Sunday, February 26, 2017


Andrew and I needed to go with the flow this week, so we split our session into two parts. They were ideally supposed to be 15 minutes each, but as conversations go, they were twice as long. The benefit of having two sessions was checking in and making a reasonable and interesting goal for Andrew, which was to be a Bystander, not a Mover. WE thought about his week and when he was around people for opportunities to interact. He’s a postman, and therefore on his own most of the day. So we thought of various places where he could essentially hunt for a conversation need of a Bystander. 

Another thing I learned about Andrew is that his work schedule is very demanding. Through the week I wondered how he found time to eat dinner and do school work. 

Just before our session one, part two, I emailed Andrew to give him kudos on some work he did (he’s n both of my classes). What grad student doesn’t feel the benefit of some praise? 

Now we’re on Skype, reviewing posts he’d made about a scenario at work where he Opposed. According to Andrew’s story, his workplace has a lot of regulations and standards that don’t really have weight. Typically, he hears the empty threats of authority and goes on his way, knowing that nothing comes of them. Typically, he is unfazed. However this time, he shared his thought, “Either way, I’m good.” And his supervisor was upset by his ‘insubordination.’ So Andrew and I explored why she might have been upset by his words. 

We sorted through his story of the Opposition he practiced with his supervisor. By the way, it was originally his intention be a Bystander, but this situation came up and he found himself in the dynamic of Opposition. How did she react? Was she red in the face and yelling back at you? No, he said. She just threatened to write me up, and that doesn’t do anything.

At Andrew’s office, The US Postal Service, authority is confusing, over used, and too many people seem to have authority. One person might have ten direct supervisors to answer to, and each of those ten have ten more supervisors above them. So on and so on. It sounded to me like a recipe for a lot of pressure from higher ups and stress. So, I borrowed from my coaching to ask Andrew, What would it be like to find common ground with your supervisor the next time she confronts you that way?  If you were in her place, all you would want to do is go home and put your feet up- just like you do now, am I right? Andrew considers earnestly, which is great feedback for me that I’m connecting. So how would you interact with her , if you could edit the conversation in your mind? Andrews voice becomes less aloof and more warm, I’d say- and he tries out a couple of phrases. I see empathy happening. 

Then he tells me he’s “difficult”, which is an honest admission. He says, “I don’t rally like authority.” And I get to tel him that I’m no good with authority, either. So we compare what we think is over use of authority, and at what point is it bothersome/annoying/provoking. So, it seems like the challenge for Andrew in his work place is to practice Opposing authority without seeming disrespectful and insubordinate- because that won’t get he results he wants. He knows this, I’m just acknowledging it. 

I asked him how he felt about he praise I’d given him for his creativity in school this week. He appreciated it. Something I think I understand about Andrew is that praise is good for him, and authority is problematic. I know this feeling first hand, “a problem with authority” doesn’t necessarily mean being openly rude or disobedient. For some, authority is a dark shadow. I think Andrew will perform best when he knows he is doing these exercises for himself,  and that his effort will be seen as such. 

Working with Erik on the opportunity to try a new role means getting past the polite speaking quickly, and going right for “the jugular". For me, the “going for the jugular” means allowing myself to be exposed on a personal level for the sake of skill development. As impressed as I am by Erik’s perceptiveness, I am in equal measure squirming at the close attention. That is an “interesting” inner dynamic to witness. Hooray.

I suppose being exposed is a part of Moving, so I allow it a little. I describe the scenario of conflict in which I practice being Not-a-Follower, but initiating a conversation about a conflict. The other word I’ve heard for this is confrontation,  I use no names or suggest the relationships of anyone in my semi- revealed story. 

Erik asked if I’d had an opportunity to try a new role. I responded that I had, and felt satisfied that even though I might not have filled the new role, I’d seen myself come out of the old one. Transitions take time, and increments of transitions are important to make note of. 
I continued to the part where the conflict changed into a sharing and receptive conversation. What made that change happen? I didn’t know exactly, but since I’d been kind of initiating and Moving, I’m pretty sure it was something I’d done. I explained that by that time I’d tried every trick up my sleeve to help the conflict improve. Erick suggested that it must've created the Container of Safety. Looking back after our session, I think it was actually a Container of Realness. How could I have created a Container sooner in the Movement?  I have ZERO clues. 
That is an honest answer. 

So, we backed away form that story and I told a different one about interacting with a cousin who’s political views offend me (and mine offend her, as she makes clear). On one occasion she ranted about the how meaningless the recent Women’s March on Washington was. She’s a happy, powerful woman, no one is telling her what to do with her body, and she’s not giving up her Glock. So why did I feel the need to march because its stupid…My response was that I marched so that she could keep feeling exactly as she does. That there is a danger that soon she may not, if resources are taken away, etc. Then I shared my experience with a resource that has helped countless women, and if I hadn’t been there, I’d have been in chemo by the following year. Erik thought for a moment, and reflected back a similar experience. I think we both simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that speaking to the issue is more effective than speaking to the person. (Like Kate’s “Play the ball, not the man.”)


Erik is really great at listening and picking up on things I might yet be blind to. He inquires with genuine concern and curiosity. I will keep that in mind and practice trusting.
       Like most everyone else, my Dialogic role shifts according to the scenario, circumstance, and how at ease I feel in a given moment. Generally, I am a Follower. Listener to a fault, very much invested in what the person in front of me is saying, what their sharing might feel like for them, and the effect of their shared experience on areas of their lives beyond the immediate. I’ve had to practice extracting myself from conversations that I’ve unconsciously encouraged with social skills that seem like common courtesy. I’ve been a Follower in the general definition, also, a great assistant, supporter behind the scene. 
As a classroom art teacher, art teacher to adults in community center, and a recent year-long gig as an artist-in-resident at Baltimore Museum of Art, my Following changed it’s shape. In these environments, my role is to walk with my students or museum guests. I guide to an idea communicated with art. I allow the student or guest to walk ahead a few steps and contemplate independently while I observe from a distance, looking for signs that my assistance is needed, or that a thought has come up. Then we walk together, I ask questions for clarification and to excavate details. I listen, record, walk, follow, watch, reflect and hold. 
The hazard of developing the skill of attunement, is that its hard to turn off. 

One could argue that the Follower is actually giving the Mover momentum, and without the Follower, the Mover would be talking to the air. I’ve already practiced Standing-By, not investing, perhaps merely overhearing and chiming in once- mostly just watching the talking pass by. 

I’m always craving my day to Move- or better, to Oppose! How does a nurturing empath do that?! Getting sick of stupid shit helps. Here’s where I admit that most times I don’t let minor things bother me until there’s a big pile of minor things, so is resentment. Resentment doesn’t need to get into the conversation, it’s just my threshold signal that something needs to be Moved or Opposed -like a boulder on my foot. 

This week an opportunity to Move and Oppose came to me. I didn’t just walk up to it and start shoving it, because I’m concerned about feelings in confrontation. My habitual expectation is that no matter how I approach, some form of backlash will put me back in the role of Following. Maybe this has become a self fulfilling prophesy. 

With new tools gained from a few weeks of class, I am ready to try afresh. The intended goal takes a terrific amount of sustained focus. Simultaneously holding validity, compassion, air-time for myself and my partner in conflict, all in a container is like lifting a bar bell in my own body weight. My emotions flood in for a moment or two, then I compose, and create another angle to gently apply. It’s beginning to be clear that I’m not a master, though I’ve had a good deal of practice with defensive people. 

Spontaneously, the conflict turned a corner -I really can’t recall that tiny nano second. I’d been trying to Move my message clearly and respectfully. I began to think of third party interventions, to walk out, but I think what changed the direction of the conflict was my ultimatum. My point of view is that we really do work with degrees of unspoken ultimatums. You treat me like a friend and you can be my friend. You act thoughtlessly, then I move on. Its sort of the other version of The Golden Rule (particularly for people in my personal sphere). It’s not about passive aggression, it’s about establishing that respect is mutual.  

I really think what changed the course of our conflict was that I spoke an ultimatum. Something like, “I thought we were going to be able to talk about this constructively, but it looks like we’re just going in circles. I don’t want to go in circles.” To be honest, I’m sure that’s when I started to cry. Do Movers cry? Hmmm. I really don’t aspire to use that as a technique! In fact, I get mad when tears interfere with my poise. 


Whatever that nano-second held, afterwards my partner in conflict became receptive. And then I was really able to Move to risk exposure and be honest. I could see that my words were now being Followed. Could it be that my honestly spoken ultimatum became a container? 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is 30 minutes long enough? I really could've talked with Erik for a full hour- or longer. He was so easy to connect with. I was astonished at how quickly and readily he began to ask question to help me deepen my self reflection! What is it about the people I have been speaking to who seem defensive? What do I see as the difference between defensiveness and defending oneself? What is it about the people in my world that could possibly be healed, or at least the rough edges smoothed?  I also enjoyed our jokes about how poltergeists and other ghosts should probably be able to help themselves through their emotional baggage, given that they are capable of moving physical objects even though they themselves have no physical body!

Unfortunately, Andrew had quite a few technical difficulties today, so we volleyed emails. I appreciate when things like this arise- opportunities to be humans in a very calculated world. He and I made some written agreements on what I would offer him as a coach. His writing about his father, a coach for little league baseball would make a lovely gift to his dad.
On Coaching and being coached

I’ve had a few coaches for various purposes, sports, meeting specific goals in work, and creating now possibilities in life. Obviously, some of the coaches fit my needs very well and I flourished with their support, while other coaches really didn’t “click” because I wasn’t very important to their achievement goals. 

I’m reluctant to choose a coach these days. Over the past four years I’ve had a wonderful older friend who guided me as an older sister would through challenges that dramatically changed my life and how I live. She was kind of super human in her availability to me, which I could never expect of anyone. Consequently, finding anyone who can follow her feels unnecessary— in the sense of hiring a coach to take me through obstacles and growing passages. 

However, in the sense of learning how to coach, and participating by being coached, I’m all in. I make the distinction because the coaches with brochures and certifications don’t seem to offer philosophies or ideas that align with mine. To be honest, I think for now I’m better off forging my own paths. But in the context of learning Dialogue and coaching skills, getting to know and trust my school mates, and building a collegiate relationship, a learning relationship of observation and mutual growth sounds completely worthwhile. I wish my friends had access to something like this to enrich their lives. Perhaps the essence here his parallel learning, rather than leader and follower learning. 

An obvious factor in coaching that isn’t very helpful is the assumption that one party has more authority than the other. They may indeed have more knowledge on the given subject, i.e., building one’s business, or parenting skills. When it comes to general assistance and intervention, i.e., whatever life brings, there can be no sense of authority but the one who is learning. I recognize that I’m speaking about a growing epidemic of coaches that are like quasi- therapists, who’s training may not be suitable for any given client. 

As an art teacher and a teen mentor, I provide a structure and give reasons why this is the course of action and possible objectives that may not seem obvious to the student/mentee. We agree on it or modify it as we go, and the student or mentee is full invited to collaborate as much as they are able. I’m there for them to “lean on” when the can’t fill their full capacity, and I ease away when they are flying independently. A few times I’ve had the privilege of directing a play and motivating actors who couldn’t seem to get in the character. For them to achieve, they must always feel full space, freedom and permission to access the character, the motivations and the mood. 


Obviously, teaching a class has different objectives than coaching. The similarity, which I’m hoping will arise with my coach and coachee, is an interval of the relationship that transcends the stated roles and becomes like wind and kite. In parallel learning the individuals have their share of the dynamic, and then the work that is created becomes a third entity. Kite, wind, flight. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hello Olen and Dialogue Processes classmates!

Welcome to my humble blog abode. Make yourself comfortable!