This is the ninth in the series of posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others and what's going on in our lives. This week, I'm offering up an activity to turn the attention towards your relationships. Click here to read Part 1.
Last week I looked at how time and task can affect our relationships. I’m going to continue with the same theme this week, as I’ve been hearing these sort of question/statements from people that I’ve been working with who are balancing task, time and finding some relationships less than optimal:
"We don’t get on, it’s just the way it is"
"I work around it"
"I’m not sure that there is anything that I can do about it"
"Can you create rapport if it’s not there?"
What struck me most about these statements and the way that they were vocalised, was the tone of acceptance, of a combined lack of energy with a sadness. The sense that it is beyond any control or influence.
I know from first hand experience that it is difficult not to distance yourself from the other person; almost an act of self-preservation. However, I also know that distance and change are not good bed partners. If something is going to improve, it takes attention and it requires me to step back into the relationship space. It requires me to be present and to do that I have to look into my assumptions, judgements, preconceptions and reality of the relationship. I have to look at how I contribute to towards the pattern and shape of the relationship.
If you’ve got sufficient desire to change the pattern of your relationship and you’re up for experimenting, then grab a pen and paper, and give yourself 15-30 mins of reflection and planning time. This is an activity which I’ve been experimenting with this week, that turns the ATTENTION towards the relationship:
Relationship River exercise
Step 1: Creative reflection (10 mins)
Using the metaphor of a river, describe your relationship. If you’re feeling very creative, perhaps draw and annotate it using the following questions as prompts:
How does it flow, fast or slow? Or does it even flow at all?
What colour is the water? Is it clear or muddy?
How wide is it?
What’s happening on the river banks? In the sky above?
What activity is taking place in the river?
What does the bottom of the river look like?
From where did it come? Though what kind of terrain?
To where is it going? What does the landscape look like? Is there an endpoint?
Step 2: Harvesting (10 mins)
What meaning do you make of your river metaphor? Notice where and how, time and task appear.
What do you love in this metaphor? What frustrates you?
What are the hard truths you have to face, if change is going to happen?
What must come to an end, what is wanting to emerge?
If this metaphor, was meant to teach you something about the next steps to take in your relationship, what advice would you draw from it?
Step 3: Act in an instant (5-10mins)
What can you do today to experiment with changing the flow of your river? Perhaps an email, text or phone call?
What will you do before you meet next time, at the point of meeting, after you meet?
Check: Is the intention behind the action designed to increase the flow of the river?
Notice: how what you ‘do & don’t do’ supports the patterns of communication.
A final thought on rapport
Rapport most often occurs naturally. We all know when it is there. I feel light, at ease, lively and relaxed. It tends to appear when I’ve found someone who has the same interests or values as I do. We have shared life experiences or future life desires around which to connect. It’s a great basis for friendship and a sense of social belonging to each other. There seems to be a lack of judgement.
So what happens when there is no immediate rapport, can it be created? Based on first hand experience and fairly extensive reading, I believe so. It comes by letting go of trying to change the other person and turning the lens back on oneself. And by that, I don’t mean adapting yourself to be with them. I mean, look at your assumptions about the person, check in as to whether they are a reality. Look at where & how you are similar and different.
Seek to understand the differences and to celebrate them.
Invite the other person to join you in a conversation about how you are similar and different, what are the life experiences that have shaped your different values and ways of working? Separate out differences from liking someone. It’s about respect. It’s through our differences that creativity, innovation and novelty are born!
If you give the activity a go, I’d love to know how it works for you. It is in development, so any feedback, of any type is much appreciated.
Big thanks to Gill Wyatt for inspiring conversation around Relational Depth; to Andy King at Kingsight Coaching for helping me develop the integration of the river metaphor into my interest in relationships; and finally to Otto Scharmer and the Theory U team at MIT for the framework for Harvesting (adapted from Seek with your Hands exercise, www.presencing.com)
So far in the series:
Introduction to Relational Learning
How Relational Learning shows you what you value in life
Learning through inaction and distraction
Let's go fly a kite
Who are you really?
How intentional are you?
Do I belong here?
Time, task or relationship...which comes first?
Felicity Hodkinson is a leadership coach working with individuals and groups, she is a creator of ‘relational learning experiences’ and founder of Bend the River. She combines her marketing, commercial and change management experience of 20 years gained in small business and corporate FTSE100 companies with her passion for coaching individuals and organisations.
Email Felicity to explore how this coaching approach could help you develop your leadership practices. Read her recent article on 'Softening the Goal Mindset' in Global Coaching Perspectives, July 2016 (the magazine from the Association for Coaching).