Showing up to relationships

Bruce Lewin has taken up blogging and I see he is now issuing challenges!

John Moore has written a great piece on employee dissatisfaction “Uninspired disengaged…“. While I agree with this, I would publicly encourage John to spend some time introjecting and have a look at some of the great methodologies that can be used to approach such problems particularly from a branding perspective!

I don’t suppose Bruce really meant introjection, which is largely about taking on board parental ideas unconsciously. If he did, I’m sure I already do too much of it! Still, what methodologies do I recommend?

Bruce is being deliberately provocative since he knows that I am sceptical of complicated methodologies for managing human relationships. These are too often driven by a consultant’s need to look clever than by a real desire to create connection. He’s also being constructive, and encouraging me talk more about positive ways forward rather than dwelling on things that aren’t working. Good prompt!

Now, I don’t honestly think that the way to engage in relationships can ever be captured in written words; authenticity and emotional intelligence can be talked about in blogs but it’s all a poor substitute for a real experience.

Also, my mantra is “relationships before ideas”; methodologies can often get in the way of spontaneity and insight.

I don’t think human relationships are simple; I think they are complex. Paradoxically I think that the best principles to follow are simple but also fuzzy and fallible. But much better approximately right than precisely wrong.

So with those caveats, Bruce, here are some simple, fuzzy, perhaps blindingly obvious “methodologies” for engaging employees. If you’re like me, as soon as you read them you’ll think of execptions and that’s fine… just resist the urge to legislate when inspiration, or at least provocation, may actually be more productive.

Actually, they’re exactly the same ones for any human relationship; many organisations strip the humanity out of processes in pursuit of control and certainty. I spend my time encouraging them to put some of it back to control a little less and inspire a little more.

I could could go on for days, but this is a blog entry not a book chapter. So I’m going to start with one theme and see how it goes. Comments welcome.

Today, I’d say that the number one “technology” available to all of us is showing up to relationships. (Woody Allen famously said “90% of life is just showing up”). Here are some observations about what I mean by showing up… and what I don’t.

1. I don’t just mean move your body into the same room, I mean show up in spirit too. Charles Handy coined the wonderful term presenteeism to describe the pervasive habit of coming to work and not really paying attention or sharing anything.

2. Showing up is partly about listening attentively. Listening with the whole body is how some people describe it… try imagining what that might be like. Listening attentively is not, by the way, about immediately topping the speaker’s story with one of your own that’s even better.

3. It’s also, of course, about speaking authentically. That might well start with an acknowledgement of what others have said even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. But it would also mean sharing partly what you think, but also what you feel about what’s being said. Including – sometimes – feelings that some people class as negative such as anger, sadness etc. Indeed, it’s when people feel able to give space to such expression that things get really interesting. Call it “naming the elephant in the corner” or saying “I’ve got a brick in my pocket”.

3b (A special bonus for marketing types)Personalising a letter usually means putting in stuff about the recipient – like their address for instance. But what would help would be putting in something personal about the sender. Something about their interest and motivation, rather than the customer-speak of most mailshots.

4. It’s about making some effort to acknowledge and manage our personal vulnerability. Organisations tend to discourage people from showing vulnerability yet at some level if we can’t show some, how are we to get our needs met? That’s not to see you just go let it all hang out either.

5. Own the process. If you’re already thinking, yes, but how can I mass produce this for 2,000 people, you may be asking the wrong question. I believe that the essential first step to creating an organisation the communicates effectively is for individuals to do so. Very often, long rambling debates about methodologies turn into conversations about other people and other people’s problems. Not always a bad thing, but often a means of avoiding sharing our own experience… and thus completely endorsing a climate of non-enagement.

6. Play Improv exercises. (See the Improvinbiz website for a ton of material on this. Better still, get me to show you how to play them. They are – done right – a quite brilliant way to rekindle the spirit of conversation and connection in organisations. And frankly, it’s better to spend 30 minutes experiencing them than me talking about them.

7. Organise yourself first. (This may be 5 recycled, sorry). Don’t resort to the defence of “Yes, I would do all that but how can I deal with these other people?” Find the people who are willing to engage and try to organise your time to expose yourself more to them.

There are books on this stuff, some with catchy titles like Fierce Conversations. I’ve got that one on my bookshelf… but the best thing about it is the title. We don’t really need more or new technology for creating engaging conversations. What we do need – I assert shamelessly – are more people who are willing to engage.

That’s the pact I’m offering as a consultant. I won’t try to impress clients with clever methodologies, if they’re willing to hire me for my presence and ability to show up full-heartedly. In return, I’d like them not to reduce what I do to a set of rules and objectives… otherwise, why not just read a book?

Come to that, even this blog entry is already too long and wordy. So I’ll stop for now.

2 thoughts on “Showing up to relationships

  1. KnowProSE

    Relationships ARE Fuzzy.

    The Ourhouse Weblog: Showing up to relationships John’s use of the term ‘fuzzy’ is probably more appropriate than he thinks. In a lot of ways, ‘relationships’ are a lot like Representing Specialized Complex Knowledge, as well as my theory on…

    Reply

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