Synchrony in meetings

Kathy Sierra has been listening to Thomas Lewis co-author of A General Theory of Love. I recommend her summary of some of his ideas; she’s fastened on the same bits of his work as I did when I read him.

Lewis looks at what happens biologically when we connect, or fail to connect, with each other in a variety of ways. His ideas are shaped by work with babies and their mothers. Like Kathy, I see interesting implications for how we organise ourselves as adults. Lewis establishes that way more is going on between us when we sit together, face-to-face, than the words we exchange. Here’s how Kathy puts it (with my added note in square brackets)

We never had to learn to process body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. We evolved this capability…it’s innate. But we had to spend years learning to read and write with any level of sophistication. The brain needs and expects these other–more significant–channels of information [the non-verbal ones] , and when they don’t come… the brain suffers (and so does the communication). And the problem goes way beyond just an increased chance for misinterpretation.

Kathy talks about why this means there’s a limit to the role that IM chat etc etc can play in communications.

As a facilitator, I’m more and more interested in honouring the power and potential of meetings that lie beyond words. By its nature this cannot be made explicit, at least not easily. I have sometimes sensed it in meetings and those meetings are always special and memorable. I notice it more in silences and when its there, I find meetings start to move beyond the differences between participants to somewhat higher ground. That transition is not always comfortable. Many times it will be avoided, for instance by what I’d frame as a retreat to safer territory – such as a demand for action, the setting of targets or the ticking off of a list of deliverables. It’s my growing experience that if we can sit a little longer with the anxiety, meetings can reach a higher ground where there is a different sense of what is possible, and a much more powerful urge to action than checklists ever provide.

Another practice that I think is hugely important when facilitating is to avoid becoming the permanent centre of discussion, a sort of co-ordinator. The stereotype of the facilitator is the chap holding the marker pen, standing at the flip chart, with everyone looking at him and not at each other. What chance does that create for the sort of synchrony between participants?

If this post engages you, you might also enjoy this one by Patti Digh: Follow the disturbance.

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