In, out or on the boundary of the relationship?
This is the tenth in the series of posts (aiming for twelve!) about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others and what's going on in our lives. This week follows on from the theme of the last two weeks, with attention turned towards the quality of our relationships & our position within them.
I recently got given some great advice about networking: you’ve got to make sure that you’re in the right room. In other words, make sure the room is filled with people to whom you can be of help and/or who can help you. Hearing Nigel Risner speak many years ago, he stated ‘If you're in the room, be in the room’. So, if you’re pausing in the doorway of a room, are you heading in or heading out? What information do you need in order to decide which way to go? What are you intentionally choosing?
In, out or on the boundary?
Shifting the focus from rooms to relationships, the first step is to notice where you are. What does it feel like to be in this position? Notice your body sensations and body movements. What emotions arise? What further thoughts appear to you? Try and avoid fixating on any one interpretation; open yourself up to alternative interpretations.
Where are you in the river scene?
In last week’s post, I offered up the metaphor of a river through which to explore the flow of your relationship. You can extend it further to explore your position within the river scene; here are some options, but go with whatever image comes up for you:
sitting on the side
looking at it from above
floating down it
hanging on to something trying not to get pulled downstream
walking away from it
hearing water but unable to see it
Once you know where you are, the next step is to check in on your intention towards the relationship. What do you want for the relationship? What is important for it? Note, the shift is towards the relationship; the ‘we’ not the ‘I’.
Last year, I asked for feedback from friends and family when I launched my website. On reading some of the comments I experienced myself backing away from the relationship. I could hear myself dismissing not only their comments, but starting to dismiss them as people. Rick Maurer describes three levels of resistance: don’t get it, don’t like it, don’t like you. I noticed myself cycle through rapidly these levels and could see the distance between us widening like a massive fjord and feeling impassable.
I asked myself, what is my intention within this relationship? My answer: as my friends and family, I want us to feel closer. I chose to step into the room; into the river; into the conversation of the relationship to explore the feedback. I shared what I found difficult about it, and sought to understand how it revealed our different values and attitudes. I separated out the feedback from the person and chose to return to level one of resistance - ‘I don’t get it’ and asked questions, so I could get it. Thinking about it now, it appears as a single person rope bridge over a river that’s silently passing below, mirroring back what is happening above.
Step into Leadership Presence
Developing an understanding of where you are in your relationships and seeing your choices; then acting with choiceful intention towards it, is part of developing leadership ‘presence’. It’s like operating with a dual consciousness, stepping outside of yourself to see what’s happening and behaving from a place of increased awareness. Chidiac and Denham-Vaughan describe it as ‘energetic availability and fluid responsiveness’ and in Theory U, it is positioned as the opposite of ‘absencing’.
Developing a leadership capacity to be more than physically & mentally present helps us create relationships which are productive and effective when the immediate sparkle of rapport is missing. It can be transformative for the relationship, because you’re changing the pattern of your response to the situation/person. Do this a few times and you’re more than likely going to experience a shift in the quality of the relationship. It does require us though to step away from the comfortable and known pattern and to do something different. It requires us to feel a bit uncomfortable, but take comfort that this is what learning and transformation feels like!
Big question for me at the moment and one which ties into my MSc research is:
"Is it needed across all our working relationships and at all times, or is it something that we dial up/down as and when needed? What if we’re so tired that we don’t have the inner resources to be ‘energetically available’"?
One for next week!
So far in the series:
Part 2: 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).