Facilitating Powerful Conversations (Level 2) — A Reflection

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A year and three months ago I started my journey on the Facilitating Powerful Conversations course by The Thought Collective. Level 1 gave me the tools to explore the many intrapersonal and interpersonal narratives that have formed my identity. After spending time unpacking these ideas and the copious amounts of conversation with self, I came back for Facilitating Powerful Conversations Level 2. From the website FPC 2 seek to “explore the skill-sets required for participants hoping to have more powerful conversations at the group and system level. How do we perceive group dynamics of power, diversity and inclusion? How can we work through the complexity of group composition and group energy? How do we design successful interventions that will move a group towards more cohesive, coherent and sustainable behaviours?”

FPC 2 more than FPC 1 was highly experiential in nature. And this refection will come in a lot more abstract and less as a cohesive journey on what we learned. The reflections here would be based a lot on the premise and borrowed language from FPC 1 and might not be understood by many who do not use the same terminology.

Understanding Systems

The course started with conversations and ideas about breaking down the concept of Systems and Systems Theory. Some key ideas brought out below:

  • A system is a cohesive accumulation of interrelated and interdependent parts that exist in all parts of society.
  • “Systems theories are based on the belief that individuals do not operate in isolation, but rather grow and develop in interaction with their physical and social environment.” link
  • As the number of individuals grow in a system, the complexity and use of resource allocation develops.
  • With each level of systems interaction from the interpersonal, to a group, to a systems level, we need to develop different levels of skillsets to work with each form of system.
  • How a system functions is based on the circular flow of factors below:
  1. Aspirations / Development — Work does not begin in a system until there are aspirations. Can we build a shared dream in the system? The system will move towards this
  2. Work systems — From the Aspiration, work is done to design and allocate tasks within the system.
  3. Safety (fitting in) — smaller groups start to form in the system, for people to find safety to reveal their needs. The shared bond of a problem can help us fit in, but it can also change very fast once we stop fitting in.
  4. Healing (to belong) — Safety and fitting in is to maintain the similarity. But for the system to develop Healing for its people, trust needs to be built. Belonging is the ability to differentiate from the Safety but still be accepted.
  5. Power / Politics — If Safety does not mature, the Safety in Group will start to resist the system and challenge it. To overcome this, people need to go into healing and learn to hear the pain.
  • Exercise: From these ideas we started an exercise of a Total Learning Community (TLC) which consisted of all 28 of us forming an open ended system for learning.
  • TLC 1 (day 1) was a complete mess with the system not having an objective, nobody knew what was going on. People did not communicate clearly and caused a lot of confusion among everyone else’s assessments. And mostly participants did not feel safe to show up to the system with many choosing to remain silent.
  • TLC 2 (day 2) starting to be more aware of learning to show up and convey what I experienced, not what I think; so that people understand the context and narratives that I am coming in with. Focus on bringing awareness to the system, not about solving the problems. What was at stake for me in the system was that peoples discomfort triggers me into problem solving mode.
  • TLC 3 (day 3) A high amount of trust and tenderness in the system, with people bringing in their units of work for the system to support them. The system however did not stay in the here and now, and kept going back to the past experiences of people. A big question is did the system learn and grow, or did we do more intrapersonal work for others?

Systems Intervention

  • Systems are stupid and need to get data from its members. The main role of the intervener is to bring data to raise awareness of the system for it to then decide.
  • The data that we can offer:
  1. What are you experiencing in the system? — The only authority that I can talk about
  2. What are you noticing? — A phenomenon or a pattern in the system. Ensure that you separate between the data and your own assessments
  3. What am I learning? — Whatever data that now becomes a concept, a grand theory to offer the system
  • Always keep your assessments out of the system, read the data when you give your intervention. Watch how the system reacts to your intervention, don’t run away
  • Some examples of clean interventions that help bring participants and the system into the present.
  • “Could I invite you to place your feet on the floor for this conversation?”
  • “Can I invite you to hold each others hands for this conversation, see how that sits with you?”
  • “I am experiencing some confusion in the system, could we clarify your question again?”
  • “Sometimes to find wholeness we need to reach out to others”
  • Exercise: From these ideas we went into a TLC fishbowl. Which consisted of an inner fishbowl which participants were having a conversation, an outer observer circle to keep the system learning and a third intervention circle to offer observations and data. By breaking down the system into dedicated elements, it helped us focus on the specific data points of the system and take in a lot more data there.

Cycle of Experience

  • The Cycle of Experience is a fundamental part of Gestalt Theory to give us a framework of how we experience stimuli from the environment and make sense of the world.
  1. Sensation — Data comes in from our senses
  2. Awareness — For us to make sense of the data and form an assessment
  3. Mobilisation — The energy that is developed from the emotions of our assessment
  4. Action — A form of activity for us to reach Contact
  5. Contact — A point in which we will meet our needs
  6. Satisfaction — When we have achieved our needs
  7. Withdrawal — When we are able to let go from this Unit of Work and gain closure
  • It is a continuous cycle of contact and withdrawal, in our many life experiences and trauma we start to develop resistances between each of the stages, keeping us from making contact and finding withdrawal.
  • A list of how we Resist below:
  1. Desensitisation (Sensation) — When we resist / become numb to the data — Apathy / Indifference
  2. Deflection (Awareness) — Data is processed, but we deflect and change the topic, due to certain trauma / terror
  3. Introjection (Mobilisation) — The emotion comes in, but you feel that “I should not feel this way” — The many inherited narratives of childhood / culture. “Do not interrupt” / “Do not look stupid in front of others”
  4. Projection (Action) — When it is my work to do, but I am making it yours. When I am lonely, I always ask my friends “Why are you so busy?” — Someone is responsible for your happiness
  5. Retroflection (Contact) — I want to make contact with the world, but I end up making contact with myself. Committed to leave the abuse, but ends up staying and rationalising the situation.
  • The more resistances we develop, the more Units of Work and energy is stored in us, never giving us Contact. This usually leads to burn out in our lives.
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Cycle of Experience — Link

System Maintenance

We went into conversations about the amount of work it takes to maintain the health of a system and the various factors that we need to account for:

  • Diversity — in Systems brings about friction and will affect the health of the system. Due to scarcity of resources, most systems are violent and will not be able to accommodate the diversity and needs of everyone. Be mindful of the needs of smaller groups and opportunities to close their units of work outside the system.
  • Figural — We went into the idea of unpacking the concept of Figural, and what it meant to each of us. Figural is the relationship between foreground and background. What specific points of data jumps out at you from what you observe? It can be a diversity of factors that we observe: gender, colour, age, appearance, power, body posture, language, etc… However each of us have our biases and we need to be aware of what are our blind spots within the system. The interplay between figure and ground is dynamic and ongoing. link
  • Psychological safety — is about the courage for diversity and acceptance, finding ways to bring presence to the system. Everybody wants to innately improve, its just do people feel safe and taken care of to really show up? Safety in the system comes at a price. If the system is too safe, then the repressed issues of people will start to come out. And if we do not have the capabilities to help them heal, it is better to keep them in indifference.
  • Important to always stay in the here and now as a system, keeps everyone present and you don’t lose the system into your own stories and memories. Referencing your own experience / memories does not share 100% of the data with the system.
  • Exercise: Johari’s Window — this consists of us populating 4 quadrants of Johari’s Window with post-its of self assessments on what boost our esteem and what lowers our esteem. This brings out all the hidden data that is in the system making it available to everybody. It increases the trust of the system, as it gives us more data points on why certain people are acting a certain way. What is the baggage that we all bring along with us to work / to family / to relationships?

Power

  • Power (Trust) + Intention = Presence — Only with presence can you move a system, trust is fundamental for power to function
  • Long conversation on power, power can be thrust onto the unwilling, what then does it mean for them when they are not ready to accept it.
  • Power cannot be taken, it can only be assigned by others. Power is a privilege handed to you, and out of respect and gratitude I am willing to take up the power to serve the system
  • Using power and leadership, can we offer a counter form of energy for the system to give it more diverse options
  • The importance to check in with our integrity, and to tune in to what matters to us, how often do we suppress it for society? How often do we give ourselves permission?
  • Paradoxical Theory of Change — “Change occurs when one becomes what one is, not when one tries to become what one is not”

Personal Learnings

  • Realised that my cognitive space is my defence mechanism, whenever I feel threatened or when the stakes are high I run there, and stop listening to the body and heart. Need a way to be more self aware of this, and not end up thinking the problem away, but to tune back into my body and heart.
  • A high amount of expectations in my learning, always a concept of how I should be this / that. I can start focusing on being here and now, and to really just spend the time with the process.
  • There is an abundance in my stories and hopes and dreams. People can see it more clearly in me than myself. Find ways to build that acceptance for myself, to learn to harness this and actualise myself. Take the first step of courage to be present with myself.
  • Overall feedback from participants — I strongly embody curiosity and is refreshing to others. I am really sharp and have courage to pursue what I believe in. Learn to not short change myself and to lean into what I value, and have confidence of that

Conclusions

I think for me, the main difference between FPC 1 and FPC 2 was in getting a clearer comprehension of the complexity of systems. FPC 1 helped us dive deep into understanding ourselves better, and how we interact with another. However FPC 2 brought all that premise of FPC 1 and mixed it in with a system of 28 other individuals. It showed me first hand how quickly all these self assessments, trauma and baggage can cause confusion in the system.

Honestly right now, comprehending the complexity of skillets that I need to intervene in the system: to be present with myself, to be aware and take in the multiple forms of data, to have the courage to show up and take risk, and to finally be able to move the system; feels like such a daunting task right now. But FPC 2 has also given me hope about what elements are needed for a healthy and safe system to exist. It has also shown me a room full of other individuals that do truly care about the systems they are in, and how they hope to bring positive change to their systems. It is a complex journey ahead, but it is heartening to not need to journey alone.

Written by

Programme Manager @ Padang & Co | Architectural Designer | Startups, Participatory Design and Social Enterprise sectors https://www.linkedin.com/in/llqingping/

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