What has been left unspoken, but still said?
This is the eleventh and penultimate in the series of twelve posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others and what's going on in our lives. It's not only been a significant and historic week for the US and the world, but it's also been a week of re-orientation of relationships.
I realise that as I write the title for this week’s post, that it is also relevant to this series of posts about relational learning. As this is the penultimate post, what more is there that I want to share, what have I not shared? My intention was to share my interpretation of Relational Learning and why it’s relevant as a leadership practice in today’s world.
The relevance has been loud and clear over the last week of the US election and the triumph of Trump over Clinton. Again, a nation divided. Again, a story of people wanting their needs to be heard. The press called it a ‘softening’ of approach and language from both Obama and Trump as they sat down to meet. They reported that the words were cordial and indicated support for each other but that the body language reported a different story. And it’s not surprising, it has been a hugely emotional campaign, with inflammatory insults thrown from all directions.
Now the result is final, Obama and Trump need something different from each other to support their best intentions for their country and it’s fascinating to watch them navigate their way into a different relational place. But as was seen from the mismatch of spoken word and body language, there are a whole load of words not being said, whilst the body is oozing forth with communication.
And this takes me to the leadership issue that I have heard several clients raise this week:
How do I say what I want?
Should I say what I want? What’s the right thing to say in this situation? What’s professional to say right now? It wouldn't have been right or appropriate to say that, so I just kept it in. There’s no place for emotion at work.
I know, from mine and my clients’ experiences, that there are often huge differences between what our gut, heart and head voices want us to do, so how can we decide which way to go? I also know that I am experienced by others as my least authentic/ my least present, if I go with my professional head voices and my heart is saying something very different. I come across as a bit phoney! Using the words of John Leary-Joyce it can come across as Manic/ Stage/ Superficial presence. And, we’re back to the Obama-Trump meeting: it looked superficial. However, at the same time it showed the reality of the grappling that goes on when power shifts within relationships.
What I’ve personally learnt, and now I support clients to learn, is how to dig deeper into the internal dialogue that’s going on:
Firstly, Suspend all judgements
Secondly, Inquire and listen at 3 levels:
What are the needs behind your internal voices?
What are the spoken and unspoken needs of the other?
What are the spoken and unspoken needs of the situation?
Thirdly, Own your needs, be clear on your intention for the relationship
Fourthly, Articulate what you believe would be supportive of the multiple needs arising
Key point - being authentic does not mean just confidently speaking our minds or our feelings. I’ve tried that too and it’s not always very helpful towards creating relational depth! For me, it’s about connecting the voices of gut, heart and mind; seeing the needs beneath the voices and articulating what’s real for me in the moment of the situation. This process supports me to be present and authentic.
Here is some helpful reading:
Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg - How to see the needs in communication
The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute - Is your heart at peace?
Leading from the Emerging Future by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer - Which level are you listening at? Develop great inquiry questions into self, others and situation
Is this needed all of the time, in all our working relationships?
I posed a question at the end of last week’s post. Is relational depth needed all the time and how can we create it when my energy reserves are depleted? I’ve had an idea that it’s a No and Yes…
NO, relational depth is not needed in all working relationships; some work tasks are not complicated, are not complex and can be a simple transactional exchange between people.
Relational depth is hugely helpful when the work is unknown, uncertain, complex; when it is emotive, and there are significant differences in opinions, values, beliefs and experiences of the people working on them. Transforming exchanges are needed.
Doing some new requires more energy from us, more pre-frontal cortex brain activity to focus on how we do something. So if creating relational depth is a new skill and we’re trying to use it in a new and uncertain situation, then it’s going to be exhausting.
If however, we practice experimenting with shifting the relational depth of all our relationships, then the skill of doing it becomes a leadership capacity and enables a more ‘energetic availability and fluid responsiveness’ (Chidiac and Denham-Vaughan). So, YES, it is something that we should be learning to do more of the time.
I admit that I have fallen into the trap of judging Trump, of not listening to him. Of only choosing to hear everything that reenforces my current opinion of him. It entrenches me further into my position and belief about the man. Perhaps, like Obama, I and many others have the need to suspend judgement and to step into really listening to him and the millions of people that he is representing. It’s a great opportunity to practice creating relational depth not distance.
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).