Disturbing Conversations

Listening to the “mood music” of the news at the moment, we have an abundance of disturbance. As I wrote last week, I think we should be grateful for that. The disturbance is a signal and a low-intensity reminder of what we need to address before it becomes something much more severe.

They manifest in our reactions to political promises that seem to have the shelf life of a supermarket sandwich, or the surfacing of deep systemic issues of organisational culture in cricket. Or it might be the concerns we have that social media has mutated from a beneficial tool to a toxic money-making machine. And, of course, the mother of them all, the adoption of weasel words “phasing down” humanity’s use of coal at COP26.

The challenge for us is how do we harness disturbance? What do we have to do to find its source, as well as deal with its immediate symptoms?

The last two years have provided us with a varied set of disturbances and valuable laboratories in which to examine them. But, whilst, as the saying goes, “it’s difficult to drain the swamp whilst up to our backside in crocodiles”, that is what we have to do. 

We have found, mainly by accident, that one of the most valuable things is simple, profound, judgement-free conversation. By deliberately creating “containers” to hold the disturbance created when we bring different worldviews into the same place, without an agenda. Before we tackle the problem we need to understand the causes.

For us, it started by bringing together, on Zoom, those whose world is dominated by measurement, data, reductive science and process with those who hold a very different view grounded in ancient wisdom and beliefs. The reality is that the disturbance is superficial when we expose it to non-judgmental exploration in good, generative and generous conversation. Of course, there remain genuine differences, but the majority of the disorder is the noise that arises from different vocabularies, models and traditions. Enabling those to be surfaced, considered and respected settles things down, and what remains is signal that generates creativity, innovation, and energy. The answers we seek often lie in plain sight in the middle of things we try and avoid.

The skill in holding, and participating in these conversations is not to start by identifying problems, but instead just by sharing what we are noticing – describing what is energising us, listening and being heard, rather than analysing it. Analysis brings out the expert in us, and unfortunately, as experts, we often see what we are experts in rather than the bigger picture.

These conversations are never efficient. They are also often slow, with long periods of silence. The silence is critical because it is where the thinking (and sensing, and feeling) happens, and that is where the insight, creativity and originality happen. 

At Originize we have been learning from masters of the craft of these conversations – people like Sue Heatherington , Johnnie MooreDan Lawrence and others. We have learned that disturbance is something to be harnessed, not avoided if we wish to escape frantic reaction and move to generative action. Any of those here can help you have the conversation you need, as against the ones you dread. Check them out.

The disturbance we feel is where the action we need is waiting to be found.

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