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Trust, partnership and movement-building

Fist to FistI’ve been working with a few organizational clients recently who are struggling to perform at their individual and collective best, due to deeper issues with trust. When people don’t trust one another, collaboration, quite simply, simply takes longer. Or doesn’t occur at all.  Without trust, people are less likely to assume good intentions, to the point where they might even approach each interaction ‘pre-loaded’ to assume the worst in others – and it can take extensive time and energy to unpack and adjust those assumptions.  High levels of trust, on the other hand, allow individuals and groups to move quickly during periods of stress or rapid change, without wasting energy on speculation, translation or missed signals.   As the Center for Social Transformation’s Director Jodie Tonita explains, the same dynamics play out at the movement level.  Read her excellent article on the role of trust in movements for social change. She explains why trust is key for effective collaboration, and how to intentionally cultivate trust among individuals and organizations. http://bit.ly/yes-trust

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Filed under Ideas, Organizational Development, transformational leadership, Uncategorized

Senior job posting: VP, Leadership Development, Banff Center for the Arts

ThBanff Center in Canada is “the worlds largest arts and creativity incubator on the planet”, and they are looking for a new VP of Leadership Development. Banff is definitely one of the world’s most spectacular mountain paradises in which to work,  play and learn …  Click here for more info.

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Your brain on stories

brain-iStock_000004321955XSmallWhy are some stories ‘stickier’ than others?  I pondered the question while I sat at my desk, sipping the steaming hot Nicaraguan coffee we brought back from holiday a few weeks ago. My puppy’s fuzzy black head rested heavily on my bare foot, and I was getting ready for a conference call, when my colleague Nina forwarded this wonderful post about story-telling and the senses.  Serendipity!  When communications strategist and writer Nina Winham and I taught a session on communicating sustainability last year, I pushed our participants to tell stories that didn’t just have a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, but more importantly, activated the senses. “Describe the setting”, I urged; “the light, the temperature, the atmosphere. Who was there?  What did they look like? What were they doing?  How did it feel, to be there?  Were there any scents in the air? Sounds”?

According to an emerging body of research in the neurosciences, stories that activate the senses – sight, sound, smells, and touch – literally activate those same sensory regions of the brain in both listeners/readers and story-tellers.  That’s why, in advocacy communications, there’s such a vast difference between communicating the meaning of something (“our aging communities deserve  better access to health care”) versus leading with stories that paint pictures in the listener’s minds (“yesterday my 83 year old mother clutched her throbbing, broken right wrist for six hours as we waited for a doctor’s care in the jam-packed emergency room at St. Vince’s hospital…”).   Check out this powerful infographic that shows how specific regions of the brain ‘light up’ when presented with sensory-loaded story-telling. By activating the senses through our words, we are putting the listener in the picture – almost literally putting them in the center of their own story. When it comes to effective stories, whether it’s a quick aside or mention of just one sensory quality (“it was a sunny Spring morning”) or a more complex narrative, every sense counts.

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Filed under Communications, Ideas, Message Development, Public Speaking, Tips & Tools, Uncategorized

Leadership, conflict resolution & “Process Work”: Upcoming workshop

Interested in building your skills around conflict resolution, leadership and organizational effectiveness?  From January 14 – 16, 2011, veteran trainer and coach Dr. Stephen Schuitevoerder, President of Portland’s Process Work Institute, is coming up to Vancouver to  offer a unique seminar focused on leadership and a deeply compelling approach to group conflict called “Process Work”.  The workshop is called “Organizational Excellence: The Cultivation of Effective Leadership.” It promises to offer a highly experiential approach to skill development around leadership, organizational health and group conflict.

I’m particularly drawn to and curious about Process Work, or “World Work”,  because of it’s deep focus on the potential  for social transformation through conflict and group dysfunction, combined with its analysis of power and privilege.

My interest was particularly sparked this past Spring, when I received some startling confidential feedback on a confidential participant survey after I co-facilitated a 4-day leadership training. This one participant suggested that I am conflict averse. Me??!! Conflict averse?! I’m a skilled facilitator, dammit – I’m great with conflict!  I stood up, outraged, glaring at the computer. But after huffing indignantly for a few moments… well, I noticed that I’d been huffing indignantly for a few minutes.  That’s a sure sign that something hit home, right?

So, after calming down, and gently setting aside my Inner Xena for a few moments, I realized that indeed, there have been cases where I, as a facilitator, have squirmed uncomfortably when a group is in the throes of a heated conflict – especially when some of that heat is cast in my direction.  Those moments can be both terrifying AND present enormous opportunities for growth and learning (I’m not just saying that, I swear). And it got me thinking more deeply about how we may respond differently to different kinds and layers of  conflict – and how committed I am to continually building my ease and comfort with “sitting in the fire” of conflict, whether it’s about facilitating a challenging conversation about race and privilege, or getting our kids to pitch in more proactively around housework.  I do believe that conflict, held with skill and positive intent, is essential for social change. As James Surowiecki lays out so compellingly in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds,  mixed groups of people with different backgrounds, skills and points of view are vastly more intelligent, collectively , than homogenous groups of like-minded people.  The challenges we humans have created for ourselves are so complex and multi-layered that monolithic group-think is potentially disastrous. AND… diverse viewpoints in a group context often lead to conflict. Handled with skill, conflict can be immensely useful, healthy and productive. Handled poorly, it can lead to subtle and overt forms of violence and undermine key relationships in seconds.

Process or World Work may offer the kind of self-reflective training and analysis of social transformation, power and privilege I am presently hungry for in my own development as a facilitator and coach.  My first exploration began this past June, at a facilitator’s training workshop on Deep Democracy and Process Work offered by Julie Diamond and Gary Reiss, also of the Process Work Institute. This coming workshop in January promises to be similarly self-reflective and experiential.

If you want to read more about Process Work or World Work, here are a couple of books that were highly recommended to me:

To register for “Organizational Excellence: The Cultivation of Effective Leadership“, January 14-16, 2011 in Vancouver, contact pamschmidt1@gmail.com.

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Filed under Facilitation, Leadership, Organizational Development, Uncategorized