed as our thoughts, emotions, desires become jumbled, mushy, and indistinguishable from each other.

Most work places value our strategic and tactical mind. It is hard to switch from tactical to vulnerable. These states differ widely in how we shape our selves. To easily switch from armor on, to armor off, we must practice.

To understand our feelings, it is helpful to sort through the mush – Is it this person that we fear? Are we afraid of the feedback we might receive? Does the topic make us uncomfortable? Or something else?

To sort out the mush we use a tool called the Mush Separator. This the third leadership foundation. It helps us create space between stimulus – “they failed to get me what I need and my stomach is in knots because my boss is upset” – and response – “You blew it.” and then we walk away.

In this space we separate our thoughts, from our feelings, and our intention. The mush separator is a valuable tool to use in conversation throughout the feedback process. As you will see in the model.

Deconstructive Feedback Long Form

People always ask, especially those in the construction field – why deconstructive? Before offering feedback, we must take apart how we feel, the intention we have, the purpose we are coming in with, and understand our mindset, be open to listening and know our feelings. Then, in our conversation with the other person, we must also do this. We deconstruct the experiences that led to the feedback. Then we can decide if we even need to offer the feedback at all.

Deconstructive feedback model

The other day my daughter, who is preparing for a big project at school, was struggling with how to go about doing something. She dropped the ball on a call that she was supposed to make. I knew she had planned to call a potential mentor on Thursday night. It was Friday and I had not heard how the call went. I asked her about it. She looked surprised, almost covered it up with a story – I could tell by the pause, and then told me she forgot. Instead of launching into constructive feedback about how she should make a list, or destructive feedback, “I can’t believe you dropped the ball. How will you ever get a mentor with that approach?” I paused and thought, “What would best serve her right now?”

Before I respond, I had to understand my purpose. My purpose is to serve, not teach or belittle. What would best serve her is a learning conversation. A deconstruction of how she got to this uncomfortable feeling of forgetting in the first place. And, to help her find her way out. Purpose is the first task for both the short and the long form of feedback.

Before you shorten the feedback, it is best to make sure you understand the whole model, how it all works, and practice it a few times. Then you can begin to use the shorter form to offer feedback real time.

The long form starts with purpose. Just like my daughter, “Why are you giving this person feedback? What needle are you trying to help move? Why is it important to move the needle?” This is the pre-work we need to do BEFORE you begin the feedback conversation. We must be clear that the feedback we deliver is not a secret way to get back at a person or throw them off their game. It is inherently important to the success of the endeavor to offer this feedback. This may take some time if you are not in the practice of stating/understanding your purpose.

The next step is naming the observed action. If you have practiced the mush separator you will know what this is. What action did the person take that a video camera or a microphone would pick up? For my daughter, it was inaction, NOT calling her potential mentor.

Then we move to the perceived intention. This is always stated in the positive. For now, here are your only six options. My perception of your intention was to:

  1. be in choice, do it yourself, or be spontaneous;
  2. be understood for the intention beneath the behaviors;
  3. make a difference or contribute;
  4. be connected to a collective purpose;
  5. want things to be efficient, feasible, workable;
  6. be recognized or acknowledged for effort.

My daughter likely forgot. If I say this to her, she will instantly get defensive. As we stated above, this is not a good place to learn or have a conversation. To respect her, I state the positive intention. This is tough for many people, as we are taught through experience that feedback is/feels negative. If we do not recognize the underlying positive intention, we will begin to erode the relationship. So, with my daughter, I started with, “I believe your intention is to handle this yourself.”

Then we move to impact. The impact on me is, “I worry that you might burn bridges if you say you will call someone and then do not.”

With impact, we must be very careful we do not unleash our judgments or feedback in this space. If triggered or unconscious of my purpose I might say, “You probably burned that bridge.” Or “Now what are you going to do, you have to apologize.” Though these could both be true, she will begin to see me as a threat to her and actively undermine, resist, or avoid me. This would not help me/us achieve my/our purpose.

We must rehearse before we begin. We must practice the mush separator and understand ourselves before we begin to engage with another. This makes feedback productive instead of destructive.

The next step is conversation. I let her talk first and respond to what I said. The Mush Separator can be used here. We create space for them to share while we actively listen. Then, we paraphrase for understanding.

“I was supposed to call on Thursday after my after-school sports. But when I got home from a full day of school and sports, I was tired and hungry. So, I ate and read my book. Then, I did chores, had dinner, finished my homework, and went bed.”

I paraphrased plus and said, “You had a big day and were tired. It is unlike you to forget to do things that are important to you. This is a new task for you. And it seems like you don’t have a good practice for remembering to do it yet. Did I get that right?”

“Yeah.”

Until they say yes to the question of “Did I get it right?” you can go nowhere. If I didn’t get it right, she might have said, “No, I wanted to ….” Then she would reveal more of the story. We would keep this pattern going until she said, “Yes, You got it.” Only after the yes can you offer the feedback.

Many times, at this point in the feedback model, I say, “Wow, I had no idea all that was behind your action.” This results in me NOT offering the feedback. The conversation created an understanding so deep the feedback became irrelevant. They likely already knew what I was going to tell them and the conversation allowed them to come to the conclusion on their own. Making it even more likely they will follow through than if I had given them the feedback.

If you find there is still more to say, the last step is feedback. In my story, once again, I didn’t need to offer feedback. I needed to help her learn how to manage her time. She is only 13. So, I said, “This is important. I don’t want you to miss out on this mentor that you really like. How can I help you remember?”

This led to a conversation about what was the best day to have energy for calls, where could she write it down to help remember, what were some mnemonic ways for her to remember, and how I could help her.

Yes, this feedback model takes time. But isn’t it worth the time to build the relationship now, so that in the future, we can use the short from.

Deconstructive Feedback Short Form

With the short form, we still must be aware of our purpose. We still must shape our mindset – curious. Have been practicing active listening. And know ourselves through walking through the Mush Separator.deconstructive feedback short form

Here is how it will look:

Today is the day you said you would call your mentor. I think you are waiting until they are done with dinner and bedtime (making it workable for them). I am worried you might forget. Do you have a plan?”

Since we had the first conversation, she knows I am on her side. She understands my purpose is to serve and help so she can be successful. She can answer with a, “Thanks for the reminder, I almost forgot.” or “Yes, I am waiting until after her kid goes to bed.”

A long conversation to build relationship and save time in the future is worth it to me to be able to have these short conversations in the moment. As the facilitator at the Great Conversations course at Seattle Children’s Hospital once said, “100 one-minute conversations are better than one 100-minute conversation.” The conversation becomes a practice, not a long moment in time. It becomes a tool to use in conversation for the child or the grown-up at work, at home, or in the community.

The Deconstructive Feedback Model is the fourth foundational skill of leadership. By now you are probably recognizing that reading and practicing are not the same thing. Print out the model, create a mnemonic, and practice. May you be successful.

If you need help understanding your purpose, getting out of the practice of offering negative intentions – we all do it, or are uncertain about how you feel – invite perspective. We love the work we do.