Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I'm reading A Special Kind of Leadership by Ronald Short, and he's talking about that sort of morass that happens sometimes in families and organizations, when you know something needs to change, but when you try to talk about it things get all muddy and stuck, and you can't seem to climb out of where things are to how things could be.
Short calls that "undifferentiated fusion" -- meaning, essentially, that everyone is focused on what they THINK everyone else is thinking or needing, and no one is paying attention or speaking out of their own thoughts or needs. And a lot of this confusion is tangled up with language.
If we persist in talking to ourselves using "You, it, they" language, we are essentially placing our sense of identity and well-being into the hands of others. "It is as though we place our internal activities outside our skins and heads... paste them like travel stickers on others, making them responsible... and the result within an organization is ongoing confusion, low trust, and a highly political environment where the same problems exist over long periods of time... Not recognizing what is inside and what is outside is fundamental to the majority of problems we face."
But if we practice -- even in those constant internal monologues that go on -- using "I" language, correctly describing our experience of what's going on, we can become more responsible and accountable for what's happening.
The first thing you notice about "I" statements is that you can't really argue with them. But at the same time they provide important information that clarifies where you stand and what you're feeling -- your thoughts, feelings and desires -- so the other person can respond to real data instead of trying to figure out what you want, or worse still, projecting what THEY want onto you.
But "I" statements alone are not enough; you also need to be careful not to assume or project information about what others are thinking and feeling -- and if you are having a strong emotional response to something someone else said or did -- especially the kind of response I mentioned yesterday, indignation -- chances are good there's some projection going on.
Which means it's time to sit back and see if you can figure out what's actually being triggered by their behavior -- what in YOU is reacting, and why. Chances are good your reactions are being triggered by some early experiences that have nothing to do with what's going on in the present.
I know. At some level you know all this -- and so do I. But we forget, and find ourselves going down that path all too easily. And when we do, chances are good we're dragging a few other folks down with us.
So it's good to be reminded from time to time. Yes, we are all connected. But we are also unique, and different, with unique and valuable perspectives. But those perspectives can only help make a difference in the world when we take the time to pay attention, to listen to our inner voices, to figure out what is ME and NOW and then articulate it. That kind of clarity can work just as a good stump or a rock could work in this picture: it gives others something sturdy and stable to stand on, which helps us all climb out of the undifferentiated muck that sometimes seems to suck us in.
Posted by Diane Walker at 1:01 PM