Meditations on respectful relationships
‘Continuing to do what we are currently doing but doing it harder or smarter is not likely to produce very different outcomes. Real change starts with recognising that we are part of the systems we seek to change. The fear and distrust we seek to remedy also exists within us – as do the anger, sorrow, doubt and frustration. Our actions will not become more effective until we shift the nature of the awareness and thinking behind the actions…Our willingness and openness to sense our own biases and shortcomings sets a tone for the whole organisation.’ Peter Senge et al, organisation specialist
‘When we are within the presence of living Silence, which is being created every moment by the way we speak with someone, we feel an extraordinary fullness that makes it possible to be within the soul of another without harming the other person with our needs, desires, wants, and fantasies. It is a key to a holy relationship…we experience a presence, a flow of subtle currents between our self and the other person…we begin to anticipate Silence as the most important aspect of our conversation with others.’ Robert Sardello, spiritual psychologist
Amid these fast-moving times, the quality of our communications and inter-relations is often undermined due to our busyness and stress.
Recently, there have been a number of leadership studies pointing to fragmented relations and lack of quality communication between stakeholders as a root cause of the siloed mentality, lack of personal responsibility and blame culture that undermines the resilience and vitality of many of our organisations today.
Nurturing the conditions for authentic and synergistic relations to form through open, expansive and heartfelt communications is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is core to what enables our organisations to thrive in these fast-moving climes.
Leadership specialist Otto Scharmer speaks of a need to shift the social field from ‘absencing’ to ‘presencing’. Absencing is where our social field is largely disconnected and desensitised at personal and organisational levels, due to fragmentation, confusion, anxiety and blame within stressful working environments. Presencing is where we transform the social field and our sense of self within the field away from a heightened ‘ego-self’ of reactivity, judgement and defensiveness towards a more engaged, open, connected receptivity and responsiveness to what is emerging in our midst.
Deep listening and generative dialogue are two simple yet powerful tools that aid this shift from ‘absencing’ to ‘presencing’, and go hand in hand with personal practices that cultivate self-awareness, receptivity, connection and coherence.
These times of local and global breakdown and breakthrough can quite naturally invoke stress, unease, blame, disconnection, desensitisation and the urge to defend, dominate or control. Yet these alchemic times demand that as leaders and change agents we activate a more productive social field through the quality of our communications and inter-relations so that our teams and organisations can let go of old habituated ways while opening up to the fast emergent future.
This is the humbling importance of leadership in these transformative times – helping metamorph the social field of our organisations so that the deeper nature of our humanity and the deeper wisdom of life can flow more readily through our relationships, meetings and decisions.
The ability to deeply listen and speak from the heart while creating a space for generative courageous conversations is, therefore, a primary aspect of the leadership we need in these times.
At its heart, generative dialogue is nothing more nor nothing less than speaking and listening with our whole-selves while being receptive and responsive to our social field. This is what allows ourselves and others to open up more soulfully for an altogether more human sharing.
‘Dialogue is a conversation…taking the energy of our differences and channelling it towards something that has never been created before [an emerging co-creation] thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and correlated power of groups of people…You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result from simply being in a relationship with others.’ Bill Isaacs, dialogue specialist
Dialogue is like a dance, where the emergent space between the people and between the words shared is all important. The flow of the dance and the depth of openness between the dancing partners is what allows the dance to come alive and for deeper co-creativity to emerge.
Reacting > Co-creating
Our authentic voice is combined with our deep listening to create an expansive emotional (and quantum) space where truth can be co-created.
Difficulties, tensions and disagreements are held in a generative non-judgemental way that provides a deepening of sharing rather than a rupturing of relationships.
As we deepen the receptivity and responsiveness of ourselves, the generative field widens; energy and creative potential is unlocked and the life force of our people and the collective organisation as a living-system flows.
‘In dialogue, everybody wins.’ David Bohm, quantum physicist
It is up to each of us as leaders to seed a culture of dialogue through the quality of conversational inter-relating performed by us in the day-to-day thick-of-it-all.
The more we practice (often stumbling and failing, but learning as we go) the more we become more aware of how we are influencing the generative field of our conversations and also the wider generative field of our stakeholder ecosystem beyond our organisation. In-so-doing, we consciously cultivate the conditions conducive for life to flourish.
In this way, our work-life can be perceived as a powerful learning playground for ourselves to deepen our humanity, dynamic truth and living-purpose while helping others open up and deepen theirs.
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(I would like to acknowledge the work of The Whole Partnership, in particular the e-book Leading Systemic Dialogue by Sarah Rozenthuler and Edward L. Rowland of The Whole Partnership, which contributed significantly to this article.)