Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vulnerability, Difference, and Belonging

by Miki Kashtan

Any of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while or know me otherwise have heard me talk countless times about how vitally important the path of vulnerability has been for me. I’ve been walking this path for sixteen years now, about as long as I’ve been using and sharing Nonviolent Communication in the world. The vulnerability path has been the occasion for profound liberation for me and I can say without exaggeration that it is the foundation on which I continue to do all of my learning about being human, about leadership, about power, about interdependence, and even about social change.

So it has been a great treat for me to discover a fellow traveler. Some time ago, I watched BrenĂ© Brown’s first TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and was astonished and delighted by the content. This past Sunday I watched her recent talk, Listening to Shame. I was spellbound. First, I found the content captivating, because it is so aligned with my own experience and what I teach. My most favorite quote is that “vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage,” which fits entirely with my own efforts to re-frame vulnerability from an expression of weakness to a source of strength. I was also completely taken, again, by her personality and presentation style, which I found engaging, warm, and entertaining, even as she spoke of sensitive and painful subjects.

This would likely have turned into a lovely and satisfying experience I would never think to tell anyone about, except that I also focused on trying to learn what it was that she is doing that results in attracting millions to what I experience as fundamentally the same message I put out and get only a few hundred people at best. This question, in one form or another, has been a secret pain of mine for some years. In part because I consistently get astonishing feedback from some people, I continue to believe that I have some unique gifts to offer, and continue to suffer, from time to time, about my inability to reach more people.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Leadership, Empowerment, and Interdependence

by Miki Kashtan

For some years now, I’ve been learning through ongoing experimentation what collaborative leadership means. It’s not been easy, because our either/or lens on reality renders the space between coercive leadership and no leadership elusive, almost invisible. Which is not to say it’s not there, as so many successful leaders know. What it means is that we lack forms, models, and habits of collaborative leadership which are essential for transforming the way we use power and how we respond to power and leadership.

In my own experiments, I have brought forth an endless dedication to empowering people when I lead, a deep commitment to transparency in my leadership style, and enormous willingness to work with what ensues when people wake up to their power. The results have often been bewildering. More often than not, it seems that the more explicitly I invite people to self-responsibility and participation, the more effortful I find the process of facilitating and the more I hear disappointment and even criticism and judgment of my choices. At other times, when I present and follow a clear structure with limited participation in shaping the content or outcome of the event - whether it be a training or a staff retreat I facilitate - people appear to be much more satisfied and my work appears dramatically easier.

This past week I led my first of three retreats of Leveraging Your Influence Using NVC - the new program I started this year. Given the purpose of this program, it was particularly important to me to invite others to co-create with me. In working through what happened over the six days that we were together, I was able, for the first time, to have some beginning understanding about the puzzle related to my own efforts at collaborative leadership. As I know that many others are doing their own experiments with collaborative leadership, perhaps what I learned may be of use. 

Power and Interdependence
In the traditional models we have inherited, power resides outside us, usually attributed to the designated leader. Even as we seek to transform the world, we continue to act as if this is true. I cannot count the number of times when I hear from people, be it participants at a workshops or employees in an organization I support, that it never occurred to them to attempt to shape the outcome of a decision or an event when one thing or another didn’t work for them. They implicitly assume that they have no power and no “right” to power. I have seen this dynamic happen even in response to explicit invitations on my part to participate. By virtue of my making a request from a position of power, many hear it as a demand and respond accordingly by resentfully submitting or defiantly rebelling.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No More Blaming

by Miki Kashtan

Whether in families, workplaces, or courts, finding who’s to blame and what the “appropriate” punishment would be is a central preoccupation when our own needs or those of someone we care about are not met. This habit goes so deep that for many of us it becomes completely automatic to the point of having no awareness that we are doing it.

Even when we wake up to the costs of blaming and want to change this habit, it may take much practice over time to be able to recognize in the moment that we have fallen prey to this persistent pattern. Until then, we will likely have no room to maneuver. Even after years of practice, I still recognize that temptation and it takes some conscious choice to pull my energy inward and away from the other person.

Cultivating self-responsibility and releasing blame is a practice that we can do over time. Initially, we are not likely to even notice that we are blaming someone until after we’ve done it and we become aware of the consequences to us of blaming another. That moment of waking up is of great significance in terms of our capacity, over time, to move closer to where we want to be, so we can create more inner space to notice and more willingness to move towards self-responsibility.

Gentleness toward Self
Perhaps the single most important practice we can cultivate is gentleness towards ourselves when we discover we have, once again, fallen into a pattern or habit of reaction instead of having choice about how to respond. Sadly and ironically, we are more likely to then blame ourselves for blaming rather than open our heart to our own human fallibility and to accepting exactly where we are.

As part of this soft engagement with ourselves, we can become curious to understand why our energy is drawn to blaming. Why is it so important to blame, especially given that it’s against so many other values we are trying to cultivate? What we discover can help us soften towards ourselves even more as we understand that however rewarding self-responsibility can be, it is a strenuous practice. Aside from simply being habitual, blaming others can be tempting because it protects us from the challenge of finding the willingness to take ownership of our needs and reactions.

If we can receive ourselves gently when we blame, our internal organism will naturally want to wake up, because the result of waking up is openness. If we blame ourselves, we are less likely to gravitate toward more waking up. In addition, gentleness toward ourselves prepares us for shifting out of blame toward everyone else and opening to their humanity as well.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When We Want People to Change

by Miki Kashtan

Recently I heard from one of my friends about the challenge of dealing with a 15-year old who was using curse words at the rate of two a sentence. My friend, let’s call her Jenny, was very distressed about this, and wanted my help in figuring out how to get this behavior to stop.

This got me thinking. It was evident to me right away that if the same behavior came from her partner, she would have responded differently, and even more differently if this were a neighbor, a co-worker, a supervisor, or a staff person she supervises. What varies, I realized, is the nature of the relationship, not the effect of the behavior itself. In each type of relationship we have some belief about whether or not we have the “right” to expect a behavior change from the other person.

Jenny knows me well, including what to expect of me in terms of my parenting philosophy, so I knew she would be open to hearing my very radical views about parenting. So I shared with her my own memories, from very early on, of how I wanted to raise the children I thought I would have (before deciding at 17 that having children was not for me). I’ve been both blessed and cursed to have vivid and acute memories of what it was like to be a child in a world of adults. I thought then, and I still think now, that no one asks children if they want to be born or if they want to live with the very particular parents they have with their very particular preferences. The whole idea of children “owing” something to their parents never made sense to me. Not as a child, and not even as an adult. And yet I know that most parents have a sense of both responsibility and entitlement to influence their children’s behavior.