Category Archives: Communication

Things Are A Little Bit Crazy

Just a couple weeks ago,  I woke to a haze of smoke that blanketed my town of Whitefish.  For weeks we have been hearing about fires – to the south of us – to the north of us.  Yes, we have had days of smokey skies and very poor air quality. Then, suddenly everything started moving closer.  Parts of Glacier National Park and Lake MacDonald Lodge were be evacuated! That’s close!

Next our little town and Flathead Valley faced a school closure due to the threat of an attack on people’s children.  Apparently due to a cyberattack of some sort that resulted and parents and children getting very graphic and threatening messages.  After three days of school closures, games and events being canceled there still isn’t certainty as to where the threat was coming from.

This is just what has been happening in Whitefish – I haven’t even mentioned reading the national news headlines!

Damn – I say – this is crazy!!  Floods, hurricanes – fires and mother earth’s fury – plus crazy stuff like cyberattacks, white supremest and a President who regularly sends out insane tweets, talks smack and threats at the UN, really?!

What is happening?  Chaos and what can seem like a definite message to stop, pause and ….. wait for it…

PLAY!

Yes, I bet you didn’t think that was coming.

But really – I wonder if a little more play, joy and pleasure wouldn’t be the best remedy for us all.

I get it.  Life as we know it is spooking us!

We could wrestle with the reality or not – of climate change.  We could fight about healthcare, building walls or disarming North Korea.  But really wrestling with any one of these big issues s with the intent to determine right and wrong – seems like it just ain’t working.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in climate change.  I think we owe Mother Earth a major shift in our attitude and actions, but I’m not into proving that point.  I will recycle.  Ride my bike when I can. I participate and vote for measures that support recycling, science and alternative energy!

I also don’t intend to stop speaking up when I think someone is being a bully – making statements that seem cruel, mean or frankly racist, sexist or just ignorant!  But I am not interested in fighting about it.

Instead, I think our best path is to play.

Over and over in nature, there are signs that when under attack – especially a vicious attack – the best answer is to engage in play.

Stuart Brown did a Ted Talk on this very message.  One piece was a video clip of a hungry polar bear coming for lunch where there were sled dog huskies chained up.  Those huskies knew they were going to be the polar bear’s lunch, but what happened instead was amazing. One female husky did a classic play bow and the polar bear’s whole being shifted.  Instead of a meal the two had a play date!  Now the polar bear makes an annual trip to play with the pups!

I know, when you are feeling under attack or you are facing threat and fear – the last thing that comes naturally is to rollover and play.

But maybe we need to get back in touch with our joy, our innocence and remember play can be just as important and life changing as any work, spiritual seeking or political activism.

What can you do to add a little play and joy to your day?  How can you invite and encourage others to join in!

Don’t leave you work behind just add more play into your day and notice the results.  Let me know how it goes!

P.S. Need some help playing, give me a call. I’m happy to help.

 

 

 

Learning About Leadership From Horses

I love watching a herd of horses. There is so much going on and yet it can all seem so subtle.


Today, I sat and watched a herd of geldings for thirty or forty minutes. There were 15 in the herd. Their space had recently been downsized due to a need to seed an area for future use.

Thirteen of the horses were gathered in relatively small area. Most were standing with their front legs locked and shifting the weight on their back legs. They almost seemed asleep, were it not for the flick of a ear, usually directed at me. Yes, they knew I was watching as soon as I had moved towards the pasture.

I settled and took in the larger scene. Two of the geldings were off from the herd, grazing. Their ears were also trained on my position. It is amazing how subtle and keenly perceptive horses are to any movement in their environment.

When I first started watching horses I would hardly notice the little movements. Now, I was getting much better at picking up when one of the horse would make a very small shift backwards, pushing the horse behind him ever so slightly. Today, I could see that the signal was not at all subtle to the horse receiving it.

Pretty much everything about the arrangement was an intricate communication network where there were clear lines of dominance and order. Where boundaries were being set with minuscule gestures and smaller connections were well established even if undetected by the my human eye.

I realized as I was watching, I was learning a great deal about leadership. I have often thought of leadership in terms of dominance, who had the loudest gestures or offered the loftiest vision. We as humans tend to think of leadership in those terms.

But really leadership has a lot more to do with who amongst us is really the calmest, clearest and most embodied. In a herd of horses, there may be a dominate horse but that has little to do with the leader. No the leader in a herd of horses, is the horse that is calmest, and most embodied. It may not always be the same horse, in today’s gathering there was one gelding that stood slightly away from larger group between the cluster and the two grazers. If any of the others, made a slight move in his direction, his tail would swish and the advancing horse would move back. Nothing big, nothing loud, just clear. This horse was in many ways the most settled and defined – not through dominance – but just presence and space. I knew he was the one who would pick up any signal that truly needed the herd’s attention and would ignore any other type of intrusion.

Leadership can seem almost boring when watching these horses until my eyes adjust and I begin to see just how incredibly advanced and intricate the interplay and communication has become.

In the world of horses, leadership is about safety and living well together. It’s about ensuring that each member has a place and contributes. It’s about each member being able to express needs, desires and getting clear signals about what works and what doesn’t. It’s about making sure that when one horse is resting, other’s are aware and watching.

We could learn so much about leadership through observing and watching how horses and other pack animals communicate and live together.

Yet, for the most part we don’t. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if leadership wasn’t about who is dominate – but instead about who is calmest, clearest and is able to notice when real danger is afoot. Imagine a leader like that. Wouldn’t that be great!

 

 

Doggy Facebook

sooke“World’s most awesome stick – take a right at the tree near the skunk trail – left it there for you!” – Dusty

“Long time – no word – you doing okay? Leave a trace – miss the chase!” – Nico

“Don’t even think of taking my treasure – deer bone is MINE!!” – anon

I am fairly certain now that this is what totally slows Sooke, my wonder dog, down when we are heading into the woods for a run.  She has to check Doggy Facebook.  The first 50 feet of trail are just like 6PM on Facebook.  Every dog has left some sort of post with details of their canine experience. Usually, once past the initial trail head, she settles in for the jog.  However, like my friends, she is not able to stay off Facebook for long.  I imagine much like the sound of an incoming new Facebook post on my cell phone, Sooke gets a strong hit of a recent doggy post through her nose, and off she goes. First, she checks out the latest news and then finds any reported treasures.

Sooke, unlike me, seems to enjoy posting as much as she does following her friends.  I have no doubt her frequent stops have less to do with need to relieve herself and much more to do with passing on important information to the rest of the canine world that frequents our woods.

I have never really given it much thought until I began to compare her need for gathering information and passing on her own personal notes, to my own current interest and experiences on Facebook.  I realize that dogs have been facebook’ing much longer than their human counterparts.  It’s clear that animals, and especially dogs, thrive on incoming input from their buddies, posting seems to be their way of life.

Often CrisMarie is bugging me to get off Facebook to chat with her or fix dinner.  I am thinking it really is no different than when I am yelling for Sooke to catch up.

“I want to run – hurry up, Sooke!”

“I want to post – you’ll have to wait!” – screams Sooke!

Facebook has definitely taken over the world and it seems the woods as well!

I Remember. Come Alive, Rocks!

I just finally watched the new Come Alive video on The Haven website. I thought it was awesome. I wanted to find a way to share it with everyone who has ever asked me, “What is it you do at The Haven?”

Yes, I have taken the Come Alive journey many times. Twice as a participant and countless times as a leader during the last twenty two years.

I still remember my first Come Alive. I came with my sister, Penny. I thought I was dying. I had been given three months to live. My doctors were not too happy when I announced I was going across the country to take a five day program called Come Alive. They thought that was a waste. Of course, for me, I had nothing to loss. So I went.

I believe those five days turned my life around. I was so inspired by the leaders – their caring – their open, honest way of being with people. They were not trying to fix me or others, but simply listening, supporting and modeling vulnerability, curiosity and faith. I wanted what I was witnessing. I wanted that more than I wanted to cure cancer. I wanted to learn to relate with that level of authenticity and alive-ness even if it only lasted three months.

I was encouraged to breathe every day. Jock was often dropping by to offer acupuncture. His visits were short, frequent and just the right amount for me to gradually open up to what was happening. I witnessed people sharing a depth of feeling and vulnerability I had never seen before. Of course, I had moments where I totally doubted the process, even got angry about the fact that I was just getting this now with only a short time to live. The beauty of the program was that I traveled to so many places through listening to different stories than my own and never once thought I had to change or be different. I was simply invited to be me and to be curious about how I had gotten to where I was – not as a victim but as a response-able person. It was exciting to have people not feel sorry for me but instead hold me as able. They believed in me and with that invitation I came alive!

I didn’t really remember the models. But I did remember Jock’s tears, as far as I knew, no one had ever cried with me. Here was this doctor with big salty tears running down his cheek. This gave me the permission I needed to cry as well. We did this together, and I will never forget what that felt like. I remember the honesty and warmth of the group as each person revealed some aspect of their life that was raw and new to them. We each held an open space for whatever someone needed or wanted to explore.

Yes, I remember. That first five day program turned my life around, and I have never gone back to the lonely place I knew before arriving on Gabriola at The Haven. So I will gladly share this video and hope it goes viral. There is place, and it is worth visiting. Pass this on!!

Here’s the link to the new Come Alive video!!

Susan Clarke

Back From The Edge

We just returned from Part II of the Couples Alive series, The Edge, at The Haven Institute in BC, Canada. In addition to being a part of the design team and leaders of the Couples Alive series, we are also committing to taking each part of the four part series as a way to deepen our relationship and ‘walk our talk’ so to speak.

I found the trip to The Edge quite enlightening. By saying that, I am not saying it was easy.

When we created the design for Couples Alive II, The Edge, we had talked about the idea of creating experiences that first allowed people to visit their own edges and then meet as a couple at the edge. That all sounds good, but it wasn’t until I found myself spiraling down into an OLD family of origin hole that I realized just how successful we had been at finding a good way to get people right to an edge. I won’t say I enjoyed revisiting the past; however, it was a great way to see how my ‘story’ of the past still influences and plays into my current relationships.

It was also amazing to get the opportunity to understand how our histories meet at times for a somewhat wild ride in the present.

Of course, for each of us, the edge can be quite different. There’s the situations from our own life experiences that can bring us to the edge and there’s the tension that occurs in a relationship when I want to be ‘me’ without risking losing ‘us’. There’s the soft spots that are hard to expose and there’s the conflict that occurs simply because we are unique and have differences.

Finally, after discovering many edges and meeting edge-to-edge at various points in the workshop, we closed by being reminded of that deep longing which bought us together in the first place.

Apparently, it’s simply human nature to want to find someone who has your back and who is also willing to journey to the edges, together.

I came home more committed and more revealed. Knowing I had work to do on my patterns, but was excited about the commitments we each made and the opportunity to put new learning into our life back at home and in our work.

Indeed, I Do Have A Spiritual Practice!

A few years back, I was down in the San Francisco area participating in a program called Transformational Lessons. I was there with about 40 or 50 other folks. We started with introductions where we were asked to share our spiritual practices. I listened as each person spoke about either a yoga practice, a meditation/prayer, or mantra, and/or some guru or ashram where they were currently studying or regularly attending. As my turn arrived, I wondered what I was going to say.

I couldn’t really relate to the question, nor did I have any idea of an answer. At that time I was not at all interested in yoga (too tight for that) and I sort believed chanting, meditation, and ashrams were all about transcending this human experience–and I wasn’t interested in that.

However, I did consider myself a spiritual person. Finally, as my turn arrived, I spoke about the one practice that I believed transformed my life and has regularly provided me a pathway to my most spiritual experiences – connecting with other people in a deep and personal way that expands my reality. The practice involves utilizing The Haven communication model.

When I mentioned my practice, I could tell a few people did not understand how a communication model could be a spiritual practice. Since that day, I have regularly referred to The Model as a spiritual practice. These days, I practice yoga, enjoy chanting, and even regularly do some form of meditation. However, I still firmly believe the most spiritual experiences I have come from those times when I practice intimacy through open, honest, vulnerable communication – the essence of the communication model.

Almost thirty years ago I was introduced to The Model. Now after years of teaching it, practicing it and applying it in every relationship that matters to me, I still learn new things, discover deeper connections and expand my world.

Why? Because to practice The Model authentically, I have to fully own my judgments and whatever feelings I am generating. I have to take full responsibility for whatever experience I am creating or having. This requires discipline and can be hard. However, even more challenging at times, is suspending my own rightness about my views or opinions and listening with heart and curiousity to someone else. When done well there is an opening that takes me way beyond the limits of my human ego experience, providing a moment of loving that reminds me of the quote: “To love another person is to see the face of God”.

To me, that is what defines a spiritual practice, an experience that allows me to see the face of God. Something that I will likely never fully master and will continue work on as a way to open doors and bridge differences that not only transforms my life but profoundly impacts the world around me.

If you want to discover more about this model and possibly start you own practice, visit: The Haven website, www.haven.ca or better yet take any of their core programs.

Getting To Clarity & Connection

I am spending the day in the house. I woke up this morning running a fever. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I am not one that likes to rest and recover, I tend to overdo.  But I really want to kick this cold/flu, or whatever it is, out of my system. So I am willing to spend a day inside. I hope CrisMarie will be willing to pick up some Rice Dream for me when she heads out. I don’t have much of an appetite but Ice (Rice) Dream sounds wonderful!

I have a book to read, papers to work on, my computer and a variety of beverages sitting on my bedside table. I am working on a newsletter article about Pat Lencioni’s book, Naked Consulting. Basically the book is all about being real and authentic—and that is why I love it. I don’t want to give away the newsletter by writing too much about the book, but I think it’s a great read. Of course the title is a bit provocative. We sent a copy to an HR friend and she said this book would be an HR nightmare. There’s no doubt Pat probably was hoping for that type of reaction. 

While the title may be potentially an HR nightmare, the subject matter really isn’t an HR issue.  HR departments have simply become the enforcers of programs, guidelines, and policies, set up to overcome longstanding prejudices and ignorance about the differences between people and power. I’ve never thought that laws and policy were a very effective solution for relational dynamics. Sometimes laws give a certain amount of comfort, defining for someone the parameters of certain types of behavior that are either bad or wrong. This can confirm a person’s opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily create a significant change in attitude. People might learn to say the right words but it is unlikely to really change their views and may even create more distance.

So what is the solution? I think the best way to create a shift in attitude and behavior is by learning to understand the impact certain behaviors have on others. Instead of counting on a policy to ensure that inappropriate language is not used in the workplace, I have to speak up whenever I see it happening.  Not just when it happens to me but, even more importantly, as an accountability measure when I see someone I work with saying or doing something to someone else that I find offensive. Not to make them wrong, but to be real and authentic and in the moment is when I believe real change can happen.

When I have done this—I have been surprised by the results. Often I have either learned something very valuable about the person I was speaking to, which in turn influenced my position. Or they were curious about my reaction and we had an dialogue that I would later discover had a positive impact on them.  Of course this does not ensure change or agreement, but when it comes to relationships, that is not really the most important outcome. The most important outcome is clarity and connection by way of authentic and real conversation.

Humble Eh!!

Generally speaking when we are bought in to work with a client the maximum  amount of consecutive time we have to work with them is two days.   It’s not easy to convince a team of executives to take two days off for work that they often assume will be fluffy and soft.  So imagine our surprise when we were invited to work with a team for five – yes five days!!  Wasn’t even our idea.  They were asking us and had already set aside the time.

So may be this was because it was a woman who was leading the company.  Though after spending four hours with her before the event she was as tough and as focused as any male executive I have talked with.  Was it because they were a Canadian headquartered company?  Not likely, their target goal was 300% growth in revenue over three to five years – so just as aggressive as any US  company.  No it seemed as leaders they  had the idea that they needed a week and were committed to making that happen.  In our four hours prep it was clear, Shelley, the President,  like all other clients,  wanted a  highly productive focus and not just A team-building experience.  So really no different then any other leader in terms of wanting meat not fluff.

We just got back from the week, and I must say I am impressed with the team.  They were amazingly willing to let us lead them through a process that wrapped team building into a very focused strategic effort.  We left and they realized they still had their work cut out for them but they were communicating better and more committed to collective results than ever before.  It was quite refreshing to work with a team that was not cynical.  They shut down their computers,  turned off their blackberries and really spent the week dealing with the hard issues and underlying dynamics that would otherwise undermine the efforts.  Were they perfect – no!  Of course there was resistance and disengagement at times, but they were willing to either hear our feedback or better yet,  give each other feedback as the week went on and refocus.

One of their core values ended up being humble.  They wrestled with the word because the dictionary definition is meek, modest, lowly in position and they were a Canadian based software company battling the giants and wanted a stronger word.  However, they decided in the end that humble did indeed fit.  Truth is for me – modest, unassuming and self-effacing not only fit but were words to be proud of in today’s business world.

I enjoyed working with this company that was aggressive, competitive  yet humble.  Sometimes I can start to get cynical myself when I am in the corporate world and listen to so many leaders avoid accountability and vulnerability by saying they don’t have time for the ‘soft stuff’ or anything touchy/feely.  The ‘soft stuff’ they are avoiding is generally giving critical feedback to a team member or admitting they don’t know something or even saying “I made a mistake”.  Not so soft really.  I would call that courageous!

We all worked hard last week.  I’d say that this team bought out the best in us as a result of their commitment and willingness.  I believe they will be successful.  Actually they already are!  and humble to boot!!

Saluting A Comrade

In just a few days we’ll be back into the thick of our work.  We have client work that fills the next two weeks.  In some ways this is a good thing.  For CrisMarie it will give her something to focus on as she continues to integrate the information that her brother is gone.  For me it’ s a way to quit thinking so much about cancer.

Tom in many ways was more of a ‘brother in arms’ to me than a brother-in-law.  I never fought in a war, but over the years I have worked with many folks who did and they often spoke of the unique relationship they had with anyone else who served.  For me, there is something similar with the folks who cross my path while dealing with cancer.  It goes way back to my own fight and the people who were in the oncology department at the same time I was.  Really, the first comrade I remember was the other woman who was in the Life, Death & Transitions workshop with me along with 90 other folks who were health-care providers for cancer patients.  The workshop was run by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who was an expert in the field on death & dying.  I went because I was told I was dying and really had no clue how to do that at 24 and thought the workshop might help.  The other woman was fighting breast cancer and  had been for a while, much like a long term, multiple-tour veteran.  She  had a very strict routine and belief system.  I don’t think she liked me very much because I was not really ‘strong’.  I wasn’t doing everything by the book.  Of course, I did not know there was a book, but she had a very clear intent and was not going to give the cancer one ounce of  negative energy.  No tears, no anger.  I was a bit more undisciplined, and I sort wished she would cry because I could feel the pain she carried under the surface.  Still, I respected her choice – how she fought.

There have been many more folks since then.  I have sat and talked, cried, screamed and raged with many comrades.  I still am a bit undisciplined in my approach to cancer.  I am not one to believe it’s all about being positive or about fighting the good fight.  I think the cancer fight is quite unique.  There is a bond we share, but there isn’t a common play book that wins the war.

Even after twenty years, as I sat with Tom and he looked to me for some sort of answers, I knew I had none.  There is no right way to deal with cancer.  Just like there isn’t a right way to deal with living through a war.  It’s a bloody fight and many people die.

There are lots of lessons learned from studying veterans.  Though each war seems different, there are the common links.  I think it is like that with cancer.  There are different types of cancer, fast growing cell types, slow growing, very invasive and more contained types.  There are many ways of fighting a war – on the ground, in the air, on the water or even gorilla style.  Same with cancer – there’s chemo, radiation, surgery, transplants and also the alternative style which may be more like gorilla style – not as organized or as obvious.  There’s a mindset that is required to fight cancer.  People are uncomfortable talking about cancer – particularly about the obvious closeness of death.  Much like wars – we don’t like to talk about the ugly reality of a war zone.

But really, for me, one of the hardest parts is when a comrade dies.  My heart aches.  I feel survivor quilt. I question my recovery and I rage against the crazy cancer process.

My war was many, many years ago and yet when I am with another cancer comrade I am right back there in the fight.  That’s why I am glad I’ll soon be back at my other job.  I don’t like the pain of reliving the past.  Of course, I will do it all again if I believe it can help one comrade in their fight against cancer.  Much like we all wish for a world without wars, I wish for a world without cancer.  Oddly, I think war and cancer are way too much alike.  Wars are simply men and women fighting each other over different beliefs and stories that are so deeply ingrained and compartmentalized that the the human connection has been lost.  Cancer is just my cells fighting against each other having lost the connecting link – communication has broken down.

Today isn’t about solving the bigger communication issue.  Though that is the very reason I do the work I do.  No, today still about saluting a comrade.  Today is also about crying for all the lives lost to this dirty, rotten war called cancer.  Tomorrow will be the day to move on and get back to work doing my little part to help improve the way people communicate.   May be someday that will make a difference by helping stop a war on any one of the many fronts we keep fighting them.

My Cardinal Rule: Own My Gossip!!

Couldn’t sleep. Lots of thoughts running through my mind and it is a full moon. I have also heard that Mercury goes to retrograde sometime very soon and even though I do not live my life dictated by star charts I do respect the fact that anything as vast and uncharted as our universe can indeed impact and breakdown communication channels. I do not know know enough about astrology to make that a subject of this post, however, I do have some thoughts about communication.

What’s foreground for me today is some crucial conversations I need to have. I like to think of myself as a fairly good communicator willing to engage in tough conversations as needed and equally willing to be vulnerable and own my part in communication breakdowns. People often tell me this is a strength of mine. However, my sleepless night tells me that I am resting on my laurels so to speak.

I know this because I am breaking one of my cardinal rules for keeping my energy clear.   The rule:   Own my gossip.  Meaning if I am saying something about someone else I want to know inside myself that I have, would or will say that same thing to them in person directly when I get the chance.

Living by this rule as been instrumental in keeping me healthy and in building better relationships.  But like anything good for me it is not always easy to live by.  I have many ways of rationalizing my need to gossip.

  • I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings
  • I need to clear this up myself first and really it is no big deal
  • I’m not gossiping I am just venting
  • Mercury is in retrograde so it’s not a good time to have this conversation

There are more I could add to this list and each of us has our own spin on the reasons we don’t clean up our gossip.  The point is, I know that when I start drawing on this list I’m walking the slippery slope down a path that leads to broken down communication, dishonest relationships and unhealthy, sleepless nights for me.

I know people have all sorts of reactions to the word gossip.  Personally I think we all do it and that gossiping isn’t the problem.  Gossiping can actually be a very good thing.  I often talk about folks who are far away with friends that are present and we laugh and get in touch with our warmth and feelings for the person we both know.  That’s one form of gossip.  In other words, of course I talk about my friends, colleagues and family ‘behind their backs’ (when they are not around)   I would hope so,  they are the most important people in my life!  The real issue is have I had the conversation I need to have directly with them.  Shared directly the good stuff andthe not so good stuff.  When I have,  gossiping is a great way to keep my heart open to those I love who I don’t always get to speak too directly.

Back to today and me:  I am not owning my  gossip.  I am saying things about someone I care about that I know I have not said and don’t really want to say directly to them.

Yes having the conversation now will be harder because I broke my rule so the job just got tougher.  Still the sooner I have the crucial conversation the better.

I am hoping by tomorrow’s post I will have cleaned up my communication channels and if not I sure hope I am not blaming Mercury.  This is my own doing.