Complexity of Relationships

I was recently noticing how complex and layered relationships are, both personal and professional. I was also feeling grateful that since I have been learning and reflecting on this complexity for most of my adult life I have been privileged to encounter practices that enable me to live into this complexity with the possibility of more constructive outcomes.

In general, I believe that people want to do well, want to be in productive relationships and most of the time are doing the best they can, even if it does not feel that way when interacting with them. Workplaces can be difficult environments and unfortunately they do not always bring out the best in us. In my experience in working in organizations, in consulting to organizations and in coaching people working in organizations, there are situations that emerge in which we may not feel appreciated, we become territorial and are more defensive and protective, rather than open, trusting and collaborative. This is an unfortunate development because when we feel threatened we build walls around us and do everything we can to not feel vulnerable. I believe we need a degree of vulnerability to learn and grow individually and together.

Collaboration requires an element of trust and belief in us and in others. We need to trust that we will rise to the occasion and that others will, as well. The more we trust ourselves and each other and live into our relationships in trusting ways, the better the quality of these relationships and the more rewarding the outcomes. We have choices along the way and these are what can be considered critical moments. They are fateful in that they determine the quality of subsequent interactions. I can live into a relationship being focused only on that moment and not caring or paying attention to what happens after thinking I will deal with it when it comes. However, if I do not live into the moment in a constructive and trusting manner, I will be repairing the damage I caused by not considering “what happens next.”

The recognition that we have choices in the actions we take, how we communicate and how we behave is liberating, scary and a burden all at the same time. This sense of agency means we have some influence and control over our lives and our relationships, so why not take it?

Insider, Outsider

When working with groups there are times I am an insider because I am a member of that group, or I am an outsider because I am brought in as a third party facilitator or mediator. There are benefits and challenges to both roles.

As an insider there is a personal investment and so there is a higher emotional charge attached to any actions, interactions or decisions made. There is an in-depth wealth of knowledge from firsthand experience that can enable us to make more informed choices and decisions. At the same time it is more challenging to practice collaborative skills of engagement, such as listening to understand and not respond or refute, empathizing with the other person and being open to other perspectives and points of view.

As an outsider who is called in to work with a group, perhaps facilitating a decision making process, there is less personal investment in what the actual decision is and more a sense of responsibility for creating the space that supports the group in getting to where they need to be. The benefit of being a third party is that we can maintain our focus on the process and not get caught up emotionally in the content. The challenge is that we do not have in-depth knowledge or expertise of the content and we may not have the awareness that the group is off track from the content of what they need to make thoughtful and realistic decisions for action.

As a facilitator I am very conscious of communication and the use of language. I pay attention to the seemingly slight nuances in what people say because every word, tone and mannerism is fateful in influencing the response, the relationship and the social world the conversation partners are co-creating. This becomes increasingly challenging when I work with interpreters because the language of the communication is not my native tongue, English. I am one step removed from being able to focus on the nuances and delayed from the immediacy of experiencing the communication.

Internally, I have had to make peace with this drawback and believe that the value I add is still felt in that I am able to support people in shifting the quality of their interactions and relationships to being more positive and constructive. If I am not able to do that because the language and cultural differences are too great, then I need to have this awareness and step aside so as not to further obstruct the communication and potential relationship building.