Honouring our connection (and our individuality)
This is the twelfth and final in this series of posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others and what's going on in our lives. Something has literally fallen into place in my mind in the last 24 hours: it's AND not OR.
It’s my birthday this week and as a little celebration I headed over to New York last weekend to catch up with a friend who is dear to my heart. I was last there in 2011 so it was my first opportunity to visit the evocative 9/11 memorial. It was a stunning blue sky day and the water sparkled in it’s movement, cascading down into a hole for which no bottom was visible. I was deeply moved by the placement of the names, cut out of the metal work surrounding the upside down water feature. They weren’t in alphabetical order, instead they had been arranged by how they were connected - those who worked together, lived together, loved each other & entered buildings to rescue together.
Along a similar but different vein, I was working with someone who had recently experienced the sudden death of a close work friend. The question arose as to ‘who is it that tells your story?’ It got me thinking about ‘who would I want to tell my story?’; whose names would I want alongside mine?
What connections would I want to be honoured and do I honour them now?
Some yes (my lovely NYC friend) and uncomfortably, the truth is not always, not with everyone.
In our world today, Peter Merry believes we are witnessing a dance of assertion and connection:
“In our excitement and enthusiasm for the powers of discovery that we have developed in ourselves, we have become too detached from the very context we live in. The systems and structures that we have created around us now reflect that sense of separation, embedding us in a context that is hard to break out of.”
The penny has dropped, literally in the last 24 hours since reading this. I had been feeling that the world has become too individualistic (sorry for the sweeping generalisation) and had thought my attraction to relational work was to flourish our connections. There is no doubt that working in the space of how we interact does achieve that purpose, but I have an idea that it does something more. It supports the individual in addition to the depth of connection and helps us break out of the separating structures we create around ourselves whilst retaining our individuality. Relational Learning feels as if it dances gently between, and includes the two. To recap how I define it:
Relational self - learning about our process of meaning-making between the self and the
situation. What does my response to a situation tell me about my assumptions in life and
Relational depth - learning arising out of the quality and liveliness of the relationship. What does this tell me/we about how we make meaning of ourselves, our ‘we’ and the situation? How by paying attention to it, does the depth of it change and in what situations is this needed most/least?
My intention is that it supports balancing our needs for firstly the separation and assertion of the individual with secondly, our need for the belonging and exchange which comes with connection. It is not an EITHER/OR it is AND.
My experience of writing these posts
As has been the case each week with these posts, a theme has arisen which I could not have foreseen at the outset. This has been one unexpected joy of writing, that they have become a reflective process, within the holding context of the broad theme of Relational Learning. This metaphor for planning really resonates with me. It is used by a French company called FAVi (a brass foundry in France, which produces (among other things) gearbox forks for the automotive industry, and has about 500 employees). It strikes the balance between knowing where you are going without a rigid plan… a bit like how this series of 12 posts have evolved
FAVI’s planning metaphor: Other companies look five years ahead and make plans for the next year. They prefer to think like farmers: Look 20 years ahead, and plan only for the next day. A farmer must look far out when deciding which fruit trees to plant or which crops to grow. But it makes no sense to plan a precise date for the harvest. One cannot control the weather, the crops, the soil; they all have a life of their own. Sticking rigidly to plan, instead of sensing and adjusting to reality, leads to having the harvest go to waste, which too often happens in organizations.
The other unexpected benefit of writing these posts is the way in which it has interacted with my thought processes for my research dissertation, even if it has at times felt like it’s stolen time from it! It’s where I’m now turning my focus, both into the research, as well as the reading and writing (submission date of 15,000 words is 21st March). I’m working with three individuals in a large manufacturing company and we’re exploring their & our working relationships and how they interact with performance, growth and well-being at both the individual and organisational level. It is Relational Learning in practice.
The research dissertation is a prototype for the work I want to do with individuals and organisations. Like the farmer, it is the crop I am investing in. I’m not quite sure what the seasons or weather will bring, but I know I’m in search of land (organisations) in which to plant the seeds.
So if you work in an organisation and have a curiosity about exploring how your interactions can support performance, growth and well-being for you individually and for your organisation, then I’d love to hear from you.
I have an idea that the prototype is in the greenhouse and it’s now time to see how it works when out in the field.
Huge appreciation to all who have ‘liked’ and commented on these posts, it’s been great to know that you are there along beside me.Thank you!
Part 2: Time, task or relationship...which comes first?
Honouring our connection
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 approach could help you develop your leadership practices for your individually or for your organisation.