Meetings

How is it going with your meetings? Really, another one? Is anything really going to get done? Is this a waste of my time? I have too much to do to attend another meeting!!

Sound familiar? To be clear, there are many meetings that go well and have a lot of value, and the opposite seems too often to be many people’s experience. An effective, efficient meeting is a set of skills. There are skills of the team leader and skills of participants, and there are many possible breakdowns in meetings. One of the most prevalent is that the nature or purpose of a meeting gets mixed and off topic with things left unfinished. There are numerous ways to name types of meetings. What we offer here is not “the” way, but “a” way that supports keeping things simple and clear. We recognize that there are specialize meetings for distinct purposes like a sales meeting, and specialized meeting will fall into one of these categories.

Here is our list of types of meetings and their purpose:

Innovation/Brainstorming Meetings

The purpose of these meeting is to discuss ideas and possibilities and for brainstorming. This is not where actions are directed or request or offers are made but they allow the flow of the widest range of possibilities. Some people are better at this than others, so knowing who is good at this on a team has value. It is also important to hear all voices, as it is clear it is easier for some to speak up in meetings than for others, and it becomes the responsibility of the team leader to allow all voices to be heard. It is not unusual for the quiet voices to have very creative and valuable ideas.

Planning/Action Meetings

These meeting are designed to assign actions, to make request, to make offers, and to make commitments. How this is done is vital as this part is the gears and mechanisms to get work done. Questions will arise to clarity, accountability, and trust.

First, clarity. When assigning actions or making request or offers, are the expectations clear? What does success look like? When receiving request, are you clear about what is being asked of you? Do you have a clear timeline, a clear by-when results are needed? For this to work well, there must be permission to ask for clarity of the request or offer, for it to be OK to counter-offer; basically, to negotiate what we call the “conditions of satisfaction.” It becomes important to be able to speak up, to have permission to decline, and to able to receive a decline. As an organization, declining has value and will impact over-work and over-promising which very often leads to lower quality of work.

The skill of being accountable and holding others accountable is one of the leading breakdowns in organizations. It is about making realistic promises and a commitment to fulfilling one’s promise. One possible reorientation is that the promise is not about the task, it is about making a commitment to a person, it is about building a relationship. Fulfilling promises and commitments on time builds trust.

Status/Update

This is when updates and current status conversations regarding projects and outstanding promises and commitments happen. Individuals are reporting, that is the overall purpose here. Per design, that is, by choice of the team and/or the team leader, this time could also be used for making requests and offers related to the report, declaring breakdowns (such as not meeting a timeline), complaining for action, or hearing questions or comments from the team. It becomes even more important to have attention on “straying” in the conversation. Items can always be tabled for later or for the appropriate kind of meeting. If a shift in the function of a meeting takes place, it is important that this is openly declared.

Process/Assessment Meetings

Breakdowns happen, we are human, and we make mistakes. How we handle our breakdowns and team breakdowns will make an immense difference in the overall mood of the team. Process and assessment meetings are not just about the mistakes, more likely they will be around the fallout. What incomplete or unspoken conversations or behaviors are not being discussed? Elephant in the room? Maybe a herd? The team supports clearing the air, not holding “stuff” with other people or processes. Assessments are offered with explicit grounding. The assessment is the interpretation of the event where we will express things like value or aesthetics and are never true or false, never right, or wrong. They are interpretations, opinions, verdicts, or judgements.

These meetings can be difficult for participants which is one of the reasons they are often delayed, or the necessity ignored. I have been in a number of these types of meetings, and are they difficult? Yes, but the outcome of clearing the air and being upfront, authentic, and honest with each other (in a good way) produces a relaxed and open atmosphere within which to work.

What can go wrong in meetings?

Straying off topic is one of the bigger breakdowns in meetings and can produce the feeling that meetings are a waste of time. Another breakdown is the loud voice gets all the attention. This is chronic in some organizations. I worked for someone once who could easily be attracted to high energy, and their listening would lean towards that person at the expense of listening to others. The result was a series of not so good decisions. What becomes useful is to limit how much any one person gets to express their views and to be sure the quieter people are asked their point of view.

These are mostly team leader skills. First to notice, then to reorient to the appropriate conversation. There is always the choice to stay on the straying conversation if deemed relevant, timely, and important to the function of the team.

Diverse Meetings in One Meeting

This is common and has value. What makes this work well is to clearly declare the shift in the type of meeting that is currently happening so everyone knows the terrain being crossed. What might begin as a brainstorming session, once complete, can easily and appropriately be shifted into an action meeting. The important thing is to name the change to allow participants to reorganize themselves from one way of being to another.

Recognizing Differences

The context I am speaking into here is about the relationship people have to their energetic self. Some people are great at getting ideas immediately, what I call “awakening” energy, and others take more time and are “processers.” The processer may not have an immediate response, but given time, their ideas are as good, sometimes better than the awakeners.

When these elements of teams and meetings are practiced, the outcomes I have seen and experienced has meetings be 30% to 50% shorter, and much more gets completed. In the best case, these practices have a shared agreement within the team, and there is a team commitment to the practices.

Self-Management

Do you ever find yourself musing, “I do this thing, I know I do it, I don’t want to do it, and I keep doing it anyway!” In the worst of times, we can find ourselves running on automatic and acting in ways that don’t further our lives or enrich others. In the best of times, our excellent Self will lead the way.

Self-management is the first and most important step when wanting to make changes in our life both personally and professionally. Our humanness demands that we create a “personality” with which to interact with the world. This construct is formed by multiple influences including but not limited to our primary family, the community we grow up in, the institutions we take part in, the historical forces and social context we swim in, and our relationship to “the big energy.” All the influences of this are put on us and happens mostly out of our control.

The part of our life that can be most affected by this shaping is what happens to us under pressure and stress. For some, this is where they shine, and shinning is more rare than being triggered into an automatic-ness of disappearing, fighting back, or acquiescing, and will most likely not be pretty. This moment is when we lose connection to ourselves and other and at the least, we will compromise ourselves, and at the worst it is possible to harm others. Lack of skill here, the skill being the developed ability of self-management, can be very harmful to team dynamics.
When there is a lack of self-control, a disrespect of other points of view and the absence of empathy and compassion, we lose our humanness and begin to see other as object. This will ultimately tear down a team.

One of the impacts of being part of teams that meet virtually, is the difficulty of the lack of human, in-person interaction. This is due in partly because of the venue – virtual – and partly due to lack of skill. High performance teams embody the skill of self-management, and blend together with curiosity, compassion, and dignity.

How We Became Who We Are – Shaping

The immediate “needs” of all of us are present at birth. These needs, referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are naming as Connection/Affection, Belonging, Safety, and being valued or Dignity. These needs are so fundamental to us that we begin to develop our “personality” related to getting these needs met.

The body physically shapes related to our life experiences and getting our needs met in a process called armoring. For example: Consider a scenario in a family where children should be seen and not heard. At times, when the kids get a bit rambunctious, one of both parents get emotional and angry, often with consequences. One of the younger siblings is a target for the others when they get too excited. In other words, when passion and aliveness are expressed, they are marginalized or not safe, or both. A couple of things can happen. In reaction to all this, one can become louder, more demanding. This loudness gets attention, so at least there is attention even if not the best kind. Or, for safety reasons, better to get small and invisible. The former shape could be something like chin up, chest out in a defensive shape, voice loud, taking up too much space. Or the latter shape is somewhat slumped and quiet holding life’s energy tight.

We will all take the shape of our experiences, both positive and not so positive. Look at a group of adults and you will see all different shapes, not tall or short or wide or narrow, but rather how the head sits on the shoulders, is the pelvis recessed or pushed forward, what is the set of the face?

Conditioned Tendency

This term was inspired by Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler and relates to the embodied practice we developed in reaction to stress and pressure. Karen Horney suggests these three ways we might react: move away, move towards, or move against. This reaction moves on the instinctual level within us, faster than we can think, making it very difficult to interrupt or stop.

World Class Team Culture

Determining and defining a team culture is the ground upon which the team operates. I have worked with organizations and teams with no defined culture, no rules by which to play the game. Very often team members will then make up the rules which more than likely will be different for different people. Consistency serves, everyone plays by the same rules, no exceptions, and when there is alignment with the values of an organization great things can happen. Every person is different when it comes to, “playing by the rules.” Some will defy the rules, other acquiesce to their detriment, others play with dignity and integrity. Humans appreciate just enough structure, but left on its own, a culture will organize itself which often does not a pretty outcome.

Let’s think about this is a different way. Coming from the belief that a well-grounded culture is not just useful, but necessary, how can this be done? One way is to consider that a defined culture is a set of practices a group of people commit to embodying, and is revealed by day-to-day activities, behaviors and habits, and interactions with other team members. It is the aligned practices of effective coordination. The ground is always about holding the integrity and dignity of oneself, each other, and the organization. Who gets to decide the practices? The team leader or team members names the game, and there is always an openness to assessments about the cultural practices made by team members that can increase the value and effectiveness of the team. This is a component of a world class team, part of cultural practices: there is always not just permission or invitation, but a responsibility to speak up when relevant, useful, or necessary.

What is a practice. As used here, a practice is a commitment to a recurrent action. People have writing practices, music practices, fitness practices, dance practices, practices in so many domains in life. Some examples of cultural practices for teams:

• Be kind, be polite
• Be honest and authentic
• Live dignity and integrity
• All actions build trust
• Make promises and commitments – be accountable, hold others accountable
• Make effective request and offers
• Willingness to admit mistakes
• Everyone is responsible for the success of the team
• Provide grounded assessments where useful or necessary

Not everyone is naturally good at all these things. We could say the above list is a set of skills to be practiced and embodied, and for some, personal development can be very valuable. When a team begins to embody these skills, individual engagement increases, effectiveness increases, bottom line increases, do-overs are deceased substantially, meeting are shorter, quality of work is improved – the list goes on. It’s not about perfection, mistakes will be made.

An effective, defined, and embodied culture allows all players to play their best game.

Common Sense

“The basic level of practical knowledge and judgment.”

Where the heck did it go? I look around and it seems that common sense has left the building. I’ve been looking around for it and this is what I’ve found.

Common sense is a skill. We get trained, or not, in common sense, and this happens on many levels through our development. How was common sense being practiced while growing up? What was happening in the primary family? Whatever configuration you experienced, common sense was revealed to you in how it was being practiced around you. We have several possible responses to experiences: inherit, learn, and/or rebel.

We partially inherit the selves we are closest to growing up. Attitudes get absorbed, generational wounds seep in, and behaviors are adopted. When a pattern fills a basic need, we are attracted to that pattern. The culture, communities, institutions and social norms are the soup we swim in and become ingrained through a kind of osmosis. Through these things and some other factors, our own practice of common sense is formed.

It seems those having experienced hardships in life often come away with a better common sense. Sometimes it takes those kinds of occurences to beat a little sense into us. And that’s part of what happens. If we are paying attention, we will learn something, gain some sense. Other’s lives see little hardship, but this doesn’t mean no common sense. There are too many variables to be definitive.

The best practice related to common sense is to PAY ATTENTION! When the majority of our attention is inward, we just miss what’s going on around us. Assessing our situation has value. Not obsessive assessing, practical assessing. This means we look for proof, we ground our assessments and act accordingly. We don’t just accept things at face value or just because it fits into a scheme of what we want to be true.

When we feel the possibility for a response or action move in us, it becomes easier to trust that feeling through embodying the combination of paying attention, practical assessing, and past experiences. Like anything else, this requires practice, but “right practice.” What do I want to stop doing? What do I want to start doing? How do I interrupt a deep, old, well-practiced pattern?

There is no switch to flip to make this happen. It takes a good common sense approach to long term change.

Uncertainty

Yes, uncertainty! We are so in it right now as almost never before in our lifetimes. As a kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, we lived through “duck and cover.” For those too young to remember, it was a cold war response to the possibility of a nuclear war, with every building that had a basement was adorned with a fallout shelter sign. I was too young to understand what it was all about, I just remember repeatedly practicing jumping under our desk at school and covering our heads. Like a lot of good that would have done!

So, it’s a different duck and cover now, and the uncertainty of these days affects us all. Some people are good with uncertainty and can navigate well through it. Most people remain in a state of freaked out. What happens to us in that state for a prolonged period of time? Well, to say the least, it’s not healthy. The point of this article is, “What do we do with it?”

 

One of my favorite quotes is, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl. This is extremely relevant for this time. We can all vote, this is an action we can take, and taking action is one of the cures for these times. The best action to take is what we do internally with ourselves. We have all heard of people in extreme life situations that maintain an amazingly optimistic and positive outlook in the face of what is affecting them. Easy for some, difficult for others.

When we lose our ground, be it through uncertainty, or fear, or the unknown, we have only our “self” to count on. Our individual historical shaping will determine our automatic response in this domain. So, it becomes relevant to understand our history and the “truth” that it thrust upon us. Our history is an interpretation of experiences based on getting our basic human needs met. It is not a truth. Every moment of our present experience is our truth, not our reaction or interpretation of it. In the moment we can self-correct, re-center, and re-ground ourselves into that “self” we want to be. This is a practice. We can practice reshaping ourselves into a positive, optimistic, life-affirming way of being, not once, but recurrently, moment to moment. Reshaping is the key. Moods of resignation, anxiety, shame, resentment, and frustration have a physical shape, as do moods of confidence, calm, pride, acceptance, and joy. If we can adhere to the notion that the body and self are indistinguishable, reshaping the body is reshaping the self. I have been using this practice supporting people in their lives for the past 25 years and it works. Practice these shapes: confidence, calm, pride, acceptance, and joy, and see what it offers you. It is not just a one-time practice, use it recurrently through your day and see the difference it can make.

So get out there and shape yourself into who and how you really want to be! This is the best support you will find in these times of uncertainty.

Personal Choice = Freedom

Behavioral choice is Freedom. Freedom of full expression of the essential self, that who we are destined to be in the world. Choosing to serve in one’s own unique way, choosing kindness over meanness, choosing to listen to how my body/self/intelligence is informing me, and listening to the deepest longing and urges and having the skill to move them forward is the best case outcome from doing our own personal work. The ability to choose who I am and how I act in the moment sets one’s soul free to be fully expressed.

 

How much choice do we really have? Has my fate and destiny already scripted my future? I choose to believe we have a combination of free will and destiny. But today let’s talk about choice.

Humans are historical animals. That is, we are the sum of all of our experiences up until this moment. Unexamined, our history will rule our behavior though a series of embodied habits and behaviors related to having our basic needs met throughout our childhood and beyond.  And even though our basic template of self will follow us throughout our life, we can make very big, fundamental shifts about who we are and what we embody.

One way to think about coaching: What if I can stop doing that thing I don’t want to do, that I know I do, and that I can’t stop doing? Ah, how refreshing that would be! So much more satisfying, feels so free! How can this happen? Through somatic coaching (and many other styles and structures), one becomes aware of what it is they are doing and how it is being done. Using this awareness and with a practice of interrupting old patterns and narratives with new stories and new practices, one can, over time, be different. Now, when an old automatic tendency shows up, there is a moment of centering around another possibility. One chooses to act differently; one chooses to be a different self. This also opens the possibility of a practice of deep listening, often obscured by historical clutter, which now has a stronger, clearer voice. All of this takes time and practice, there are no quick fixes altering fundamental patterns of behavior. One has to be committed to new practices over time.

What Is Ecosomatic

Welcome to my Ecosomatic blog. It seems appropriate I begin with a definition and explanation of the word “ecosomatic”, as that is the descriptive term I am using as the methodology for my transformative coaching work. I could also say it is the background conversation for how I see people I work with. Ecosomatic has everything to do with aliveness. I feel that some of the most important work for us in the modern world is to reconnect to the natural world, and for many if not most, this begins with a depthful connection to ourselves. So here we go:

Ecosomatic – The intersection and coupling of Deep Ecology and Somatics

Deep Ecology – “The foundations of deep ecology are the basic intuitions and experiencing of ourselves and Nature which comprise ecological conscience.” Deep Ecology-Bill Devall, George Sessions

The first principle of deep ecology put forth by George Sessions and Arne Naess (1985) relates directly to an ecosomatic approach to transformation:

The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human Life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are also values unto themselves.

Somatics – The human living body in its fullness. This fullness includes: cognitive, narratives, stories; moods and emotions, a felt sense of; life, energy, sensation, awareness.

The principles of an embodied somatic life has humans living generatively within themselves, within families and communities, with environmental and social justice a living and breathing reality. (Paraphrased from the work of Richard Strozzi-Heckler)

Hazda Woman

Hazda Woman – Tanzania

There was a time in human history when all humans lived in full relationship with the natural world. We not only lived in this relationship, but recognized our place and role as stewards and caretakers of the life that surrounds us. There are still a few places left on the planet where this survives – deep in the jungle, deep in the African bush, and pockets of the revival of very old indigenous ways in the modern world. There was a knowing and necessity to take care of all life. The embodied wisdom was that when we thrive, we all thrive; when we suffer, we all suffer. As a standard this has been to an overwhelmingly great extent, lost. This separation and disconnect of humans from the natural world began thousands of years ago. There is no distinct moment or event we can point to be able to say “This is when it started”, as there seems to be a very gradual beginning with an acceleration in the last 500 years. Upon close inspection there looks to be a direct relationship to the lost of our embodiment of the natural world and the beginnings and growing of human civilization.

One way to approach scrutinizing civilization is that it fits the needs and breakdowns of the times. As larger and larger groups of people began to live together existing forms of relationships, behaviors, beliefs, land use, tribal boundries, war, and taboos had to change to ensure our safety and survival (food) of the populations. (I will be delving more deeply in this transformation and separation in future postings)

What this separation from the natural world has produced is what may be termed “the ills of the modern world”: pollution, scarcity of water, alteration and destruction of the natural world, brutalization and oppression of certain groups of people, an epidemic of self-loathing, self-destruction, distrust of ourselves and others. At the same time, humans have achieved the miraculous in the fields of technology and medicine. We live longer, our lives are more comfortable, we live in more peace and safety – oh, but wait – not all of us. Not all humans on the planet are served by the miraculous. Upon closer inspection, it appears the miraculous arrives on the shoulders of those who don’t live in it.

Ecosomatic transformation is an approach that includes the principles of deep ecology, combined with the somatic process of embodied change to produce satisfaction and fulfillment in individuals, couples, families, communities and organizations. It reconnects us to the nature that we all are. It asks that we live in accordance to values that regard all life as sacred to assist in living as balanced, generative humans in a balanced generative world.

In future blogs I will be exploring the history of our separation from the natural world, deep humanity, what it is to live an Integrated Self, with purpose and fulfillment, generativity, reciprocity, and the necessity of fun and play. I invite your questions and comments.