Categories
Uncategorized

Standing in the Fire

Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm, and Courage by Larry Dressler and Roger Schwarz

Here are some of my notes (I reached the clipping limit for this book – so many good gems!)…

Our fires start when challenging issues flare up in groups and mix with fuel from our own issues. Still, the lessons learned from the Mann Gulch fire ring true for us as well: You never know when a fire will ignite or shift direction. What has worked for you in the past may not work now. Successfully standing in the fire often means inventing new tools and techniques in the moment. Fire can even be your friend if you respect it and know how to use it. Ultimately, successfully standing in the fire is about developing a mindset—a way of thinking and feeling—that enables you to be calm, curious, courageous, compassionate, and flexible. Without this mindset, you are lost.

==========

Learning to stand in the fire means doing internal work. It is a discipline and a journey. The path differs for each of us, and there is more than one way to stand effectively. We need a guide to help us explore when and how we lose our balance, help us learn how to regain it, and help us develop ways of showing up with groups so we are more likely to remain calm, curious, compassionate, and courageous. That guide is what Standing in the Fire delivers.

==========

In these high-heat situations, the truly masterful change agents draw on something else—something that most leaders have invested little time and effort to cultivate. That something is who we are being while we are working with the group.

==========

It is the convener’s way of being—an attitudinal, emotional, physical, and even spiritual presence. It is a specific kind of presence that others experience as fully engaged, open, authentic, relaxed, and grounded in purpose.

==========

Since the earliest human societies, leadership has involved the act of convening—bringing diverse individuals together to pursue a common purpose. Whether you think of yourself as a process facilitator, executive leader, organizational development consultant, mediator, clergy member, educator, community organizer, or change agent, your job involves skillfully convening others in a way that helps them discover and mobilize their shared wisdom and energy.

==========

The second kind of energy can be accessed only if we can ask ourselves, Who do I want to be right now? This question ignites the energy of deliberate choice and wise action.

==========

Too often, no action was needed at all. What was needed was a facilitative leader who could serve as a steady, impartial, purposeful presence in the room, holding the space of the conversation with good humor, resoluteness, and compassion.

==========

We need fire to progress, but we also need to help people channel its heat. That’s the job of fire tenders—people who know how to bring out the life-generating, creative potential of group fire.

==========

The policy of suppression ultimately led to the demise of the company. In order to create organizations and communities in which people feel safe speaking their truth, we need leaders who are both skillful at process and who possess the capacity to remain self-aware, open, and fluid even as others struggle with dissent, confusion, and fear.

==========

As we develop greater mastery, we learn to recognize dissent and confusion as old, familiar friends. We welcome inconvenient surprises as useful fuel, and we come to view group breakdowns as the natural precursor to breakthroughs.

==========

You may see a challenging question from a group member as an insult to your authority, while another sees it as an invitation into dialogue. Still another may see it as a politically motivated move. It all depends on your habitual way of seeing things. The key is to be willing to hold your default beliefs and assumptions up for inspection, never assuming that they are the only truth in the room.

==========

Our ego fuels our need to win, to be right, to be superior. The ego is the part of us that equates our worth with our reputation and achievements. So when something about a meeting begins to go off track, and group confusion or an impasse makes the hoped-for outcomes less likely, we fear we won’t live up to our self-image. When we don’t know what to do as things become messier, we feel self-conscious and embarrassed about asking for help. We feel psychologically at risk, and this can trigger a kind of fight-or-flight response. In these moments, unless we can acknowledge that the image of ourselves we have constructed is an illusion, we remain in our own fire.

==========

Regardless of how hot the fire gets “out there” in the meeting, we have the ability to control our own thermostat. The fire does not determine how intensely we experience the heat. We determine that.

==========

The ability to choose our own internal state in the face of external heat is the essence of intentional, high-integrity leadership. It dictates whether we will be able to offer calm presence and wise action when they are most

==========

We can learn to see, hear, and sense the intense heat in groups without taking it on ourselves. We don’t need to be impervious or above it all. Nor do we need to avoid having our hot buttons pushed. Our buttons will get pushed. Our personal vulnerabilities will appear as they show up in the group’s dynamic, like a mirror into our psyche. But we don’t have to act on them. Nor do we need to suppress them.

==========

When you are leading groups, what causes you to feel defensive, impatient, or anxious? What internal narratives and beliefs are connected with these feelings? What are the unrealistic or perfectionist expectations you have of yourself as a meeting convener? In what situations do you begin to feel stressed or vulnerable because you are not living up to those expectations?

==========

As you go about your daily and weekly activities, notice which interactions have heat and what form it takes. Where are you noticing high levels of passion and conviction? Where do things appear to be contentious or personal? When do you notice the absence of fire in group interactions? Notice your judgments and emotions as you observe and participate in the heat of daily interactions.

==========

We must become fire tenders—people who can stand in the face of incendiary conflicts and perplexing challenges and help others hold the tensions, emotions, and uncertainties long enough to arrive at new insights and common ground.

==========

A common misconception is that we need to keep the peace in our institutions by suppressing anything that is controversial, loud, emotional, or potentially polarizing. Anything that might spark a conflict is discouraged. But attempts to prevent or suppress uncertainty, conflict, and emotion produce what fire experts call a “fuel buildup”—a condition that contributes to large, highly destructive fires.

==========

Masterful fire tenders have many ways to stand effectively in the fire: As the fire forces them to face their own self-limiting ways of thinking, emotional hot buttons, and ego, they stand with deep self-awareness. When others become mired in remembrances of past failures and predictions of impending disaster, they stand in the present, grounded in the here and now. Adroit fire tenders will not allow judgments and biases to cloud what they see and choose to do from moment to moment. This is the stance of receptivity, or “open-mindedness.” In the face of confusion and uncertainty, masterful fire tenders remain in service to the group’s purpose, standing with clarity about what they must stand for in the moment. As surprises and disruptions occur, great fire tenders respond with the fluidity, spontaneity, and grace of a dancer. When individual or group dynamics become distasteful or uncomfortable to witness, consummate fire tenders find a way to sustain compassion, standing with a wide-open heart.

==========

They commit to a lifelong journey of self-understanding and personal practice. They don’t aspire to a state of perfection. Their goal is simply to bring their full, most conscious, and deliberate self to each interaction in order to serve as an instrument for positive change.

==========

The path to becoming a truly effective instrument of change is in the conscious tending of our own fires—attending to what is going on inside us in order to clearly see and intentionally assist in the unfolding of what is happening outside us.

==========

Can you recall a time when your beliefs, assumptions, or emotions got in the way of working effectively in a high-heat situation? What did you learn about yourself?

==========

Stand with self-awareness Stand in the here and now Stand with an open mind Know what you stand for Dance with surprises Stand with compassion

==========

Self-awareness is the foundation for wise action.

==========

With more self-awareness I might have recognized myself shrinking back, named what was happening, and quickly huddled with the meeting chair to discuss the implications of the mayor’s unanticipated presentation. (Amanda’s note: reminds me of guardian and host in Circle.)

==========

Each moment in the fire is a teacher if we stand in front of the mirror. How do we stay alert to our mental, emotional, and physical states during high-heat moments? The capacities that enable us to maintain a high level of moment-to-moment self-awareness while standing in the fire are self-observation, whole-body sensing, and reflective processing.

==========

Self-observation involves asking ourselves a basic question: What’s up with me? The purpose of the question is to name thoughts and feelings that may be percolating only at the periphery of our consciousness but are having an impact on how we show up in our work.

==========

When we get triggered, the reaction shows up first in our bodies. For this reason, physical sensations can carry important information. Specific emotions generate particular patterns of sensation in our bodies. These somatic reactions are noticeable before the emotion is.

==========

Here are additional reflective questions that help us examine our inferences and perceptions: What belief or perspective (about others, myself, the situation) do I feel attached to right now? Is this belief supported by the facts? Do the facts also support alternative ways of seeing this? What are the implications of this being true? What will it mean to me if this is not true? What is my motivation for being right about this? In what way does this belief strengthen or undermine my ability to show up at my best right now? In what ways does this belief enable me to help the group achieve its purpose?

==========

Some reflective questions that enable us to heighten our awareness when we are triggered include: What just precipitated this emotion in me? What is the story I am telling myself to justify or maintain this emotion? Am I meeting the group’s needs or my own in this moment? If being in this emotional state isn’t in service to the group, what is keeping me from doing something about it? When I am in this emotional state, which of my gifts do I deny the group?

==========

When you notice yourself feeling impatient, fearful, disconnected, or resentful, what are the beliefs at work? What unconscious “shadow” beliefs have you become aware of over the past year? What impact have they had on your work in groups? What physical sensations are your “early warning signals” to the possibility that you have been triggered in a meeting? What do these symptoms indicate you might be feeling? What early experiences in your life make you particularly vigilant (even subconsciously) and easily triggered by certain group dynamics or group member behavior?

==========

Make a list of the kinds of people, events, or situations that trigger a strong emotional reaction in you. Describe the precipitating event, the emotion that is triggered within you, and the kinds of behaviors you are prone to when acting on this emotion. Next to each hot button, make a note about any beliefs you have that support the emotional response. Think back to any life experiences during which the justifying belief might have been developed or reinforced. Finally, identify alternative ways to interpret the precipitating event that might result in a different emotional response.

==========

Standing in the here and now is less about staying in the present moment and more about continuously bringing ourselves back to the present as we notice regret and worry attempting to commandeer our consciousness.

==========

How do you experience the difference between thinking about your next move in a meeting and worrying that something bad is going to happen? How about the difference between reflecting on the past as a teacher versus dwelling in self-criticism or blame? What makes stillness a challenge for you when things heat up in your meetings?

==========

Choose a setting, preferably one with people in it. It can be your local coffee house, a park, or perhaps a dinner party. Experiment with immersing all of your senses in what is happening in the moment. First extend each of your physical senses into the space. What are you seeing and hearing? What are you feeling on the surface of your skin? What do you smell and taste? As thoughts and interpretations of what is happening come to your mind, simply notice them and move your attention back to your experience in the present. Now notice whether you are picking up on an emotional energy. Don’t try to analyze it or put words to it. Simply feel what is in the air. Just feel it. What was it like to immerse yourself deeply in the moment? How challenging was it to quiet your mind and simply let your senses experience the here and now? How might this serve you in your leadership and facilitation?

==========

I’m not listening with the idea of deciding whether they are right or wrong, but trying to see the way they construct their world. —Roger Schwarz

==========

At times, the facilitator is the only person in the room who is not closing down, rejecting alternative ways of seeing, and losing hope of what might be accomplished. Our ability as facilitators to hold an unwavering stance of not knowing— while maintaining a sense of inquiry and optimism—is often the critical factor enabling a group to move beyond conflict and distress.

==========

When we stand with receptivity to what is unfolding in the group, we must be willing to release our hold on our own certainty and say these three words: I don’t know. Receptivity requires of us a willingness to experience the discomfort that occurs when there is a gap between our “truth” and that of others. Fundamentally, standing with this kind of openness involves deciding that it is more important to be of service than to be correct or comfortable.

==========

Standing with an open mind as we face the fire of conflict involves creating space for contradictions to coexist. This means learning to live with our discomfort and uncertainty. The educator Parker Palmer describes this as patiently “holding the tension of the opposites.”3 He says that we need to learn to resist the urge to resolve them too quickly, allowing those tensions to “pull us open” into new insights and paths of action.

==========

Humility is not the “aw shucks” self-deprecating, falsely modest, submissive stance that many of us associate with the word. Think of humility as the sustained embodiment of a basic belief: What I see and know is only a part of the total picture.

==========

It is liberating to walk into a volatile group situation knowing that we do not have to be smarter or more capable than everyone else in the room. We become alert and open to the counsel of those around us. If we are open and wise enough to ask the opinions of the group, their intuition, courage, and clarity can be the difference between harnessing the power of group fire and having things burn to ashes.

==========

One way I remind myself about humility is to bow when I enter a meeting room. A jazz drummer and spiritual teacher named Jerry Granelli taught me this. Jerry explained that the bow represents our humility before the larger world and the group. It is what martial artists do before entering the dojo, the place of learning.

==========

The bow is hardly noticeable to anyone else, but it is a powerful way to remind myself that I am in the presence of people who possess their own hard-earned expertise, innate wisdom, shared aspirations, and the courage to gather to do difficult work.

==========

Curiosity begins when we value not knowing. This mindset is the key to creativity and discovery. Instead of looking for evidence to support our opinions, we look with fresh eyes. Instead of defending our interpretations, we ask questions. The more we learn to live with not having the answers, the more curious we become and the more we can respect and welcome the struggles that groups face.

==========

When we can face the fire of people challenging our competence and expertise with a spirit of receptivity and inquiry, we change the spirit of the whole room. When we can stand with curiosity and optimism in a room filled with self-righteousness and cynicism, we are doing the transformational work of fire tending.

==========

In what kinds of circumstances do you tend to feel a sense of self-righteousness, defensiveness, or superiority? When were you able to tap in to your own curiosity in the face of disturbing or confusing contributions from participants? Do you find it easy to hold possibility in a room filled with people who are expressing cynicism, fear, despair, or resignation? What helps you to be the steward of possibility in such moments?

==========

Tune in to your most despised radio or television political commentator, the person whose views really get under your skin. Sit down and listen for thirty minutes and notice what you feel. Listen to your judgments. Feel the emotions and physical sensations that well up. Now get curious about what this person thinks and why. What if you didn’t try to prove those opinions right or wrong? If you really wanted to understand what makes this commentator tick, what questions would you ask?

==========

When we are leading, comfort and convenience can’t be our compass points. We need a way of orienting ourselves that is connected to something more compelling than self-protection and more inspiring than self-ambition.

==========

Your guiding intention for any meeting consists of your answers to the following questions: What am I here to contribute in the world? What principles guide my work? Who am I here for? What does the group want to achieve? What is and is not my job in this meeting?

==========

Our principles are our highest, most firmly held beliefs about how we want to work in, and walk through, the world.

==========

Here is a partial list of the principles that ground my work and that help me when I begin to feel anxious or lost. These are not ideas I invented. They have been given to me by many teachers over many years. Surprises are a given. If I could predict them, they wouldn’t be surprises. The specifics of any plan I go in to the meeting with are likely to become obsolete. The wisdom is already in the system—I simply help to create conditions through which the group’s wisdom might be revealed. Hearing all the voices, including those with fewer numbers and less power, is essential to a creative and inclusive process. When people act out toward me in anger or fear, it’s almost never about me. It’s not personal. To the extent that I can embody peace and receptivity, I can be a catalyst for transformation in the room and in the larger world.

==========

In advance of any meeting, I ask myself, Who am I here to serve?

==========

We have to keep in mind that who we are here to serve is not always the same as who hired us. Sometimes who we are here to serve is not even in the room.

==========

you need to be firmly rooted in what the group says it wants to achieve. In the midst of confusion and conflict, your ability to connect quickly with the group’s purpose is essential to knowing what you stand for.

==========

“Venezuela was on the brink of a bloody civil war, and I was told I would have fifteen minutes with Chavez and members of his Cabinet,” Ury recalls. Just before the meeting Ury went to the garden courtyard of his Caracas bed and breakfast to reflect on his guiding intention. “As I sat there in the garden, I decided that I would sacrifice my opportunity to give advice and instead just listen to Chavez. I also decided that my focus would be on the children of Venezuela—preserving their ability to grow up in a peaceful country.

==========

Our commitments not only guide us in what we say yes to but also inform us when we need to say no to others and to ourselves. As a result of the commitments I make to myself, I more often say no to my own defensive tendencies. I say no to leaders who want to hold meetings in order to create the illusion of inclusion rather than the real thing. I say no to my own desire to stick with the agenda when something else is emerging that the group wishes to address.

==========

In what situations have you maintained your integrity and authenticity despite the pressures to abandon yourself? In what kinds of situations do you tend to choose caution and comfort over making the right move? In these moments, is there a higher principle you let go of?

==========

What are you committed to that you would not compromise in your work? in your life?

==========

Find a quiet place to sit with a partner. Provide your partner with these three questions: (1) Who are you? (2) What have you chosen to stand for in your life? (3) What are you here to contribute in the world? Ask your partner to spend ten minutes asking you each question. During each ten-minute period your partner’s only role is to listen very carefully to your responses and then pose the same question again. He or she should make no commentary or attempt to probe deeper. After ten minutes your partner should move on to the second question, and then ten minutes later to the third. Take an additional thirty minutes to describe to your partner what you learned. What were the more superficial, ego-driven, or socially acceptable answers you had to break through to get to deeper, more authentic statements about yourself? What was empowering about this? What was scary? What did you learn about what your higher purpose is and is not?

==========

I have had to accept the law of the trickster. A creature in many shamanic traditions, the trickster serves as a rather sneaky teacher. Just when we think we are on the road to achieving our goals, the trickster throws us a curve ball, a snowball, or a fur ball—something completely unexpected that we have no idea how to catch, let alone hold on to. In the context of meetings, the trickster might appear in the form of a participant who acts in ways you label “illogical” or “inappropriate.” The trickster can also appear in the form of events or circumstances (perhaps a snowstorm or the illness of a key participant) that disrupt a well-honed plan. The trickster very often appears in the form of a key insight the group stumbles upon, an insight that needs more time— time you don’t have.

==========

When we get surprised, it’s easy for us to dig in and become rigid, self-protective, or positional in our thinking. Each response is an indicator that we are attached to something. That something is often a belief about what should be happening. We should be able to assure the outcome of this meeting and spare participants discomfort and distress. If a plan is good, we should not have to change it. People should be more logical and less emotional. They should communicate concisely and show up on time. We should be able to quickly put things back on track when they get messy.

==========

Here’s a useful exercise: During the course of your daily routine, notice when you become impatient or lose your sense of perspective.

==========

In order to stand and move with the flow, we need to examine our attachments—the beliefs that we want to hold on to and the things we feel entitled to. Whether or not we admit it, many of us are attached to being liked and being viewed as an expert. We want to be needed. As mentioned earlier, we also become attached to certain expectations of how people should act and how things should go in our meetings. When these attachments get in the way of our adapting, they hinder our effectiveness as leaders and facilitators.

==========

To let go is to hold these beliefs and expectations lightly and be willing to release them when it serves your guiding intention. Letting go involves first recognizing the things to which you feel attached, naming them, and then loosening your psychological grip. One facilitator we interviewed discovered he was once strongly attached to his agenda. “The more I tried to convince them of the rightness of my agenda,” he said, “the more they resisted. Finally, when I realized what I was doing and expressed openness to refining the agenda, people’s resistance dropped away.”3

==========

Building our capacity to play means learning to view chaos, confusion, and conflict as partners rather than foes. To be playful is to approach our role with lightheartedness. We can take the work seriously, but we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously.

==========

One belief that has helped me become much more playful in my work facilitating high-stakes meetings is the notion that there is no “one right move” in any given situation—that many options will work.

==========

Rather than become resentful, anxious, or distracted by surprises, we need to learn to dance with them—to invite these uninvited guests into our meeting and welcome the creative possibilities they offer.

==========

When has surrendering to the realities of difficult people, behaviors, or circumstances enabled you to adapt in ways that served the group? What strongly held beliefs and expectations about yourself tend to undermine your ability to be flexible? Who are the tricksters in your life—the people and events that have taught you about flexibility and have revealed your patterns of rigidity, judgment, and control?

==========

To what do you feel attached? To what part of your public image (say, neatness) do you feel strongly attached? To what material things (for example, books) do you feel strongly attached? To what comforts (maybe a hot shower each morning) do you feel strongly attached? To what daily or weekly routines (a morning bagel perhaps) do you feel strongly attached? Give up one of these for a week. If being neat is important, stop combing your hair before you go out. If you are attached to hot showers, turn up the cold water for a week. Notice what emotions and beliefs come to the surface. In the process, notice what other attachments you discover. For the weeks that follow this exercise, keep three lists: Things I need to believe about myself Things I need to do Things I think should happen

==========

As change agents working in emotionally volatile situations, our goal is not to extinguish or become impervious to unpleasant feelings. Our goal is to learn to feel human fear and heartbreak without defaulting into a fight-or-flight mode.

==========

We know our hearts are closing when: We feel superior to others We feel numb to what is occurring We feel judgmental, impatient, or irritated with ourselves or others We are unkind or even hurtful toward ourselves and others We dismiss or ignore certain people We silently label people with words like inappropriate, manipulative, or dumb We decide we know someone’s motives, character, or competency We are intimidated by or deferent to certain people These responses diminish the kind of safety and trust we hope to create in our meetings. Amanda’s note: lots to reflect on here.

==========

The repression and denial of emotions can become a form of learned apathy. The Greek word apatheia means “nonsuffering,” or the inability to experience pain. Though it sounds like an appealing state, cloaking our hearts has profoundly negative consequences. Anesthetizing ourselves to the world of emotions requires a huge amount of energy and disables us from understanding what is truly happening in the room.

==========

Our hearts close against others mainly because of our projections. We are projecting when we assign our qualities, moods, and motives to other people. What we reject in ourselves, we reject in others. What we admire in ourselves, we admire in others. We use projection to keep us blind to certain parts of ourselves we don’t want to see. We might think “That person is playing politics” as a way to deny the part of us that is politically motivated or manipulative. We might decide “This is a very angry and dysfunctional person” as we deny the anger in ourselves. If we are not aware that we are projecting, the stories we create about others can quickly carry us into negative stances like distrust and arrogance.

==========

The Hebrew word for compassion is rachamim, which shares the same linguistic root as the word rechem, meaning “womb.”1 In this light, “compassion” suggests the human connection and tenderness associated with motherhood. It is a connection that transcends physical separateness and that even in the most difficult times enables us to draw on our capacity for forgiveness and kindness.

==========

When I came back into the room, I watched my colleague inquire into the fears and doubts of those expressing skepticism. Soon others began to express similar worries. I remembered my own struggles speaking up to people in authority and was able to share some of those with the group. Within an hour, people seemed excited to get on with the training. They’d felt reassured that all of their fears, hopes, and concerns had been heard. I had acknowledged their humanity and in doing so, remembered my own.

==========

Learning to stand with compassion is a lifelong endeavor. Just when we think we are the embodiment of open-heartedness in our life and work, a new, challenging person walks into the room and reminds us of those aspects of ourselves with which we still struggle.

==========

Emotional openness means opening our hearts to difficult as well as pleasurable emotions and feeling them fully—observing and experiencing them—without allowing those emotions to carry us away. When we can open our heart up to joy, hope, and passion, we are more able to stoke the creative energy of group fire. When we allow our heart to feel pain, suffering, and despair, we unleash the cleansing and restorative potential of group fire. When we can feel the wide range of emotions without melting into fight or flight, gently cradling our own heart, we become a cradle for the heart of everyone in the room.

==========

Every label we assign, every judgment we make, every feeling we have, is an opportunity to look inside and ask, What part of me am I projecting in this moment? What part of me needs to be identified and accepted?

==========

We too quickly forget that every person who walks into the room has a larger life story.

==========

Seeing the whole person doesn’t mean learning the life story and motivations of every participant with whom we work. Instead, it involves an ongoing awareness that each person we encounter is much more than the person who is showing up in that moment, in that meeting, on that day. We strengthen our capacity for compassion when we can hold this question as a mantra: Who else is this person?

==========

The term unconditional positive regard originated with psychotherapy pioneer Carl Rogers. It refers to an unwavering support and acceptance of people as worthy of our respect, regardless of what they are doing in the moment. Extending this kind of positive regard means approaching difficult behaviors without ridicule or criticism. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with or condone everything that people do.

==========

When I find my heart closing and patience and compassion fading away, I often say one of these statements to myself in order to reconnect with my regard for the person: I respect you as the unique individual I am coming to know. I respect that you have a different way of looking at things. I respect that you react differently than I might want you to. I respect that you came here to do this difficult work. I respect that this is a moment in which it’s normal to struggle.

==========

What enables you to maintain an open, compassionate heart in the presence of others who are acting in ways you find to be distasteful or who are undermining the goals of the meeting?

==========

What do people do that hooks you in meetings? What qualities and behaviors do you find difficult to accept in others? In what ways might they be connected to qualities within yourself that you have not yet accepted? Who in your life currently gives you unconditional positive regard? What do you feel when you are with them?

==========

The Deep Democracy practitioner Myrna Lewis suggested this activity.6 Think of the last meeting participant who really annoyed you in some way. This is a person in whose presence you felt a shortage of neutrality and compassion. Now pair up with a partner and play the role of this person. Really exaggerate the person’s words, tone, facial expressions, and physical gestures. Even if you become uncomfortable with the level of exaggeration, continue the role-play. If you carry on being this person, you will discover a part of yourself that this person represents. Take time to debrief with your partner and reflect on the aspects of this person with which you identify.

==========

For facilitators of high-heat meetings, meditation teaches us to get comfortable with restlessness, excitement, worry, judgment, and other disruptive inventions of the mind. Mindfulness meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment and then to return to our focus on the breath. In high-heat situations, this can be an invaluable practice for avoiding being swept up in the emotion and intensity of the group.

==========

PEER MENTOR RELATIONSHIPS A peer mentor is a trusted colleague with whom you meet on a regular schedule, say every four to six weeks. If your goal is to work specifically on building your self-awareness of mental habits, emotional hot buttons, and ego, then that should be the agreed-upon focus of the inquiry. Among the questions you might ask each other are: When do you typically feel overwhelmed, insecure, resistant, or resentful in the meetings you facilitate? What beliefs or assumptions are operating when you experience these states? How true are these beliefs? In what ways do these beliefs support or undermine your ability to be in service to the group and to lead with integrity? What beliefs about yourself in your work tend to get you into

==========

Those sitting in the circle are forbidden from speaking to the focus person in any way except to ask an honest, open question aimed at helping the focus person deepen his or her understanding of the problem. No advice, reassurances, or problem fixing is permitted—just questions and silent reflection.

==========

The practice of compassion breathing involves identifying anything that feels distasteful, painful, or distressing. Instead of attempting to repress or deny it, we breathe it in and connect with it fully. As we breathe in the suffering and grief—our own and that of others—we let the heaviness of the in-breath pass through the nose, throat, lungs, and heart, not holding on to it but letting it flow through the body. We breathe in the suffering not only as our own specific experience but also as part of the larger human condition. In doing so, we feel a kinship with the larger web of life. On the out-breath we send out a wish for happiness, relaxation, or whatever will relieve the suffering that we breathed in. As we exhale, we do so with a sense of openness and relief.

==========

An affirmation is an authentic, heartfelt declaration of what you want to contribute in the world, the gifts you offer, or the future you want to bring into being. Peggy Holman, a convener of Open Space meetings, has had a daily affirmation practice since 1986. She chooses one or two affirmations to work on for a period of one year. Over the years, her affirmations have evolved into questions.

==========

An affirmation is more powerful if it is personal. You can write your own affirmation by following these steps: 1. Take some time to write three to four sentences answering these questions: What qualities, gifts, motives, and callings do you want to be reminded of each day? What are you here to contribute in the world? Think about the person in your life who is your most avid supporter and cheerleader. In your moment of greatest self-doubt, what would you want this person to whisper in your ear? 2. Now, craft these ideas into a three- to four-line affirmation— a statement that will fit on a piece of paper as big as a business card. Print out a pocket-size version to keep with you. 3. Commit to thirty days of reciting it out loud every day until you know it like you know your own name.

==========

The process consultant Chris Grant suggests that we all make a point of regularly participating in meetings as non-facilitator, non-leader members—as just part of the gang. This practice heightens our sensitivity to what it means to participate in a group process. As group members, we gain empathy and appreciation for what it is like to attempt to influence others, struggle with differences, and conform to a process someone else designed.

==========

Another heat-exposing practice is one I call stepping into your allergy zone. It involves seeking out ideas and people we might otherwise avoid. These are ideas and people we tend to experience as uncomfortable, distasteful, and even offensive. Attend public talks by people who hold viewpoints opposed to yours. Listen to radio programs with commentators who make you want to scream when you are alone in your car. Pay attention to encounters with friends and family members who express opinions you might label “stupid,” “outdated,” even “bigoted.” In all these cases, take time to inquire sincerely and openly into their beliefs and assumptions. Notice your internal judgments and reactions. How open are you to what is being said? What is your level of curiosity? What are the ways in which you can acknowledge a very different viewpoint without having to agree with it?

==========

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION What is the role of “practice” in your life? What practices do you do with intention and consistency, and how do they contribute to your health, effectiveness, and happiness? Which of your current ongoing practices prepare and support you in your work with high-stakes, high-heat groups? What purpose is served by each of these practices? What new ongoing practices are you considering? What benefits do you hope to gain from each of these practices?

==========

What are the practices and rituals for coming into a meeting space that support a grounded presence, clear purpose, and authentic way of leading? There are four categories of practices for preparing to lead, and to engage in them you must: Connect with the self Connect with the space Connect with the participants Connect with a larger world

==========

Before the meeting it’s easy to focus on logistics and the agenda. This is a mistake. Just prior to the meeting at least 50 percent of our focus should be on affirming who we need to be in order to help the group achieve its purpose. This is because who shows up as the meeting convener is as powerful an intervention as any technique or methodology.

==========

Over the years, the time I take for introspection just prior to a meeting has become so important that if there are no other options, I will take refuge in my car or a toilet stall for even five minutes of final centering.

==========

1. Choose two to four people (they can be dead, alive, heroes, teachers, friends, or whoever else you want) that you need in the room today. 2. Close your eyes and mentally position them around the edges of the room. 3. Take a moment and let each of these people speak and declare your gifts and abilities.

==========

Find a quiet place to stand, if possible outdoors or in front of a window so that you feel connected with the sky and the ground. Stand with your knees slightly bent, legs shoulder-width apart, and rest both hands on your belly just above your navel. Take a minute or two to feel the soles of your feet firmly in contact with the ground. This is the solid ground of your intention. Then silently review four questions: What am I here to contribute in the world? Who am I here to serve today? What is the purpose I am here to help them achieve? What principles and beliefs will enable me to lead with integrity and in the spirit of service?

==========

How do you place yourself and your work in the context of the larger world? In what ways does your work connect with a bigger view of the universe or a higher calling?

==========

This is a template for a personal meditation that can be used before a meeting or even during a break: I honor the shared intention that people have for today’s gathering, which is . . . As I prepare for this gathering, I am deeply grateful for . . . I recognize others who have or are currently engaged in similar efforts throughout the world . . . I acknowledge that . . . are beyond my influence and control today. As I let go of . . . I hold on to faith in the belief that . . . Whether through a practice of gratitude or prayer, connecting with a larger world helps place us into a larger context. As the leadership and spiritual teacher Robert Gass said, “We are but leaves blowing in the wind.”5 In other words, we must arrive at our meetings grounded in the belief that there is knowledge beyond our current knowing, there is influence beyond our current influence, there are possibilities beyond our current ability to see.

==========

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION What pre-meeting practices and rituals currently strengthen your ability to be an effective fire tender? What new practices for connecting with yourself just before the meeting starts might you consider? What new practices for connecting with the physical space might you consider? What new practices might assist you in establishing a more authentic and human connection with the people in the groups you facilitate? What new practices would assist you in connecting with the larger world or the spiritual dimension of your work?

==========

The goal of attending is simply to notice what we are experiencing from moment to moment. Too often in high-intensity situations we become disembodied: we function completely in our heads and become cut off from any physical sensation.

==========

Naming is shorthand for acknowledging that we have been triggered and for identifying the feelings and judgments we are having in the moment. For example, I might notice that my hands are clenched or my heart is racing. This enables me to name that I am feeling anxious.

==========

When we encounter an uncomfortable physical or emotional state, the most basic question is often the most helpful: What’s up with me?

==========

But just because we get hit with a strong emotion doesn’t necessarily mean we need to take action. Pausing involves experiencing and appreciating this energy—observing it but not acting on it. The pause is a conscious choice not to act on the voice of self-protection and impulsiveness.

==========

The moment of pausing is like standing at the crossroads of two responses. The first road leads to a defensive or ego-induced response. The motivation is psychological comfort. The second road leads to wise and deliberate choice.

==========

When you’re feeling confused or distracted by what is happening in a meeting, ask yourself these three questions: Who am I here for, and what is their purpose? What is my job and what is not my job in this setting? What has integrity for me right now?

==========

When you feel disconnected from your purpose, you can take a shoulder-wide stance, bend your knees slightly, and place a hand on your belly. Others will be unaware that you are inducing a state of heightened awareness and physically locating your internal gyroscope.

==========

During your next few meetings, experiment with your physical way of being and notice how your mindset and emotional state shift almost instantaneously. Feel the soles of your feet in contact with the ground. Pull your shoulders back and open your pelvis. Relax your jaw and lift your head. Straighten your back, extending the top of your head toward the sky. Smile. Let your in-breath go all the way down to your belly. Change the volume and tone of your voice. Stop talking.

==========

Another reframing I have found to be useful moves me out of a narrative of victimhood (“They are messing up my meeting, so I’m forced to crack the whip”) and into a narrative of choice (“I am choosing to hold stricter boundaries in service to the group’s purpose”).

==========

One of the most common distinctions people fail to make is between differing viewpoints versus conflicting ones. People waste immeasurable time in meetings because they get into debates about different perspectives, not realizing that those perspectives are not incompatible and can be easily combined. A fire tender alert to this distinction will be less susceptible to this unnecessarily divisive dynamic and can aid the group in finding common ground.

==========

Make a list of three to five of your most important and inspiring advisers. Next to each of their names write down one or two sentences of their wisdom. Try to capture their teaching using words they might have used if they were speaking with you. Let this be the start of a “wisdom journal,” which we will discuss in the next chapter.

==========

In the context of recovering during a meeting, an affirmation should not focus on the outcome of the meeting but, rather, on the state we want to be in to be of service to the group. So, we might say to ourselves, “I am the wide-open heart” if we want to shift our state toward more compassion.

==========

For example, “Yes, I misused my authority. And if there were more trust in my being, what would it feel like?” Here is the two-step process: 1. Acknowledge the negative message with a yes, taking in the true parts of the message in without resistance. 2. Affirm the quality or capacity you want to cultivate by adding and plus the question: “If there were more [of this quality] in my being, what would it feel like?”

==========

I suggest you begin by using everyday interactions with family members, friends, colleagues, and clients to practice these approaches to in-the-moment state shifting. The more you look for them, the more you’ll find the opportunities to practice recovering when you are grabbed by everyday events.

==========

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION What are the specific physical and behavioral warning signals that your hot buttons are being pushed? What are the more subtle signals that precede the ones you just identified? Can you think of a time when you named the hot button that had just been pushed, or when you consciously noticed that you were having some kind of emotional reaction, and you made a conscious choice to say and do nothing? What came out of the space you created in that moment? What practices do you currently use to shift your state from a reactive one to a clear and more deliberate way of being?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *