big conversation speech bubblesIn this article, Kate Griffiths shares some of the steps you need to take to create the space for deep connection within conversation that can bring about huge shifts in organisations and individuals.

One of the keys to success as an entrepreneur is the ability to be resourceful which comes the more that you can really hear what people are saying and respond to that.  Some of your ideas will take, others won’t and it has very little correlation to how much you like a particular idea.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  I started getting into mindfulness because I asked myself a question:

Why do so many people find it hard to have connected conversations?

I realised that some of that was to do with the fact that for the most part people are not truly present.  How often have you asked someone a question out of politeness or to put that person at his or her ease and then not really heard the answer?  That happened to me earlier this week and I was fine with it because I recognised the intention of the person and that they were slightly preoccupied because they were about to run an event and needed to be ready for that.  Their mind was on other things.

It is hard enough to be mindful in conversation with just one other person so imagine the demands when you have a group to facilitate.  Yet that is what I thrive at.  When I love something, it becomes the focus of my attention.  At the beginning of the year I set out with an idea, which turned into a twelve month programme.  As it has evolved, I have found myself reading up more about group process so that I can service that group to the best of my ability.  My recent research has included delving into The Circle Way and I have been getting some real aha moments.

A key part of circle is the ability to do three things: listen intently; speak your truth and attend to the well being of the group.  That is quite a juggling act.  The following story shows that more fully.

A while back, I attended a workshop in London aimed at change practitioners.  The organisation behind it believes in creating a space where it is safe for facilitators, coaches, OD professionals and others that help individuals and organisations to transform to be themselves so that they can learn and grow.  It is a beautiful, magical space and I am so grateful that it exists.

Part way through the day I ended up in a group with two others to discuss an aspect of awareness, an irony I only appreciated later.  I happened to be with someone I had never met before and someone I knew quite well.  And then it happened.  I wanted to express part of my inner truth and could not find a way into the conversation.  I was baffled initially and then after ten minutes had experienced a range of emotions that included sadness because I felt as if I was being excluded and finally anger because the behaviour of my two colleagues did not meet my expectations.  I forgot all my mindfulness training and after my companions prodded me a couple of times, I let rip.  I described exactly what I saw.  I was very direct and at the time all I could see was what I thought of as justified anger.  I was unaware then of the judgement and unsurprisingly there was a ripple effect.

There was a kernel of truth in what I shared but its impact was lost because I was unable to express it in neutral language.  Clean or neutral language is key when in dialogue and discussing difficult and/ or emotional issues.  I learnt so much from that exchange and yes it was painful.  On the plus side, we were all very present in that part of the conversation and at least two of us felt very alive during the cut and thrust of the exchange.

It is also about timing: noticing the impulse to speak and considering whether it is appropriate to share or not.  You will have many impulses in a conversation.  One of the ways of deciding whether to share and if you do so how to express it, is to think about the impact it will have on the well being of the group.  Too much self-censoring can lead to your emotions leaking out anyway as I know from my own experience.  Yet self-monitoring is another important part of any dialogue.

There is such a fine line between self-monitoring and self-censoring.    It takes discernment and practice to know when to speak from your own inner truth especially in situations when it may well contradict the conformity in the group.

In Circle one of the ways around these types of issues comes through having some structure around how to hold the space.  One very practical way of doing this is by having three specific roles – a host, a guardian and a scribe.  In my mind the one that is crucial is the guardian.  The guardian is reading the energy of the group all the time and deciding when an intervention like a pause is needed.  It is such a good idea to have this kind of shared leadership between the host and the guardian.

In essence as you start to adopt these principles in meetings and other fora, notice what happens.  At the very least I expect the quality of your conversation will change.

Kate Griffiths creates a safe space for therapists, coaches, consultants and those that work with others so that they can experience their true selves and obtain more ease and flow in their lives.  Clients include conscious business owners and leaders who recognise that the old paradigm way of doing things does not work and want support in determining what the new ways of doing business look like.  She will be running a half day soul retreat at Barefoot Therapies on Tuesday 18 March so get in touch if you wish to participate.

How to create conversations that lead to change

15 thoughts on “How to create conversations that lead to change

  • March 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I greatly appreciate your openness and this question you raise is very important to me. In fact I think it is of great importance to all of us Kate. We live, many of us today do, in an illusion of connection because we are connected to people through electronic gadgets and devices. But as I live my life, shopping at the market, in line at some store, or walking about my neighborhood I see that people really do want a personal human being to human being connection. Oh many of them like myself at times are self absorbed and frankly oblivious to my needs, words, or presence as I am to others. My father used to talk to me about people not really “seeing” life. I understand now what he meant.

    So how does one start a conversation? I’ve found it starts with listening, and feeling. Yes that sounds a bit esoteric perhaps but I’ve found it starts with being sensitive and fully present with others. I think that creates a sympathetic response with them. Then I just smile. I figure whether or not they respond I still receive the benefit of the smile and in fact due to something called mirror neurons in the brain the person who see’s another person smile receives the same biochemical benefits as I did instantly! I think of it like sending happiness over a spiritual wi-fi and the password to access it is just a smile.

    Thank you for your wonderful questions and thoughts Kate. Keep up the great work. I’m so glad we’ve met.~ Joseph Segal

    • March 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Oh Joe I love the way you write and wow what a concept – the spiritual wi-fi definitely going to hang onto that one. Along with the idea of mirror neurone which make sense as when someone smiles at me, I find myself smiling almost unthinkingly 😉

      I am so looking forward to your book coming out too.

      • October 14, 2014 at 5:05 pm

        Hope you find many occasions to smile unthinkingly Kate!

        • October 15, 2014 at 1:36 pm

          Bless you Joe my heart has been bursting with love today and I was called an earth angel for the first time 😉 Wishing you all that you wish for me and more my smiley friend.

  • March 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Your honesty here is powerful, Kate, not least because it illuminates the ideas very well.
    This is high quality blogging. Thank you. Dx

    • March 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Derek coming from you that is praise indeed and you so get the point behind the post. I feel it is only when we reveal our whole selves, vulnerabilities too that we can start to make a difference. Thanks for stopping by – I have been thinking about you a lot recently, feeling that a catch up is long overdue. Kx

  • March 14, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    A life-teacher of mine had a saying, “You can either be right or be close. The choice is yours.” For the me on the receiving end of that statement, many years ago, my whole being, ego and identity was vested and mortally connected to being right.

    My story and the imprinting that created that is not really important; however, it was actually through crossing paths with another life-teacher, many years later, that I learned to leave the ego-me who needed to be heard and needed to be right behind; however, it was a mirror image of your sharing.

    He is a modern day monk, man of letters and the study of spiritual and theological practices and their influences in the world, especially in terrorism and jihadist movements, which tend to exhibit the most extreme violence.

    In conversation with him, unless I quieted my own voices and thoughts in listening, and allowed what by my pace and speed of thought was an eternity of time and space for him to express himself, he would effectively be shut down and unable to communicate. His sensitivity to any aggressiveness or assertiveness of expression, in the context of any group or online exchanges would literally trigger a complete silence and sidelining of his voice. He carried no energy when that happened in terms of being angry or frustrated. He simply accepted and adjusted.

    The truth was that he in fact often had greater value to bring than any other voice at the table, which I came to understand later, when we began a dialogue that continues to this day; but the importance of creating, facilitating and enabling every voice to be heard, and responded to seems central to creating closeness and safety, and vice versa, and only in safety and inclusion can there be true learning and exchange, at least from my past experience.

    Letting go of need or imperative to be heard, to be replaced by mindfulness, sensitivity and awareness was one of the greatest challenges in my life, and that was with me focusing virtually full time in that practice. I love the construct you offer, in terms of the three roles for group work. Guardian as responsible for group mindfulness makes such huge sense.

    Great share.

    • March 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I am hoping to introduce the Guardian role at my forthcoming retreat on Tuesday to see how it works. So I will let you know what it adds to the group dynamic.

      I love your insights Doug for me creating safety and trust leads to connection which I think you would term as closeness and over time I too have learnt to value that above being right. I have a much greater richness in my communication as a result and that means I can genuinely say I love my life.

      • March 14, 2014 at 10:14 pm

        Can’t wait to hear how the test goes. The question that came up for me is how do you pick your guardian. That person has to be truly clear and present and attentive to pick their moments, right. Assuming you are in the Host role, is that someone you bring as a second, or is that someone you select from the group? Also, if from the group, what is the pre-session approach to signalling between you and the Guardian, assuming you as the Host would be responsible for creating the break or space or silence?

        Sorry, lots of questions that you need not answer. My mind goes to mechanics in these things because of my own avocational teaching and facilitation work.

        • March 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

          Hi Doug I have a colleague who I run leadership programmes with who will be attending and so I will be asking her to be the guardian as we make a great team when co-facilitating. It will be for her to decide when we need a break or pause by reading the energy and using Tibetan bells. Yes I am the host and my role is to set the theme and bring in the different elements that make the day. Would love to hear more about your work too.

  • March 14, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    This is a response to your provocative Post My Friend….
    Your post was such a rich and insightful one…of course we have had an opportunity to process ,the experience in a hangout but I want to go on the record in saying…I treasure your wit and candor event if it is “a bit stingy and crisp” at times. Truth is you have a deep level of insight when you respond to anything. I treasure how honest and insightful you really are. What a gift to be subscribed to your blog, for my own learning.

    And I want to show up and share as a part of it…so I will share this for what it is worth….and I own it as a living example of what I am saying…..and, I think, what you wrote about.

    “There was a kernel of truth in what I shared but its impact was lost because I was unable to express it in neutral language. Clean or neutral language is key when in dialogue and discussing difficult and/ or emotional issues.”

    I co authored a book for my industry in the the late 90s that was about mindful communication (20 years ago we weren’t MINDFUL enough to even call it that)…in this case it was aimed at professionals providing beauty and wellness services to clients in their salons “Above and Beyond The Call of Beauty” was the title and it dealt with everything that happened in that work environment EXCEPT the service, between peer professionals, management and staff and clients and professionals. My co-author was a long time colleague and fast friend….a Psychotherapist and Marriage and Family Counselor in Beverly Hills

    In that book we offered a simplified series of communication techniques, one of them was called “Using I Messages”. In essence this meant claiming your response to another’s communication or actions (this is similar to couching responses in neutral terms) as YOUR OWN by stating ” I felt discounted….I felt you had no interest in hearing from me and from my point of view”. In contrast to “Your actions clearly prove you have no real interest…” etc. In essence all TRUE responses are owned as your own feelings and perceptions

    Really this connects with something I am learning as a life lesson…..when I have a reaction to the “others” communication to me. Chances are it is something about me I am projecting onto their crystal mirror that I need to see for myself about myself.

    In the end the world and my path in it and through it is a huge classroom designed to process my own growth. This does not mean I am totally self absorbed, on the contrary it is a way to step out of being self absorbed…and when I practice this the reactions disappear… others have no power to hurt.—- I become a conscious observer of what comes to me.

    • March 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      So glad that you are part of my circle Susan Cox – your warmth and generosity are something I treasure always. And yes I too share the I thou form of communication with clients. It is definitely the first step in awareness if we claim what it is ours and stop making assumptions about what others feel.

      Curious to know what you mean by stingy. In England that means mean and I am not sure I see that. I can be very direct and laser like with my observations. It can feel sharp at times if you are on the receiving end.

      Thank you for taking the time to share. I always love receiving your insights and wisdom and really look forward to our regular alchemy calls.

  • March 14, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Kate..So sorry .I coined the word…you?, NEVER stingy as in non-giving. You are very generous
    I was saying STING- y as in with a bite or sting attached…actually I admire that trait…I am eternally compromising and it is hard to even find the boundary …nevermind setting it with others!!!!. Not good for my personal development.
    Your sharp wit, I can see, can feel like a bit of a sting. But never to me!
    Does that makes sense.

  • March 15, 2014 at 5:35 am

    I struggle with this. In part human connection comes not from attention or mindfulness but from feeling safe.
    So polite chit chat, banter are the openings, the rituals humans use to negotiate to that connected place.
    For me being mindful also includes knowing that conversation is many things and connection arises from trust which arises from chit-chat.
    What wr do with these methods is impose structure and judgement and really often do kill the magic.
    Worrying about ‘quality’ of conversations is fordism mindset intruding into the conversation paradigm.

    • March 15, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for your contribution Thabo it is always good to have other view points. Not sure what you mean by Fordism mindset so hard for me to comment there – would be great if you could define that.

      Feeling safe is the key to deep connection and in my work I create that kind of space when working with complete strangers so it is a kind of magic. In every day conversations, chit chat can be a way in to something more but it can also be a distraction that prevents people finding the way into something more meaningful.

      Be assured any structure that we use we hold lightly so that it does not interrupt the flow as it emerges.

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