Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ category

Healing, Loss, and Reconnection – a Brief Review of 3 Books That Have Led Me to Greater Equanimity

June 15, 2021

As I try to close the chapter on the months of immediate recovery from back surgery, I’ve been mixing reading and listening to podcasts, cooking and eating well, creating connections with others  and exercise. I intentionally create a healthy balance in my days as much as possible.  In the co-working group I now belong to in Herndon (Rowan Tree), I meet weekly to connect with women entrepreneurs and walk with them as we share. On my daily walks alone, I often listen to great podcasts, often binging one whole series in a week or two.  In an online book club meetup that occurs online once per month, I can combine connecting with others and my love for books on facilitation, coaching and healing.   As we are meeting tomorrow to discuss what we’ve each been reading, I decided to create a blog post on 3 books I’ve recently read.

I don’t doubt that you will may find one or more of the books I write about below useful to read or share with a loved one or friend.  While I picked each one because it had resonance for my personal situation, I have found that the more I talk about the vulnerabilities I have faced, the more I find people open up about theirs.  I have found I am (we are) not at all alone.

How To Be Sick – A Buddhist Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, by Toni Bernhard.

This book is a fascinating story recounting the more than 20 year journey of buddhist learning the author took while attempting to recover from a chronic illness.  While still at the time a successful law professor, she had acquired an unnamed immune dysfunction from a virus while traveling to Paris with her husband. The effects of that bout of illness never went away making social interaction, daily living, and even phone calls very difficult if not impossible to muster energy for.  So what did she do? She bravely set about doubling down on her Buddhist practices that she had been already studying for many years – so that she could learn to accept profoundly her life as it had changed and find joy through the experiences of others.  She gently introduces these into each chapter as her story unfolds. She shares both the difficulties and successes she encounters and how the specific practices she developed aided her through her long confinement. I found this very inspiring for my own recovery.  

One of my favorite practices from this book is called Tonglen.  This practice is described in Chapter 11, Tonglen: Spinning Straw Into Gold. What a beautiful metaphor! When you practice Tonglen, as you breathe in and out to calm yourself or manage your pain, you’ll breathe in the suffering of all those who share the same symptoms you are experiencing, and breathe out with whatever compassion, sincerity, kindness  you have to give.  How lovely to think of your body as the cleanser or all the communal suffering. In the past I have thought only about breathing in the good air, and getting rid of all the stress through the out breath. This practice of Tonglen gives me the sense of having additional agency for healing not just myself but others as well.

Ambiguous Loss – Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss.

When I picked this book off of the New Books shelf of the public library, I discovered a name for the types of losses I have been experiencing this year. These are the losses one feels when something or someone, or part of someone goes missing either physically or psychologically. There is much uncertainty surrounding the loss – as it is in some ways a loss without a certain demarcation or without a known future.   There are often no accepted rituals to accept, acknowledge or mark the change. Ambiguous loss is what happens when there is uncertainty about how to act, what to do because all the norms have changed.  This can be through divorce, adoption, addiction, mental illness, immigration, Alzheimer’s or in the case of war or kidnappings, people who simply disappear. These liminal spaces are where the rules of the relationship get re-written by each person experiencing it silently, alone. These states can last for years or decades.  The more one connects and talks about the shift, the better off one will be.

This gem of a book is a primer and an exploration of the emotional fluctuations between hope and hopelessness, uncertainty and changing relationships.  It  provides some practices and rituals that people such as therapists and coaches have used to help people talk about such loss and change.  You may have thought that I read this to deal with my own illness – after all, I have permanently lost the ability to flex in 3 lumbar joints as a result of surgery.  My situation is invisible, the outcome is still unknown – it feels very much like I’ve lost part of my physical abilities despite the hope it gives me for better nerve health down the road.  I also read this book because I wanted to understand the emotions and the situation I’ve had with my daughter during the past year – one in which I had not had a name such as ‘ambiguous loss’ to help me process the rollercoaster I was on. This is a perfect segue into the last book on my list for this post, which is ‘Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child’…

Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child – Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship – by Tina Gilbertson

I’ve experienced an estrangement of sorts with my daughter who has held me at arms length for almost 8 months, – and even asked me to not text her or contact her for any reason.  While I had the new ‘Ambiguous Loss’ model to absorb from the prior book, I didn’t know there was a name for this specific estrangement phenomenon called ‘no contact’. I had come to learn as much after joining a support group for parents estranged from their adult children.

I occasionally try my luck by searching for Facebook support groups when I need to understand perspectives I know nothing about. Through a Facebook support group I found, I learned the term ‘No Contact’ – which is all the rage now to help people ‘create boundaries’ and to get rid of ‘toxic relationships’. While I was shocked to learn about the ubiquity of this practice, which separates rather than heals relationships, I was glad to find that a link to this very helpful book.  I soon left that Facebook group because I found that the sentiments and drama expressed by the parents was often very polarizing and full of contempt for the adult child. I didn’t want to be around that sort of negative energy on my learning journey. 

The chapters include topics on unmet needs, independence, parenting (and re-parenting) and ‘filling your bucket’ – which means to me becoming really grounded in your life without your child, and honoring the child’s wishes.  The latter chapters have specific tips for when and how to communicate in the many special circumstances which may (or may not) pertain to your situation.  I marked this book up in orange in many places as there was so much to learn.  I came to shift my perspective that I had thought was absolutely an undeniably truth: that I had provided my child with a grounded, secure childhood with everything that she needed to thrive, meaning that in my mind her insecurities have had nothing to do with me.  Because of this book,  I now can see that I may have unknowingly contributed to her insecurities and that she needs space to grow outside of a connection with me for now. I can now see that my own growth and development will have a direct bearing on how she chooses to be part of my life.  While this whole period of estrangement and distance was a complete shock to me, I am now able to feel whole again, having understood that I am not alone, that many family rifts happen all the time, and that with patience and resolve, I can do my part to heal the relationship when she returns.

What I’ve Learned Through My Multi-Layered Healing Journey and From These Books

The theme running throughout all of these books (and me!) is a combination self-compassion, a general acceptance of courageous suffering through change, finding one’s strengths, practicing as much as possible, and creating a circle of support. 

The strength I acknowledge to myself now as vital and offer to you to explore is that of accepting the paradoxes and ambiguities that exist in the world. This means I can hold seemingly polar opposites at the same time.  For example, I can hold uncertainty about the future with my longing for certainty. I can accept less than perfect health and suffering at the same time as I practice healing and finding joy. I can invite the estrangement with a loved one from a place of sadness and curiosity while acknowledging my need for connection as part of the same reality.  These books gave me a new-found sense of equanimity – a way to stop the struggling.

What do you do to gain support for your growth and healing journeys? 

Through The Earth

May 19, 2021

May 2021 – I’ve just taken part in a “Writing Through The Earth” course with the esteemed Lightweaver, Bhavana Nissima.

Hers is as much a personal development workshop as a writing workshop. Bhavana puts our attention on what she calls ‘de-colonizing’ our writing – letting go of the ‘shoulds’ and even of the audience. She elicits our own reactions to our own writing. Her metaphor of the process of writing is: a tilling of the soil, and then a planting of seeds for the next cycle.

I’ve so enjoyed being with 11 other AMAZING women writers – all in India – who also are seeking their own next growth edge.

The assignments were word count restricted and the in-class ones were time boxed to 10 or 15 minutes. The constraints were so useful to get the unedited thinking on paper.

Grief

That act of recovery, the walking, it helps in so many ways. Today you took that walk to see what you could see about grief in nature :  the trunk choked up by the invasive ivy, the tree branch that was barren of leaves, and seemingly dead.  But you kept on walking and looking, past those reminders.  And then you recalled that you don’t need reminders, that the grief bits are as much part of you as the sap of the tree is the life of the tree.  And you realized that its okay to feel your blood flow again, to acknowledge your aliveness rather than bury your grief where no one can see it – which you had done.

Oh yes, the positive you on the outside, showing all the progress, while hiding the reality in replies to the comments, that many fewer people would see.  

Appreciation

You wrapped the gift of yourself in 58 years of courageous toil and birthing. That energy bundled, that time spent unseen: now look, see, and jump for joy with your newly signed and stamped lease. You can dance and tango with all your energy released – that ribbon untied. 

Lift yourself out of your limits; rise up that inch and a half taller that you are. And…  bend down to your grand-nephew – to see him where he is.  Hone now the skill of connection, in your late years glory and new-found peace.

Glow in all that the sun grants you. Soak in your vitamins, hydrate your soul, bathe in the smells of the spices you now have at hand.  Love all humbly, yourself mostly.

At My Birth (In My Mother’s Voice)

I looked up and saw the doctor there – that white coat (aging, I thought) and hadn’t I just been about to give birth?
And his advice, I later conveyed to my over-the-ocean needy parents – needlessly needing to know everything – was that: This nut-infested-loony-old-school-unshaven-squirrel – darting in and out of hospital rooms – as he talked-at-me-through-me and drowned-out-my-gut-instinct: “That I should not breast feed. It would be too hard on me after the C-Section.”

Generation 0 – Immigration

Wiping, vacuuming – and this: identically uniformed 
To – what – take away their uniqueness?
Make them unidentifiable for the tips?
Shining car tires, back breaking work
Yet, TipCash into the communal tip jar  – who divvies it up? The owners?


Then there is Kim’s.  Kim’s Tailor.
That’s what the sign says and the Yelp reviews are stellar
Like the car wash, efficient, designed to please the tech-politician-lobbyist-monied.
On the wall: famous politicians. Mr. Kim wears dress trousers, perfectly starched shirt.
Whirring, clicking, stopping, whoosh –  sewing-machine-workers laboring.
How long to build a reputation, put kids through college?


Backtracking

I got up to leave. The shoes first.  Then my little tote backpack.
What did I need – well that’s the wallet, the journal, the glasses, maybe water. It depends.
Glancing outside – what weather? Opens the Juliet balcony slider door and senses…

Ah that’s a wear-layers-weather.  Got me the layers.  Then the what ifs… what if I want to read along the way?
Where will I go? The mask, the keys, and then out the door, glancing back at the un-soaked beans. Goes back in, soaks them.

Down, down down, step by step, thinking of backtracking my thoughts – so many – flowing all morning.
Not flowing, bumbling about – the plant lights, the bean soak, the tweet about spatial data cubes of the future affecting the way we live, drive, see each other – down the road, yes, but still. I decided walking down, that yes, I would try to remember my thoughts as they come, and not let them flee. For if I had them, I had a reason for them, and if I let them go without being intentional about it, then I was not a good thought keeper….  Not even a housekeeper keeps everything, but surely they keep what they keep with a purpose.


Caring


Is aliveness
Is breath
Is eating
Is holding
Is feeling
Is listening
Is resting
Is beholding
Is praising
Is praying

Beyond the sleep
Beyond the dreams
Beyond the fields
Beyond the conscious
Beyond the sensory

In the heart
In the gut
In the mind
Out of one’s skin
Out in the world
Out to serve

A millisecond nod
A wink
A hope, and maybe a rope
A devotion
A lifetime connection
A weight lifted
A gift received
A hammock
A meal cooked
A celebration
A rite of passage
A letter received
A thank you
An effort seen

Sisters Care (or Sisters’ Care, or Sister’s Care)

That early morning plane ride, the last time she would ever be here. The goodbyes to my kids, the cajoling to get her up and into the car. This, until then, the hardest moment of my life.

Like a yank or a push – a different kind of birthing – birthing to give up – to un-shoulder my mother’s late life care – not autonomic like that strongest muscle of the human body – the uterus – but forced by some other mechanism I didn’t understand – guilt, shame, inadequacy, lack of support -some web of this culture which doesn’t allow for all the things we wish for but that somehow gets us to wish for everything.  I drove with an incredibly heavy heart, flew with anxiety tightly holding my sadness, sitting next to her, smelling her, listening to her repeat herself about going home, asking about the clouds. The clouds held us lightly as we navigated the unknown, alone together.

I could more easily get out the snarled tangled mess in my daughter’s long hair day after day than figure out the right way to support my mother in her state, my state, our state.   My mother’s Alzheimer was too far advanced – on the flight back I cried again that I couldn’t, uncontrollably.

My sister had said: bring her to me. You’ve done your part for years.
Let me take over now.

Ambiguity in Communication

November 21, 2020
What is obscured ?

Communication can cause a bit of fog. I live high enough up on the 10th floor of my apartment building that my view is usually clear even when there is fog.  I can see the tops of trees and buildings but not everything. The mist turns to blue sky while many shapes on the ground remain unidentifiable – ambiguous.  The fog created from misheard or misunderstood words, ideas, and intentions requires hard to work to ‘dissipate’ than fog droplets on a sunny day.

Ambiguity in Communication

Some people associate the word ambiguity with that which is ‘unknown’ or ‘unknowable’. Others associate the word with ‘double meanings’ or unclear meanings. Let’s explore some examples of ambiguities like these in communication.

Can I hear what you are saying?

This may sound obvious, the first step in communication after one person says something is the ‘intake’ and for that to happen well, the listener has to hear all the words as they were spoken or intended. Here’s a story from my past.

When my grandfather accompanied my family on an international trip – a first for us together – we became stranded for hours on an Indian country road with a broken down car.  As we waited for hours for help, my grandfather engaged the youth that were walking alongside the road in conversation. He was intent on helping them with their English. That day in India – when I was just 12 years old, I stood nearby watching him, and wondered why he worked so hard to get his roadside ‘students’ to pronounce each word very clearly, over and over.  It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the first step in ensuring understanding is that you have to have ‘heard’ the words accurately. 

Jerry Weinberg, one of my mentors on topics of interpersonal communication, spoke in a very soft voice which made it hard for me to hear him in a big conference room. Ambient noise, distance between people, the speaker’s position and speed all have an impact on what you hear. I sometimes cannot understand the words of native English speakers because of varying accents. You can be a guru in communication, and still have difficulty at this step, whether listening or speaking.

Tuning In To the Person you are Speaking To

To go along with speaking and enunciating clearly is the idea of tuning in to your audience. If you are the speaker, are you seeking to notice that folks listening to you are paying attention to what you are saying? Are they engaged? Do you know what their ‘perspective’ or ‘vantage point’ is?  Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, liked to point out that when a child is being spoken to by a tall parent, they may feel very intimidated by their relative size. I wish I had known to kneel down or set my kids on a chair or table when I told them important things. That way, I would have more likely seen their expression, and held their attention – showing them the importance of what I was saying.

No matter how old your audience, knowing that they appear to be responding in some fashion is key to knowing if they’ve gotten what you’ve said.  It is your job to make sure your words are clearly spoken and your listeners are engaged. Alan Alda, in his post acting career, has helped thousands of scientists and engineers to communicate well by learning to attend to their audience. Here he was less concerned about their ‘physical’ vantage point, but rather their cognitive and emotional context. What a worthy cause.

Do I understand what you said in the same way you intended?

The next issue is that one person’s meaning can be different from what the message sender intended to convey. Here are a few examples:

“Can you please trim the tree?” uttered at Christmas time might mean decorating the tree, but it could mean you are being asked to cut off some of the branches. 

When I was thrown into a French school in Burundi in 1974 with just a few weeks of French tutoring behind me – I remember the teacher asking if anyone knew anything about ‘lion’.  We had just driven through France prior to catching our flights to our new home, and I remembered having travelled through the city called ‘Lyon’ (a homonym to the animal: lion).  I blurted out “It is a city” in French.   Apparently I had missed some context, and the class burst out laughing. The instructor started drawing a lion on the chalkboard. How embarrassing!  And I still remember this to this day. Some learning has to happen via mishaps – the question is how do we get better at communicating so as to minimize the damage!

Know your audience, choose your words wisely, provide supporting context, speak clearly and you’ll find these improvements take you a long way.

Tone of voice and gesture

Another area of ambiguity in communication arises because a person’s words are mismatched to other aspects of their communication. 

If someone says: “Did you eat the rest of the cookies?” in a curious or neutral tone, this won’t likely cause defensiveness. Uttered in a suspicious, accusatory or angry tone, it will.  Most people remember the tone over the content. Stand in front of a mirror and pretend the last cookie is gone.  Practice asking this question with angry, suspicious, curious, and neutral tones.  Practice emphasizing different words as you do so. 

A sulking posture and lowered head accompanied by a ‘Yes, I’ll do it” with ‘air quotes’ around the ‘do it’ might mean your child or co-worker isn’t quite aligned with the task assignment. Spend some time noticing the gestures other people use.  First do you know what the gesture means? Is there a mismatch between the message and their hand gestures or posture?

When you notice a mismatch, where do you store that information? How does it affect you? What, if anything, do you do about it? I’ll never forget the IBM manager who was asking his teams to ‘follow the process’, but he was carrying a gun mounted to a portable piece of wood and was waving it around the all-hands meeting. Needless to say, that may have ‘matched’ what he intended, but I was not going to stick around to find out. I soon left.

Must I Read Your Mind (or How Did You Forget to Mention …) ?

Sometimes communication fails because of what’s not said or conveyed.

“Let’s watch a movie” as a suggestion is harmless (it seems), but if you, the recipient, are currently heads down studying, wound up about some deadlines, or needing some quiet time, you might expect that your partner should know movies are the farthest thing on your mind. This suggestion may trigger you to blurt out something you’ll regret, such as: ‘Are you kidding, you should know I have exams tomorrow – can’t you see I’m studying?’ This will only thicken the fog in your communication, because you never actually told your partner about the exam, the deadline, or your need for quiet.  This sort of situation happens often with people who are close to each other. They subconsciously expect their partners to have read their minds – under the illusion they had already communicated their needs.

Ambiguity frequently occurs where people’s tasks or even their roles and expectations are not well communicated. ‘I thought you were testing that feature’ or ‘I thought you were buying those groceries’. These can often be alleviated by frequently sharing intentions and checking in with each other.

If you’re interested in exploring better ways of communicating, whether for you or for your team, you can schedule a free 1/2 hour time slot for exploration here or simply send me an email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com.

A Second Brain in Roam Research

September 6, 2020

I bought and read many books this summer, started a few projects, read a lot of blogs, listened to a lot of podcasts and audio books. I have noticed that I’ve been incredibly inefficient at finding my links and thoughts later when I want to share them. If I had taken notes, or stored a link – none is easily found. My paper journal isn’t indexed. And exactly which folder did I put that link in? Serendipitously, I came across the idea about a Second Brain being a productivity enhancer and the powerful Roam Research note taking tool that makes it possible digitally. I jumped in immediately and started to use it.

Now when I come across a link or want to jot notes, I put them in the Daily Notes page adding a comment as to why it was important. Here are all the networked nodes of my brain dump from two weeks of use. Much more context, searchability and ease in finding what I need.

A Second Brain as a Productivity Enhancer

A second brain is a place for you, as a knowledge worker, to both unload information and ideas easily and to help you easily create connections between concepts, ideas, questions, experiments, books, contacts, and anything else.

In Roam, the Daily Notes page is the default page with the current date in the header. You’ll notice that I popped in a slider to note my pain level for the day. For that use the ‘/’ key to bring up a menu of options for other enhancing features. I tagged the Slider bullet with #painwhilesitting so I can later see all sliders for that in one place to see any trends. Each unique hashtag gets its own page and collects all the content from text blocks that contain it.

A second brain does not have a structured database. Putting brackets around the word or phrase creates a page, such as [[Tom Ayers]].

Anytime I type someone’s name, I put brackets so that I can accumulate other information about that person as it comes up. If you value connecting with people, this is wonderful for reference. As you get ready for the next call, you’ll think ‘oh yes, last time he talked about trying x – I’ll be sure to ask him about that on this call’. It is stored on his page. Applications of this one usage could include coaching, talking to business partners or clients, managing your 1:1 calls, or relating to a relative or friend.

Within a page, there is no set structure other than the blocks (equivalent visually to the bullets you see above). Blocks contain mostly other text, words, hashtags, links, and dates. This is unlike, for example, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool with given fields that have to be centrally managed. This is infinitely as creative as your brain. As you adjust to the idea that any word can be expanded like that – creating links to pages – you’ll naturally start thinking about what areas you want to develop into pages.

Let’s say I typed someone’s name in today’s Daily Notes, and forgot to put the brackets around their name. I know I created their page a week earlier via my Daily Notes that day. One way to ‘fix’ this is by highlighting the name and pressing [[. That’ll fill in both sets of brackets. But what I did this many times? I don’t want to fix this on each page!

Simply go to the person’s page, and expand the Unlinked References area. This will show any mentions of ‘John Doe’ that are anywhere else in your whole database that are not yet cross-linked. You can then link them in one command using Link All, or separately with the Link button next to each item. In the example below, I typed Writing Club several times, forgetting to link to the page. With this great feature, you don’t have to worry about remembering your links each time, because you can do it later. Do watch out though, because the system is case sensitive. ‘Writing Club’ and ‘writing club’ would create two separate pages and the latter would not show up in ‘Unlinked References’

The Struggle Is Over and the Benefit will be More Writing

As mentioned above, Roam solves what I am struggling with (scattered digital assets, and brain overload). I will stop using Evernote, Apple Notes, and Chrome bookmarks so that I can more find and even more importantly create content in a brain-friendly way, with all the context I have accumulated easily available.

What do you currently do with the collections of links, notes and files on your various devices? Do you fail to wrangle with or work with what is stored to create rapport with these ideas? I’ve been such a collector for years and I want to change my habits because if I don’t create content of my own, I’ll forever chase down new shiny objects because its fun and I won’t be as likely to share why it is important to me and why others might be interested. In other words, I do expect this to have an impact on my desire to write and share content. Setting down my Second Brain, may make it easier for me to express myself publicly.

Final Thoughts

Maybe you currently use a colleague or a partner conversationally to unload and process your ideas each day. Maybe you have a small paper journal and while you are out biking, you stop to jot down your aha moments there. Keep doing all of those things. Just don’t lose your ideas and aha moments – you can always transfer them to your Roam Second Brain when you get back to your keyboard. That’s what I am doing, more or less, and I am loving it.


How to Acknowledge A New Reality and Move Towards Something New

August 6, 2020

SheepInDublin

There’s a shocking news item for this poor sheep! It is the headline in the Ramsbottom newspaper: 10,000 Sheep to Lose Their Wool Within the Next Week. Now that’s an acknowledgement of a new reality!

I often find myself noticing my own ‘in between states’ – places that spur growth and change. These can be triggered by an internal realization or an external event. Sometimes they are realities presenting more gradually.  I find value in naming this phenomenon and the closest I have found is the term ‘liminal’ or ‘liminality’. I hope by sharing my reflections that I can help others get used to noticing these states, and how to move through them, if desired. For the sheep, they just have to wait a few weeks til sheering – hopefully all else remains intact. Poor sheep.

Definition of Liminal

lim·i·nal
/ˈlimənl/

1.relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2.Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary 
or threshold.

The word ‘Liminal’ comes from the Latin root ‘limen’ meaning threshold – literally, the bottom of a door. When you welcome someone into your home, they pass over a threshold from the outside to the very different space of your home. While that is a quick transition in physical space, a liminal state can last a lot longer than that. After all, once in someone else’s home, there may be other (cultural) adjustments before one gets comfortable: different norms around eating, wearing shoes, having conversations, use of devices, and hospitality. Their transition may require a new level of self-awareness and possibly self-restraint while observing and then adjusting their expectations and behaviors to their surroundings. This can of course occur upon entry to a new team or a new job as well.

Examples

Here are some examples of other liminal spaces or thresholds that I came up with, some broad in scope and time and some very narrow:

  • Getting very upset and finding calm and peace again
  • Having ongoing pain symptoms, but no diagnosis
  • Learning about a topic, but not yet able to study it properly or apply it
  • Similarly, getting a new device, operating system or program, and not mastering it yet
  • Having a great job interview and waiting for the next step (more broadly, the time between losing a job and starting a new one)
  • Writing software, but not able to have it deployed (writing a book, waiting for publication)
  • Starting contractions to give birth, and waiting to actually give birth (wouldn’t it be nice to rush that one along)…
  • Deciding to go out for a walk, and actually opening the door to do so
  • Getting the keys to your new house, and much later finally settling in fully
  • Leaving one’s country, resettling in the new one (also, being tied up in immigration limbo)
  • Experiencing a loss, moving through stages of grief to acceptance
  • Not knowing who is taking care of whom as in the picture below.
TakingCareComic

I am sure you will start seeing many more. Some of these transition spaces are joyful celebratory ones, where we are striving to attain something new and we are highly resourced. Some are spaces of struggle and frustration where we don’t yet have means to reach our goal.

Others are more representative of the way ‘things just are’ in the world and we have zero agency to reverse course. For example, on the way to the hospital to give birth to my second child, I said to my then husband: ‘I would like to turn around. I’ve decided that I don’t want to go through with it.’ I was in so much pain but I didn’t have much luck with that desired approach!

In all cases of transition, it can be helpful to have a guide, someone who can help you through whether it is a doula, a grief counselor, a personal or career coach, or just a helpful listening ear for encouragement. Even first time home ownership can involve a stressful, even if joyful transition. Asking for help is one of several ways to cope.

Satir Change Model

As I noticed all these various liminal states, I realized that these are natural and normal in life. Another feature is that they won’t last forever. Yet another is that they provoke new experiences and learning. The first family therapist, Virginia Satir, introduced the notion of a process of state change with her now famous Satir Change Model.

Screen Shot 2020-11-02 at 9.08.04 AM

In this model, the liminal space is everything between what she calls the Late Status Quo (the old normal), and the New Status Quo (the new normal). Her ideas helped me explain change to my clients when I first started as a coach and I still find it useful. In my own life, knowing that there would be a better new normal after divorce was a relief. There are many concurrent liminal states – and they coexist and evolve around us. These states are an ironically permanent feature of the complex world we live in.

On Celebrations and Rituals

In anthropology, liminality is “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants “no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete”. Bar-and Bat-Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras are examples of periods of transition from childhood to adulthood. Rituals to celebrate an engagement (and last moments of celibacy) prior to the wedding are another example. My nephew’s wedding was postponed due to rain, and the anticipation was intense, but all ended well.

weddingChupa

In organizations aspiring to be more agile, we don’t often use rituals to let go of the past way of working, when we embark on a new way of working and I’ve long thought that that acknowledgement might serve as a helpful marker. And while we may not have a definitive border to cross, no final condition that represents arrival, we can still celebrate milestones and markers of progress and improvement. In acknowledging that the liminal space is a challenging and inevitable space of growth and learning, we admit to our vulnerability and humanity. Change may not be easy but others will be there to support (hopefully).

The Limbic Brain

Other cognates (words that share this same Latin root ‘limen’, and have related meanings) include the words ‘limbic’ (pertaining to or characteristic of a border), and subliminal “below the threshold” (of consciousness or sensation).

The Limbic part of the brain regulates emotions and is physically bordering both the neocortex (processor of reason, logic sitting behind your forehead) and the amygdala (regulating survival responses – flight, fight, or freeze at the lower area or the brain near your neck). The limbic brain feels settled when it knows ‘what the rules are around here’ and is unsettled when things are stirred up.

It is in understanding the function of this limbic brain that I have come to understand the way I act or react in certain social situations. Noticing when I am in a liminal situation and not feeling settled, I can take action by getting in touch with what I would like to have happen (my higher brain state). As a coach, I can help others do the same and can help organizations to notice and navigate the liminal spaces they are in, finding their way ‘across the threshold’. It might be as easy as finding out how things are now, eliciting outcomes, and helping people find their own way steadily from one space to the next.

Now What?

You have read this far and may be wondering what, if anything, to do now that you know this term. I don’t really have a specific answer for each person’s particular situation. My best offer of advice, if this interests you, is that you first develop your capacity for noticing liminal states. This can be in your personal life, in your community or at work. Grab a small journal and jot them down as you see them, and ask yourself questions as you sense the opportunity for learning and growing through this space. For example:

  • What is the current state? Where and when does it begin, end?
  • What is your limbic brain noticing (emotions and social aspects)?
  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What support or resources do you have or need to move on?
  • Whom can you call to ask for help?

Lastly, remember that liminal states are perfectly normal and won’t last forever. Ideally, you’ll take advantage of them for the experiences and learning that you can derive. I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Reading and Listening to….

December 15, 2019

I’ve decided to just post what’s on my mind from time to time – from links to podcasts or references to books I am reading. Here are some of my  November/December explorations.

How Words Kill, You Are Not Human, Simon Lancaster.  I had an exchange with someone on twitter who argued that Words Don’t Kill. Literally he is correct.  You’ll have to read the book to make your own judgements as to whether words influence what happens as a result.  I liked this book a lot, even though it confirmed things I already knew and believed from consuming George Lakoff’s blogs, videos, and books.

The Clown, from Heart to Heart, Ton Kurstjens – this one I bought from Amazon’s UK website as it wasn’t available to me in the US. Recommended by Marian Way after I went on a Clowning training in England, I am TRULY enjoying this lovely read. Learning to clown is a path of personal development that I enjoy. There are several follow-on courses in 2020 that I’m looking at.

Why is That so Funny?
John Wrigglers – A book about human interaction as it occurs for actors, improv artists and clowns – and why their interactions might be seen as funny.  Fascinating read. I experienced some of the exercises in the book in my introductory clowning class at Emerson College in September, 2019.

What You Do Is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz – I subscribed to audible again but really didn’t like the narration of this book. It has a powerful message though about culture change. Leaders must have strong ethics and show congruence between beliefs, words and action. It dives into a handful of historical situations to bolster these views.  It seems compelling.

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Russell A. Barkley  – a public library audio book, this one my daughter recommended so I could be more empathic and understanding of her ADHD symptoms and need for treatment. Not sure on this one, as I’ve only just started.

Deep Medicine, Eric Topol – listening to this one – it’s a fascinating recent book that explores the intersection of AI and medical reforms that would enable doctors to be less ‘burnt out’ and more attentive/empathic with their patients. It seems accessible by and useful for a healthcare  consumer who is interested in self-advocacy within the current (broken system). Putting the ‘care’ back into health care w/ Artificial Intelligence to help gain better outcomes is the overarching gist.  However, counter examples to relying on AI are given, which gives this book more credibility. The author is both a doctor and a patient with his own story.

Earthing, Oben, Sinatra, and Zucker – After an amazing clean coaching session with Marian Way on her last visit to DC, she pointed me to this book. I had no idea there something called earthing, something I might experiment with, along side other alternative treatments for a chronic health issue.

Landscapes of the Heart, Juliet Grayson – What does it take to heal a broken relationship – can a really good therapist reach both parties?  I heard about this book via social media networks as Juliet has also been exposed to the Clean community and training of David Grove. She has created her own unique practice for couples’ counseling.  Excellent resource for those wanting to heal their relationship and don’t know what couples therapy done well might look like.

Podcasts
I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes from all of these podcasts.

The Muckrake Podcast

“Political analysts Jared Yates Sexton and Nick Hauselman tackle the news of the day but go beyond the stale and tired narratives to provide historical context and alternative perspectives.”

Unprecedented
Unprecedented tells the raw and emotional stories of ordinary people who, as they pursued justice all the way to the Supreme Court, defined the limits of our First Amendment rights.”

Team Coaching Zone
All kinds of episodes about Team Coaching. I have only listened to a smattering, but have really liked recent episodes 102, 106, and 108.

Retrospective Letter to Self on my Birthday

October 17, 2018

Dear Andrea,

You’ve had a great year. It’s your birthday today and here is a little reflection from your alter-ego. Let’s admit it – you too need a boost. Everyone does.

Where did this all start?  Last fall, you were a bit dejected about the stress and fatigue and ineffective nature of your agile coaching gigs. You went radical. You wanted more joy in your work and you followed your instincts to deepen in the tools you had been reading about and following for years.

So, you decided to deepen in the practices and philosophies of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  Let’s not forget how you invested in yourself:

Clean for Teams – Sept 2017
Systemic Modeling – Dec 2017
Clean Space – Dec 2017
Clean Convergence – Jan 2018 (included Clean Interviewing)
Systemic Modeling – Sept 2018
Northern Taste of Clean Sept 2018

Way to go for ‘skin in the game’ and the great learnings you got from each of those! You are definitely better equipped from training, but also from putting it to use. Check out the following ways you put all of this to use:

You proposed and were accepted to present/facilitate Clean related topics at many conferences and meet-ups. The list of folders where you methodically keep track spans your whole iMac screen. Hey, you did that!

You hosted events with your mentor Caitlin Walker in the US 4 times this year – with the last one coming up in Boston on Oct 26th. You and she are offering 8 days of training across 4 modules. Two of those are all but sold out! 

You’ve started to build a small clean agile community in the US. You know Clean ways of inquiry and Clean Interviewing can be a super useful skills set to help organizations build anti-fragility into their human systems. Human systems impact products. Products impact humans too. So cleanagilecoaching.com was born. You birthed that!

You conducted a handful of online taster courses validating that people are happy to exchange money for learning (with you, yes!) You overcame your hesitation about teaching these skills online, even learned to effectively use a Flipchart during the Zoom session.

You started coaching agile coaches and trainers. That is huge. You’re getting paid to help some of the best, most thoughtful coaches out there take on these clean and systemic skills. Not just in the US, but in other countries too.  They came to you. Wow!

You invested heavily in technology this year as well, buying backlights, an iMac, a quality Rode Mike, and a new iPad/pen – where you can also use live drawing and share via Zoom. You travelled in Europe for a month with only a SIM enabled iPad. That magic keyboard was barely touched (hint, dictate, when you can for typing).  Everything worked like a charm (well except that your SIM card provider later texted to you that you used too much on their ‘unlimited’ plan, and their plan wasn’t meant for people living in Europe. For you, three weeks isn’t living, but you’ll have to be more sparing of data usage in the future!

You were contracted by a large university to train them for a day in the use of the clean inquiry skills – yay for first big client in the IT space – at the level of Director. They wanted to improve their listening skills, and stop talking over one another, taking time to explore topics. A perfect use for Clean. 

You have been a great volunteer out there in service too.  While you give a lot of free advice, and time to edit other peoples books and work, you also started running a Jerry Weinberg inspired book club on Quality Software Management book series; you were a voice in the Agendashift community for the Clean Language channel. Gladly, there are many there now, who are training or already properly trained in Clean, who can chime in as well, when folks have questions.

You did mourn when Jerry passed away in August – that was a very big loss for you.  So sad – and glad – you are still thinking of his work! Keep that up!

You’ve taken some risks, stayed firm and on course. It hasn’t been easy being independent, but you did that because you gained your OWN life satisfaction and ability to handle any difficult situation with congruence and curiosity using these same skills. You know the value they bring!

Just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to follow your passions and beliefs during the past year. Wherever they lead from here – the world is out there for you to explore. Don’t hold back, bring your riches. The world needs them. And you will shine wherever you go; whatever you do.  [and please don’t get rid of this blog – it may seem dated, and not up to snuff visually, but it’s a great story of your past 7 years…]

Take care Andrea,

Your alter-ego

(Thank you, alter ego!)

Jerry Weinberg, Carrying On His Legacy together

August 31, 2018

August 31, 2018 – I had written this post months ago, with an eye to growing a small group of Gerald Weinberg fans eager to read his books, but I had not ever posted it. So now I offer it now in honor of Jerry Weinberg, as he very sadly passed away earlier this month. This has been hard on his whole community of followers and on us in the bookclub too.

JerryWeinberg

We originally started with Volume 3, Congruent Action of the series titled Quality Software Management, because several of the people in the Agendashift community were discussing human dynamics and I had brought up the topic of congruence. They seemed interested, so the bookclub was launched with the Congruent Action book. We are currently on Volume 4, Anticipating Change, and will cycle back to Systems Thinking, and First Order Measurement later on.  You can start anywhere in the series and still learn a lot!

I’ve recruited two fellow consultants, Steven Mackenzie, and Christophe Thibaut, to co-host this bookclub with me and it has been running for the better part of a year.  Even though two of us had read the volumes many years back, we decided that a revisit was well worth our time.  Actually Christophe has read the series twice and run a 3 year book club on this series at his company, Octo Technologies, in Paris, years ago.  Still Christophe states he learns new stuff at each new reading.

What’s in it for you?  If you want to connect with other learners, hone your skills as a manager, understand the systems at play in change work, and/or increase your toolset as a consultant, coach or software developer, do join us.

When: Every Friday morning, at 8 a.m .EDT.  We run a very tight ship with a fairly strict agenda in the way we run it, so that we finish on time.  We read just 1 chapter per week.  The approximate reading time is 20 minutes per chapter. After checking in at the start, we introduce new members, check-in, elicit for our initial high level reactions to the chapter.  Then we display the chapter’s pages from the ebook on the screen annotating it with comments as we go, sharing experiences and our connections to the material.

How: To join the discussion slack group, apply to Agendashift community here: https://www.agendashift.com/slack. Navigate to the #bookclub channel for the Zoom session link and chapter that we are on.   The meeting times are generally 8 a.m. EDT, each Friday and it is posted to the channel each week.

Where to get the books:

The 4 QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT p-Books can be found as 4 hardbacks

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING                   (corresponds to 1,2 below)
  2. FIRST-ORDER MEASUREMENT  (corresponds to 3,4 below)
  3. CONGRUENT ACTION                 (corresponds to 5, 6 below)
  4. ANTICIPATING CHANGE              (corresponds to 7,8,9 below)

The e-books can be found as a whole set: https://leanpub.com/b/qualitysoftware or individually:

  1. HOW SOFTWARE IS BUILT
  2. WHY SOFTWARE GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
  3. HOW TO OBSERVE SYSTEMS
  4. RESPONDING TO SIGNIFICANT SOFTWARE EVENTS
  5. MANAGING YOURSELF AND OTHERS
  6. MANAGING TEAMS CONGRUENTLY
  7. BECOMING A CHANGE ARTIST
  8. CHANGE PLANNED AND UNPLANNED
  9. CHANGE DONE WELL

Jerry Weinberg has been a true hero and will continue to be an influence in the field software engineering – with many books on topics such as quality, management, testing, human interaction dynamics, systems thinking, mental models, giving and receiving feedback, design, and the psychology of programming.  His books are immensely readable and timeless in their subject matter. We never leave a session without some new insights, or connections made to the work we do or aspire to do. We hope you’ll join us on this journey.

RIP Jerry and thank you for writing these wonderful books for us !!

 

Collaboration Collapse from Power Distance and Hidden Bias in the Workplace

May 6, 2018

Does your team ever experience lapses or collapses in effective collaboration? Are individuals less engaged with each other than they should be at work?  In the last post, we explored how to be intentional in setting up the team for success in collaborative work.  In this post, we’ll explore power distance, hidden biases and their symptoms.

Power distance comes from actual or perceived differences that convey or cause a feeling of superiority to others, often subconsciously resulting in altered behavior. This can arise from structural imbalances, such as economic power, pay differences, access to information, training and education, or biases in promotions at work. It is also caused by biases arising from things like one’s gender, seniority, religion, race, national origin, age, beliefs, appearance, or the way one processes information, sometimes called neuro-diversity.  Can you think of others? At the end of this post you’ll find a link to a Harvard University website that can help you become aware of your propensity towards the various biases.

Symptoms in the Workplace
Power distance can either have a subtle or a very strong influence in the work place. Here are several observable symptoms related to power distance and hidden bias.

  • Interrupting people
  • Mansplaining
  • Ignoring someone when they are speaking
  • Downplaying or even taking credit for the contributions of others
  • Withholding information needed by others to do their work.
  • Belittling people because of what they say or what they ask.
  • Offering to help without asking – inadvertently taking their work and learning opportunity away.

On the receiving end, a person will often clam up, withdraw, become anxious or belligerent, thereby shifting the quality or duration of any required collaborative work.  The training and awareness required to counter these effects is needed to let people know these behaviors are not ok. It takes great personal awareness, knowledge, and maturity to develop the composure to counter and give feedback to the offender.

Economic and Psychological Impact
What is the economic impact of poor interpersonal behaviors and reduced collaboration on existing teams and projects?  Because of the “metoo” movement, we have seen the impact on the careers and lives of so many women and sometimes also men, when people in positions of power have wielded their power to intimidate and control women’s careers, often silencing them with hush money.  When the problems surface fully, the people perpetrating extreme power-over behaviors also pay a price when they lose their jobs and reputation.  Another way of measuring the economic cost, is the amount of money spent on programs to assess, train and coach people in emotional IQ, leadership skills, team IQ, personality, diversity and inclusion. Couple those costs with the psychological toll of the minor infractions that barely get noticed and you begin to sense the magnitude of the issue and its effects on the workplace.

So What Can you Do?
There are several routes to increasing your own awareness about these issues. You can read more about the topic, take an assessment, or go to a workshop on biases and communication.  You can also initially simply take time to journal what you observe such as the number of interruptions you make or how forcefully and frequently you advocate your position over those of others. On the flip side, you  can log how much you pause, listen and ask questions from a genuinely curious stance towards people who are different from you.

Get help
A coach or a facilitator can help you and your team to observe its behaviors and can work systemically to foster better interactions. Personal awareness and development is a requirement for high performance teams. The best team approaches I know of have a very strong personal development component to them.

Be a role model of calm
What should we do when bias directly affects us?   One way is to be  be inspired by how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reacted to bias and power distance. In the May 2018 documentary of her career, we learn that even soon after she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she kept calm in the face of the blatant sexism she found in the Court.  She was and still is, at age 85, a pioneer in promotion of equality between men and women, describing her attitude when she first started on the Court: “I simply took the stance of a kindergarten teacher because the judges didn’t believe discrimination existed.” Anger, she knew would not serve her. [Note: You can learn more about the current Supreme Court by reading this article on the observed gender differences in ‘interruptions’]

What can you do if you find yourself responding emotionally to work situations? This is understandable when something about your beliefs, values, or career is being challenged or affected.  You’ll need to learn how to manage your state, and respond when it happens.  Use the power of observation, curiosity and listening first.  Confront, but do so empathically. Seek help, if you need it.  Find teachable moments. Acknowledge to others that these moments exist, catch yourself and others when you see it.

Here are some online tools to help you learn more

Remember, you are not alone.  Together with others you can help to cure these workplace ills. By adding tools and skills for developing awareness and connection, inclusivity and inquiry at work, collaborative work will be joyful.

We can increase the possibility of it succeeding by not shying away from conversations about power distance, hidden biases, and co-lapses.

Do contact me if you need help at andrea@connections-at-work. I can offer a phone consultation, training, facilitation,  personal and team coaching.

England – oh Clean England!!

October 6, 2017

cleanjourney_paperI am just back from a whirlwind trip to England where I attended three different Clean Language related trainings. It was a fantastic trip, and proves without a doubt that England is a hub of excellence and activity for what goes on in the Clean Community. Besides providing brief descriptions of the training, if you want to keep up with me on this Clean learning journey, I am inviting you to come to my newly formed Reston Clean Language Practice Group, running 2x per month starting next week.

Clean for Teams

The Clean for Teams taster is a two day introduction to the elements and principles of Clean Language for Teams.  This approach to group facilitation holds at its very center the idea of curiosity in order to allow its participants to work at their best and be in support of each other. Team members become more self aware of their behavior patterns and needs while learning to be curious with each other.  Caitlin Walker took the Clean Language tools of David Grove including especially his eliciting of metaphors and brilliantly adapted its use to groups.  Do watch the TedX link above for a taste of what that’s like. The approach Caitlin created is called Systemic Modeling (aka Clean for Teams) because it teaches a group (a network or system of individuals) how to work in support of each other’s development. Because the skills are easy to learn,  the process is highly generative (meaning, not dependent on the facilitator over time) and promotes high degrees of personal and interpersonal awareness.  

If you are interested, as a facilitator, or as a group member, in processes that:

  • reduce friction
  • generate individual and insights
  • foster respect
  • celebrate diversity
  • establish an equality of attention in a group
  • shift the culture to a more productive one
  • and be relatively cheap to to acquire and use compared to an embedded coach or facilitator

then you should explore the possibility of learning these tools.  

A great description can be found here along with the dates for future courses.   

At the end this two day event, Caitlin said: ‘You have everything we need to go forward and practice’.  I am now looking for teams interested in working with me to learn the techniques.  I will become a certified Clean for Teams facilitator in the coming year.  And, to do so, I will need to find teams that are willing to be recorded, so that I can be evaluated and get feedback from my trainers.  Given that there are no trainers in the US (yet), you could become one of the first teams to adopt if you decide to work with me in support of my certification process. Contact me via my website at http://www.connections-at-work.com or call me at 571-437-4815.

 

Symbolic Modeling Rolling Program 

IMG_0117

Penny Tompkins, me, and Marian Way

If you are interested in personal change work using Clean language, you must learn Symbolic Modeling. Now also widely adapted to business, life and executive coaching, Symbolic Modeling originated in its therapeutic use with trauma patients. Invented by David Grove, Symbolic Modeling uses Clean Questions (a language of inquiry) to help focus the client’s attention on their own desired outcomes, resources, and experiences.  James Lawley and Penny Tompkins wrote the definitive book on this subject after observing David Grove’s therapy sessions for 4 years, codifying what they observed him doing.  The book is called Metaphors in Mind.  I was very lucky to be in this three day practice session with both Marian Way and Penny Tompkins facilitating!

 

Learning the basic Clean Language questions alone, without any insights into the Symbolic Modeling principles and processes is a bit like learning to write letters, without learning how to form words or sentences.  Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language questions are by the way, also at the core of the philosophy behind both Systemic Modeling and  Clean Space (see below).  

So, I highly recommend taking the Clean Language Core Skills Course (which is pre-requisite) and then using the Rolling Programme modules to deepen and practice the skills to become a Symbolic Modeling facilitator, if that’s where you are headed.  There is also a fantastic California based introduction to Symbolic Modeling in January 5-7 2018, called Symbolic Modeling Lite. Sign up here.

Clean Space

Marian Way and James Lawley have recently codified the essential aspects (process and principles) of the Clean Space practices of David Grove in a new book called Insights in Space, How to Use Clean Space to Generate Ideas and Spark Creativity. The two day training is based on the process described in the book. As you experience and facilitate the process, you are able to put it in action right.    

If you are interested as a facilitator, an individual, or even a group in processes that would:

  • spark creativity,
  • utilize space to gain perspective
  • create connections between those perspectives
  • generate new insights on any topic
  • be adaptable to many situations (we can create new processes from these principles)
  • be unlike anything you’ve likely experienced before

then this would be the class for you.   If you’ve ever gotten new insights from taking a walk, or taking a shower, you’ll discover a way to do this sort of thing in a facilitated session in ANY location.  Do note that all David Grove’s work was meant to get the facilitator out of the way, so that even with this, the facilitation is light touch – but heavily informed by spatial metaphor – one of the predominant ways we make sense of the world.

A more detailed description of Clean Space can be found here.  If you are interested in experiencing Clean Space with me, I am available to facilitate sessions with you in the coming months.   

Additionally, as mentioned above, if you want to practice Clean Language  locally in 1.5 hour practice group sessions in Reston, VA, I’ve just launched the Reston Clean Language Practice Group.  Again, for any additional information you would like on any of these topics, contact me at 571-437-4815.



My next adventure with my Clean learning journey will be in California for the Clean Convergence events January, 2018.  In September 2018, I will likely return to England to attend one or all of these events.

 

Adventures in Clean

Friday 7th September, 2.30pm to Monday 10th September, 2pm 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker, James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, Marian Way, Shaun Hotchkiss, Phil Swallow

Systemic Modelling Level 1 Rolling Programme

17-19 September 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker

Northern Taste of Clean 2018

29-30 September 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker, Shaun Hotchkiss