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Conflicted Over Conflict? Stay Tuned In

You have a story about “conflict”, oh yes, you do. If you give me your definition of the word and some examples, your narrative about conflict  emerges.

Your story may include statements  like “She always battles my ideas!” or “He has to have things  his way or no way!” or “Our boss isn’t forward thinking -resting on past successes.” or hundreds of other reasons conflict arises in your life.

Your examples are unique. Yet, they share something with most people on the planet. Whatever examples you give, one of the chief causes of pain (call it anxiety, discomfort, anger, or other tough emotions to sit with) is caused by conflict as you currently define it.

And critical to note, your idea of conflict while conscious, is informed by your early experiences of conflict – emotional and physical experiences that have gone underground and may not be available to your consciousness.

For example, if as a toddler conflict (perhaps between parents or siblings) felt life threatening, you might have constricted your breathing, or tensed your small rib cage in panic. Perhaps you hid behind a large chair or under the bed until calm reigned again.

Today, when you encounter conflict, you “know” you life isn’t in danger, but your body resorts to the old pattern and you may want to run away or hide still.

Or perhaps you came out screaming at the adults in conflict, red faced, tear stained and furious.

That “puffing up” way of dealing is still there, only to be taken out when triggered.

Conflict still causes you pain – only more so because you worry about your reaction to it on top of worrying about the conflict itself.  Make sense?

And what do we humans generally do with pain? Avoid it –  at all costs. Avoidance comes in many flavors yet the result is that you never grow past an outworn way of dealing with conflict.

For leaders the cost of avoidance is higher than for most.

Awesome leaders, unlike the run of the mill type, don’t avoid conflict. They tune in to it because they have a definition that extends beyond  “pain”. They hold conflict as generative!

So, (take a deep breath here) what does that mean? And how does it work? And why should you care?

I’ll start with the last question first and work backwards.

Whether you lead a team, a non-profit, an entire corporation or a head a small business, you can be powerful and clear when the inevitable conflict arises and use it to move forward. That’s right, use conflict to move ahead with your vision. Conflict can be the impetus for great things – finely honed ideas, better strategic, streamlined  functionality, more inclusion, improved processes, better ways to serve your clients….

In the wind tunnel of your own mind, your ideas seem sound…and the fact that they are the only ones in there, supports that notion. Only when marched out into the light of other eyes and ears, can you evaluate your ideas –  and either modify, if that’s what’s called for, or stand tall behind them in the face of criticism or abandon them altogether and start over.

And when “The Idea” is being presented by some member of your organization, listening to the responses of others can often make a “good” idea – great!  The key is to get those others past reactivity – often the first impulse – to responsiveness.

Here’s how that works: You Must Model. Yes, you have to model a way of being with conflict that expands on your current definition! Model it again and again and people will notice. At first, in awe, then in curiosity and finally seeing the value. And you can incorporate this as a plank in the culture of your organization.

If you can find the value in conflict – what it offers – and stay out of your history with it – you can appreciate it and finally, welcome it. That process begins with unhooking the personal from the idea. They are not the same!

You, me and everyone we know are much more than the ideas we offer up. Holding conflict as generative means being able to separate the person from what they are saying, in the moment they are saying it. It sounds simple but it isn’t easy. It requires a shift – emotionally (staying out of the angry red zone) , intellectually (asking yurself ? what is the value of the what is being stated) and physically (how can you relax your nervous system and stay open). More to come on the specifics of this in the next blog.

Leaders make decisions. One way or another.

Great leaders have developed the capacity to handle opposing views, weigh the merits respectfully and then mobilize their forces behind a direction without excluding anyone. When a leader can do all this graciously, you can be sure she has learned to hold conflict as generative rather than as a problem. She has the ability to stay tuned in and grounded, open and curious and decisive.  Isn’t that the kind of leader you want to be?

If so,  return to your definition of conflict and expand upon it. Here’s how. Extract your painful history with conflict  from this moment. Look at only what is on the operating table now. Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to stay open and curious?
  • What can I gain from hearing all points of view?
  • How can I appreciate different perspectives?
  • Once I’ve determined the path, how can I mobilize everyone to action?

Armed with these questions, your relationship to conflict can soften, open and expand. And while you may have relapses, holding the intention (somatically, emotionally and cognitively) to see conflict as generative will ultimately make you a stronger, wiser person and leader.

LEARNING TO LOVE CONFLICT

“That can’t possibly work! The roll out time will coincide with our busiest season. And the engineers are scrambling as it is.  Siphoning off talent to work on this will handicap us.” Jeff bellowed, riled up by Amy’s presentation of a new product design.

The air was suddenly sucked out of the conference room. Amy stood stock still at the whiteboard – everyone’s eyes riveted to her face.

She was newly promoted talent; coming up fast through the ranks of design engineers as a hard-working, creative and highly efficient team leader. In addition to her design skills, she worked well with people, which is why, Michael, the CEO had promoted her.

Now he was watching her from behind his owl-like glasses, waiting for a reaction to Jeff’s
attack, calm and curious.

Amy, took a few long breaths, lined up her feet on the carpet for balance and looked at Jeff directly. Then, quietly but distinctly, she said “I appreciate your perspective. You make some good points. Let me address why I think this the right time to begin development on this product and perhaps you can help flush out the details.”

Oxygen returned to the room. MIchael, nodded and said to himself, “This conflict is going to be productive.”

Conflict comes with a bad rap. It’s never pleasant, easy or what you’d choose off a Chinese menu. Yet, if you work for a healthy organization, it is an important part of  big decisions. So you need to know how to “be with conflict” in a way that supports your brilliance, the organization you work for and yourself. (And for women, it is often particularly challenging.)

Learning to exhale goes a long way towards funding the ability to handle conflict.  And balancing, in your sweet spot, is required as well. It also helps to depersonalize the conflict – not feeling that you are under attack, but rather your ideas – a hard stretch but necessary.

Yet these skills, hardwon for sure, and absolutely necessary, are insufficient if you want to be brilliant at what you do!  They are critical first steps, but not what is at the heart of living into your brilliance.

So what is?

The big leap, a mile-high  one, is to see conflict as generative.

Yep, generative…. a welcome arena to enter into armed with the knowledge that different perspectives often hone, polish and improve your idea…build it out or repair the parts that may be slightly flawed. Sometimes, conflict acts as the much needed fuel that allows you to bolster a design, a concept, a process. Sometimes only in the conflict can you find out the strength of your commitment. And if  doesn’t serve up any of these, it may simply  allow other’s energy a valid place to come to rest.

We grow up taught to “play nice”. And in most situations, it feels right. Yet breakthroughs in medicine, science, art – any human endeavor  –  did not come about by “playing nice”. Instead, questioning, arguing, debating- subverting the dominant paradigm – brought us breakaway advances in technology, architecture, health care and so on.

If we stifle our best ideas, our controversial designs, our “outside the lines” concepts from fear of conflict, what are we really doing? And how does that playing small in the face of conflict shrivel us more and more over time? It isn’t a way to work (or to be) and you don’t have to take it on.

Sure, there are times when a great concept dies on the drawing board, or is aborted in the conference room – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.

Yet, killing your own ideas or more often allowing them to wilt in the face of conflict untimately shuts you down – not to mention the loss to the group, company, corporation.

So what does seeing “conflict as generative” consist of? It’s a huge mind shift. A way of taking your outworn perspective and turning it on its head –  in service of something greater – your brilliance! And it takes practice.

In the next few blogs, I’ll be guiding you through the steps that move you into this way of seeing and handling conflict. (I’ve mentioned a few of the physical ones already). If you are ready to
stand up for your brilliance, watch for the next in this series on Conflict is Generative.

Oh, and what happened to Amy? Jeff heard her out fully. He reluctantly helped her craft a plan that brought her design off the screen and into 3 dimensional reality. As they worked on it together, he became more enthusiastic, adding some of his own ideas. Jeff also grudgingly, developed some respect for Amy along the way. The new product went on to add significantly to third quarter profits, not just earnings, for the company.  And Michael, the CEO proudly honored both of them at a celebratory dinner.

How have you handled conflict at your workplace? Share your comments and ideas below.

Presence: An Invitation to Courage

We speak lightly of Presence so often – in working with ourselves, in working with our clients. Yet, we don’t often think of it as the key to developing courage!

This morning as this quote came across my screen, I began to ponder it more deeply.
First the quote:

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. ~Thoreau

When our strongest intuitions arise in technicolor, they come from dropping deeply into the moment. And what does “the moment” provide when entered into fully?

The Truth – yes with a capital “T”.

If we are able to be with the Truth of whatever is arising – no deflection, no avoidance, no belittling, no judging – no resistance of any kind something profound occurs. We begin to become more permeable, less stiff, less rigid, allowing more spaciousness. And in that space, courage blossoms as we notice that we’re actually okay!

A little known aspect of being Present – not planning or manipulating or dreaming or wistfully longing is that our Presence ultimately transcends our anxieties and fear. By entering into what is up for us – pleasant or unpleasant and exploring it fully, it begins to move, to breathe in and out… and with practice, staying tuned in rather than tuning out – we transcend our fears, our anxieties by noticing that we’re actually okay – the roof isn’t collapsing, the arresting officer isn’t at the door. We have clothes to wear, food to eat, shelter from the storm. More than most people on the planet can say!

And what is most amazing? When we are Present with this moment and the next and the one after that, our capacity to stay Present grows. And moreover, our Presence invites others to courageously move into Presence as well.

So not only we developing more courage to meet Life as it arrives, but we also invites others into this action. As we stay grounded in Presence, they too, find ground beneath their feet to be with Life – and their experience of it. As so much of wisdom, this is simple but not easy. Yet, what precious quality is easily developed? Most require commitment. As we commit ourselves, we begin to engage more fully with others, ourselves and Life unfolding.

So, let’s pause in the endless cycle of “Next,” and not sacrifice the bloom of the present moment!

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: EMBRACING THE OTHER

Lennon and McCartney said it.  Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz (and other Sufis) wrote about it. Religion and culture chime in loudly about the importance of it. The  total mass of songs, poems and movies that implore us to find it, keep it and renew it could create another planet. The lectures, articles and books on love and compassion for the human race, a specific “other”  and the self fill the airwaves, bookshelves and ezines of our lives. So what is the fuss all about? Is it about romance or sex, connection or intimacy?

Ask yourself, “What if love were the single greatest tool for personal development”?  How might that change the way you view your intimate relationship?  If we look at the relationship we have with the beloved,  can we connect with the Beloved? Beyond the romantic elements, the physical delights,  the pain and misunderstanding, the frustration and the joy, lurks a path to awakening that accelerates the process of maturation a thousand fold.

“Shelf-help” as Wendy Palmer likes to call it, can advise us about meeting, wooing and  bedding perhaps wedding  the attractive candidate. Only being in a relationship that names “coming home to oneself” as the greatest goal, brings us Love, with the capital L.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine say “Few recognize the enormous power of a relationship as a vehicle for physical. spiritual, and emotional healing.”  Why is this true?

We are enculturated into a view of  intimate relationship as romantic.  And the definition for romantic is fairly narrow at that. Rarely do we encounter role models for partnering as a path to awakening to our true nature.

Relationships are the stage upon which we play out our very young understanding of love in its many guises. What we  were told (and taught) about love by our caretakers  when we were little shows up in our adult relationships. What we experienced in our very impressionable early years of development, before we could speak,  also shows up. How our parents treated one another is often a more indelible experience than their words about “being loving.” The same is true for  the injunctions of priests, rabbis, teachers, scout leaders, etc. How lovingly we were treated effects us long past the exit of many players from the stage of our lives.  What we needed and desired as vulnerable children (and didn’t get) we attempt to redress through our partners. This puts enormous pressure on our lovers – impossible pressure, as they too seek solace for  early unmet  needs.

In psychology, we learn of “object relations”  which deeply affect our loving connections.  These ways to relating to others basically casts them in a role of an important early caretaker unconsciously – so we don’t see the person – we are “back with” the important mother or father or granny. When we unconsciously stop seeing our beloved by replacing him or her with a parent  (with whom we  all have unresolved issues) we attempt to heal the past. By its very nature, the past cannot be undone, but we try again and again to have a “do over” which never works.  What works instead?

Recognizing that a relationship is the perfect place to practice transparency, commitment (especially when times are challenging),  generosity,  healthy boundaries (caring for the other without merging) deep listening, compassion are steps along the path. The method is being Present, both to arises within and to the real other before you,

And when things go awry,  and they always do, looking at the situation from an undefended position, begs us hold the question of “where am I in this?”  What is my contribution? Seeking out the truth of old pain and unresolved suffering  that arises and allowing our partner to be in it with us, rather than suppressing or denying  it allows us to begin the healing. When we can enter into our partners pain without trying to make it go away, hold space for her suffering and be a witness, we continue the healing process. These acts of loving  often are called forth when we are triggered into the old feelings…  yet being with the experience, sharing our feelings of shame, guild, abandonment, loss or grief  creates the intimacy that ultimately heals, that accelerates our maturation.

Rather than leaning on the beloved to hold us up, we become two upright entities that evolve beside one another without creating a hindering shadow. So yes, all you need is love, real love which transcends romance.

Language Reveals Our Reality: Food for Thought

The other day, two friends were discussing current projects at work. I listened to their conversation with curiosity. Joe described his project as “a battle” while Karen used “a journey” to describe her experience. He laughingly pointed to the difference in their metaphors and I was struck by how the difference affected their approach to very similar situations.

“Listen deeply,” we are often told by communication experts. Though we nod sagely in response, what exactly are we agreeing to do? I suggest a critical first step is to attend to the metaphors those we are listening to utilize which frame their unique perspective on reality.

We learned in literature class that metaphors and similes add interest to our writing and speech. And while that is true, in this article we will concentrate on metaphors as more than a linguistic device. Let’s look instead at metaphor as a means to interpret the speaker (or writer’s) world.

Metaphor is used here as any circumstance when a person uses one conceptual category, circumstance or thing to define or describe another; essentially to understand and experience one thing in terms of something else.

Linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson provide convincing evidence that metaphors may actually be people’s primary mode of mental operation. They argue that because the mind is “embodied” – that is, it experiences the world through the body in which it resides – people cannot help but conceptualize the world in terms of bodily perceptions. Our concepts of up-down, in-out, front-back, light-dark, warm-cold are all related to orientations and perceptions acquired through bodily senses.

“She is a top performer” indicates a vertical orientation while he is falling behind” indicates a horizontal one. In the book, Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson suggest that the metaphors through which people conceptualize abstract concepts influence the way in which they understand them. Furthermore, this understanding frames their actions which reinforces the metaphors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider some familiar expressions people use when describing ideas as food, plants, and commodities. (Italics for metaphors are used throughout this article to make them stand out.)

Ideas Are Food

What he said left a bad taste in my mouth. These are nothing but half-baked ideas, and warmed over theories.  I can’t digest all these new ideas. Can you swallow that claim?

Doesn’t that argument smell fishy? Now here’s an idea you can really sink your teeth into. She devours information.  This is the meaty part of the paper.

Ideas Are Plants

She has a fertile imagination. Her ideas have come to fruition. That idea died on the vine. That’s a budding theory. The seeds of his great ideas were planted in his youth. He has a barren mind.

Ideas Are Commodities

There is always a market for good ideas. Great ideas are currency in the intellectual marketplace. It is important how you package your ideas.  She has been a source of valuable ideas.

What can we discern about the speakers of these sentences? It is no surprise that humans attempt to understand vague, abstract or complex concepts in terms of more familiar experiences. The point is that the metaphor a person selects to frame a concept/experience necessarily focuses attention on some aspects while ignoring others.

If ideas are commodities, then they must be marketable. Focusing attention on this metaphor emphasizes how these ideas will be received (bought) by other people and whether they are saleable. This is very different from an orientation that holds ideas are plants. If ideas are plants, instead of rushing to get them out the door and to crank out as many as possible, ideas can be allowed to ripen and mature, to come to fruition. For the speaker who holds ideas are food, they are to be digested. Many ideas can then be tasted and tried. Ideas are to be consumed by that speaker.

In listening deeply we are able to note how the speaker who orients to holding ideas as commodities places value externally. A belief is expressed that value is in the eyes of the beholder (or buyer). Once we recognize this belief, we can check out whether this is true in other parts of life for this person. If his orientation is external, he places importance on how he is perceived. What behaviors would follow from this orientation? How would he assess others? Where would he find meaning? What role would self-image play in his life?

Returning to the conversation with my friends, I note that Joe, who holds his experience as a battle, may see his role as a general and his direct reports as his battalion. He is more likely to see his organization as a hierarchy than an opportunity for collaboration and to interpret requests of him as orders and to issue commands that are non-negotiable. What becomes important when listening deeply to Joe is checking whether this orientation holds for the rest of his life. If so, what is the cost to him to hold life this way? What is missing for him?

Karen, holding her project as a journey, comes to it with many questions, approaches her direct reports as fellow travelers and mapmakers. Together they are attempting to find the best route, knowing that there may be delays and that they may be sidetracked but that the pit stops may be as important/useful as the final destination. What can we learn about Karen’s behavior in the rest of her life? What challenges might she face when called upon to make executive decisions? Is she able to give compelling directions? What is the cost to her to hold life with this perspective?

Since metaphors are particularly useful, as they define roles, how the speaker sees himself and others, becomes clear to the listener. From here, an understanding of the speaker’s experience of the world emerges. Often, metaphors become an excellent predictor of the behavior the speaker will naturally assume. Knowing this, the deep listener can anticipate breakdowns.

When I worked with teachers, I heard many metaphors that disclosed the teacher’s orientation to his students. My classroom is a zoo, or my kids are really blossoming told me a great deal about how that teacher perceived of himself, his role, his students and education.

If a speaker sees himself as a gardener, his direct reports are plants to be cultivated. If he is a shepherd, they are sheep, unable to think for themselves. Furthermore, do these speakers think of their family members, friends and associates this way? What behavior would be predicated by these ways of orienting to others? To themselves?

We can begin to develop the competence of listening deeply by taking note of the metaphors we hear. We start with ourselves. Becoming aware of the metaphors we use, holding questions about the natural behavior that follows from this perspective and orientation, checking it out and anticipating breakdowns make the command, “listen deeply” indeed a powerful one – for ourselves and those with whom we wish to connect. And while listening deeply is a complex competence. Beginning to pay close attention to metaphors is a powerful way to begin.

Tracking Intimacy: Getting Close to Your Partner

Do your relationships feel stale? Are you wondering where intimacy is hibernating? Are you experiencing the “blahs” when you long to feel engaged, engrossed and connected? The sparkle may have fizzled or been stillborn. Now, your feelings of closeness may be hitchhiking towards the hills.

Unlike most skills, we are rarely taught how to communicate on a deep level. And in our busy lives, we often share the details of our days rather than the contents of our hearts. Intimacy is a habit that needs fostering like a good tennis serve or cleaning the trunk of the car. And the results are far more beneficial.

Start small. And start with yourself. (Its so easy to expect “the other” to be responsible for communication and connection.) Avoid setting up a “serious conversation”. Its almost guaranteed to build stress and cause avoidance. Be more forthcoming about your own feelings. Use phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Sometimes, I doubt whether I…” or “I’ve noticed I’m happiest when…”

State your feelings rather than your opinions on topics that are important. If what you’re saying includes the word “that,” hold back! Warning: most sentences of feeling that contain the word “that” – aren’t! They’re judgments! Use your smarts here. Think about it. Saying something like “I feel that she [or you)…” is not stating a feeling – its an opinion. That’s very different. Feelings words are words like: ashamed, embarrassed, sad, apprehensive, frightened, delighted, excited, nervous, serene, etc. Intimacy is built on feelings, not critiques. Watch how you express yours.

Ask questions about feelings too. “How do you feel about that?” is not the same as “What do you think about that?” Most of us express our thoughts far more readily and often than our feelings. Yet sharing what we feel is what connects us to another. When you’ve asked the question and your partner responds with, “I think…” listen carefully and try to focus on the feeling behind the thoughts. A gentle, “Umm, I get your thinking and am wondering how you  are feeling.” This takes practice – for both of you.

Remember, a deep breath is a good tool  to use before plunging in.  Also, it’s not helpful to criticize by pointing out what’s lacking when your partner shares. Taking in the words and the emotions you sense in much more helpful. And then, noticing what this evokes in you – your emotions and what arises in your body. Sharing that helps bring the conversations into the “Now” and away from history or projection of the future.  By far,  more useful are questions that bring  you both  to where you’ll be sharing on a more meaningful level what is true in this moment.

Practice courage. When you find yourself avoiding a topic, analyze why it’s hard to bring up. Ask yourself, “What concern, need, fear or desire is attached to this topic. What am I trying to avoid?” You may need to ask this question many times before the answers reaches you through whatever filters you’ve  creatde to bypass a difficult issue You may want to jot down the answers. The first ones may just begin to lead you down the trail to what is really at stake for you. Look closely at the thoughts that arise. When you can answer those question honestly you’re ready to bravely move forward. Know that successfully tackling these “hot buttons” builds confidence.

If the commitment to the relationship is bigger than the fear of the response you may  receive, the courage to tackle the difficult topics will appear! Make that a question you frequently ask yourself when you find yourself “just letting it go.’ Letting “it” go rarely is. Most often it is shutting a part of yourself down.

There’s a sad truth about hot buttons. Usually the topics we avoid are those that need airing most. When you’re clear on what makes a particular issue a “hot button” topic, take a deep breath. Develop an “I” statement to open the dialogue. “I” statements avoid blame. They are statements over which we take responsibility rather than point a finger. “I feel frightened when weeks go by without cuddling,” or “I felt secure when you told your parents we couldn’t visit until my big project was over,” are examples of “I” statements. They open a meaningful conversation and invite sharing.

Be realistic. You can only work on your end of the relationship. And that takes practice, a sense of humor and courage. Like any skill executed with style and confidence, practice and realistic expectations are the main ingredients. And when you fumble, laugh at yourself. Failure is only feedback on how to succeed next time.

When working on creating connection, remember to start small, start with yourself, be ready to laugh at yourself. Develop courage, be realistic and be patient. And try and try again. The result is strong cement that binds you with the human race, one person at a time.

Dancing in the Dark (Part One)

Dancing in the Dark
(Part One)

In our living, there’s a dance partner we’ve often ignored, or worse.  Sometimes, we’ve attempted annihilating this partner. Certainly, we’ve confined it to the dark (often called the unconscious).  This partner goes by many names. Here, we’ll call the part of ourselves we’ve discounted, hated or ignored, our shadow. It is our unlived life.

Our shadow is the part of our self, which is incompatible with who we take our self to be.  Frequently, “shadow” is narrowly interpreted to mean those “negative” parts of ourselves we hope never come to light – the parts around which we feel shame, guilt or regret. Actually, any part of ourselves we refuse to bring forward, our brilliance or generosity for instance, or our innocence or vulnerability – any part that we do not wish to see, or acknowledge becomes our shadow.

Roger Housden says in introducing  Risking Everything

“…Yet it is precisely the crack in our lives that can let the light pour through. We do not spring from life perfectly formed. We each have our fault lines, and it is not by turning away from them that life suddenly takes on its full glory. No, I believe that we come to our fullness not in spite of our darkness, but in the embrace of it.”

When we do not see parts of ourselves, we cannot integrate them. Worse, we cannot release the creative energy trapped there.  Our failure to integrate these parts limits our vitality and power. This shadow partner then controls the dance by limiting our steps, holding us back, even shouting, “No,” as we attempt new moves.

Last night, as I was sleeping
I dreamt – marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.”

– Antonio Machado

When our shadow keeps us from stepping onto the dance floor or moving freely, creatively, constraint, stiffness step in.  Unable to live fully into all of ourselves, our authenticity suffers.  We then have to devise strategies to compensate for the moves we cannot make. Our potential for creativity and inner power is diminished.

How can we move towards being fully ourselves?  How can we integrate our shadow- often wily, usually mysterious, sometimes fiercely tenacious? Can we embrace all of ourselves? What does it take to move freely and creatively in our lives?

This process is symphonic – having several movements infused with reoccurring themes. To begin we must notice when and to what we have strong reactions.  Both strong positive and negative reactions hold clues.  While unable to look into the depths of our own shadow, we often see it reflected outside of ourselves, in others.

When our response to others is strong, we have an opportunity to investigate what about them “triggers” us.  Whether our response is positive or negative, it is useful to
extrapolate the qualities that we notice when we are galvanized by another..

Listing these, checking them out carefully and then using our list to find these qualities in ourselves is a useful first step in shedding some light on our shadowy dance partner.

In coaching we often speak of the need to be open and curious. Curiosity allows engagement, dynamic interest, movement towards lightheartedness. .Joy.discovery, openness -an awake state – exuberance. and  Innocence are present in curiosity. We are inherently experimental and playful as infants – ready to “taste” the world.  Curiosity brings forward our potential which transforms into “hope”. It is a movement towards freedom.

Our assumption, as coaches,  is that we are curious when we ask questions.  On one level this is true, yet curiosity is a much deeper inclination and often illuminates some part of our shadow.

What are we not curious about? What questions will we refrain from asking? And beyond the asking of questions, where does curiosity lead us? Can we feel the exhilaration of it arising or is the questioning mechanical, stilted?  How willing are we try new practices with clients? Or devise fresh self-observations? Do we do our own inquiry? How often will we continue to read something that at first doesn’t appeal to us?  Are we willing to attend a training in an area that doesn’t light us up?

When we have blind spots around our curiosity, there are subjects we avoid entering into fully – for ourselves and with clients. Sometimes this happens because “we already know” – that is we make assumptions from a very limited sampling or insufficient evidence.  Or, we touch into a topic that brings up strong somatic resistance and so we deal with it superficially –  blind to the fact  that we are shutting down an  important vein of inquiry.

The shadow side of curiosity can show up around issues of money, abuse, pleasure, relationships, rage, eating habits, child rearing, power or any of life’s intricate events. For each of us, it develops out of our own unique experience.  Yet, to fully serve our clients, we need to bring light to bear on the very dark side of our limited curiosity.

The issue is further complicated by how we hold curiosity. Is it solely a cognitive experience, a sort of intellectual inquisitiveness?  For many of us acculturated into intellectual curiosity, it remains at that level. We disown sensual curiosity, not willing to engage with textures, scents, sensations or tastes, perhaps.

When we get really curious about the emotional responses that arise in us, when we are listening deeply, or when  we develop enough curiosity for a nuanced understanding of how we are reacting to our client’s narrative, we are experiencing emotional curiosity. Can we hold strong emotions – our own and that of others? Or do we avoid certain emotions, shutting down the curiosity of our hearts? When we become skillful in staying curious about our feelings, we serve both the client and ourselves.

(to be continued)