Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tending or Ending a Relationship

by Miki Kashtan

A frequent belief that people have is that if we only had enough skill or the “right” attitude, we would never end any relationship. Indeed, I have had plenty of opportunities to hear people triumphantly present, as “proof” that Nonviolent Communication doesn’t work, the fact that “even” people with extensive NVC experience end relationships and go through breakups. In my view, learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is no guarantee for positive relationships. Moreover, I don’t consider ending a relationship to be a “failure” as some do. More important to me than whether people maintain relationships or bring them to closure is the question of how they reach those decisions and how they relate to each other while making them. 

Why Getting along Is Tricky

One of the essential insights that NVC presents is the distinction between our core needs and the strategies we employ for attending to our needs. Needs are finite and tend to be universal. I like to group them into four basic categories: subsistence and security, freedom, connection, and meaning. The current list that I like to use is slightly longer than a hundred. Strategies, on the other hand, are just about infinite. There are so many ways in which any of us can go about attempting to meet our need for meaning, for example; so many ways, varying by factors such as culture and location, that we recognize something as meeting our need for respect. Human variability, cultural norms, and getting along are all about strategies, not about needs.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Extraordinary Challenge of Wanting to Create Change, Part 2: Beyond the Personal

by Miki Kashtan

Last week I wrote about how we can approach individuals when we want to see change in their behavior. I ended with an exploration of relating to children, which can serve as a possible entryway into exploring change within organizations, the original context that started me thinking about this rich and difficult topic. The similarity between the context of organizations and the context of parenting has been striking to me. In particular, in both settings the power difference is vivid and clear, as is the expectation, common to both relationships, that the one with power is the one who knows what’s best.

Supporting Culture Change within Organizations

My recent work with organizations has been the direct catalyst of this entire line of inquiry. My intense inner engagement with the general question of how change comes about was precipitated by some challenging experiences I’ve had with one client recently. Specifically, I noticed that within one organization, where my charge is quite limited, the work I am doing is making more ripples, whereas in another organization, where I have been doing a much larger project, there have been significant obstacles. 

In both cases I am engaged with the CEO, the leadership team, and some other teams within the organization. In one case, the smaller project, I came in knowing that I was going to work within the existing paradigm of power. This is a service organization that has a fair amount of bureaucracy and established procedures for everything they do. When I meet with the leadership team, I am following their lead in terms of what they want, my only limit being my personal integrity, which has on occasion led me to express what I see and want to see happen in ways that have earned me a reputation within that organization of someone who is willing to speak truth. Within these constraints, I have managed to shift the internal dynamics within the teams I work with such that the administrative staff now participates in meetings rather than just observing and recording meeting notes. I have supported the creation of conditions that now allow for more conversation and trust within the leadership team, and I hear from the team that they are able to apply in other circumstances what they learn in the meetings I facilitate. There is more trust, and more collaboration is beginning, laterally and vertically. It’s a slow process, and yet I often leave my meetings almost elated, whether with one of the teams I support or with the CEO. I see change happening.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Extraordinary Challenge of Wanting to Create Change

by Miki Kashtan

In the last few days I’ve been almost haunted by realizing how often we want others’ behavior to change. We may want to see change in some small, annoying behavior that our child does, or a major harm created by the CEO of a transnational corporation. It has recently dawned on me that no matter the person or the behavior, creating change in another’s behavior is, in essence, a monumental task. And then again - why am I so surprised, when I know how difficult it is to create change within ourselves when we actively want to create such change? When, on top of how difficult creating any change is, we add the extra challenge that the other person may not want to create the change that we seek, it’s no wonder that we so often don’t manage to create the outcome we want outside ourselves.

I now believe that we can create change outside ourselves only if one of three conditions is in place. One is that we have enough resources at our disposal to stop the behavior that want to see changed, or to deliver such unpleasant consequences to the person doing it that they would choose to change. Another possibility is that the person recognizes a need of their own that motivates them to create the change we seek. And the last path is that through dialogue the person chooses to create the change because of care for our needs, or because of trust in our intentions for their well being. As someone who is committed to being a change agent, it’s quite humbling to recognize this. Humbling in particular because in my appetite for supporting change I am prone to attempting to stretch people into creating change beyond their own capacity to integrate it. If I truly take in what I am discovering, I may choose to change how I work for change, and, most certainly, my approach to working with others to support change in happening. I am early enough in my explorations about this that I don’t quite know yet how my work will be affected. For the moment, I am drawn to embarking on the exploration of what these conditions mean in three realms: personal relationships, organizational change, and social structural change. Given the bigness of this topic, I plan to focus, today, only on personal relationships, and come back next week to look beyond the personal.

When We Want Our Loved Ones to Change

Within our families and circle of friends, our clearest path to change is likely to be dialogue. I have long believed, and have experiences of it with several colleagues and my own housemate, that when two people have sufficient trust in their care for each other, a conversation about change in behavior can be relatively easy. The key is to be open to inquiry. If you do something I don’t like, there is no automatic formula about what would happen. I want to explore with you what it is that bothers me about the behavior and what it is that leads you to engage in the behavior. It’s only then, when we have that understanding deeply settled and trusted, that we can decide, together, whether you will change the behavior, I will adapt to it, or we will find a creative solution that transcends the either/or terms we began with. One of my little sorrows is knowing just how few people have experienced the magic that happens in such conversations when the goodwill is intact and the heart skills are there to support the flow of communication and connection. It’s not about having no conflict; it’s about having conflict that leads to more understanding and more satisfaction.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Who Benefits From Empathy?

by Miki Kashtan

When we are in conflict with someone, or are adversely affected by someone’s actions, even without personal interaction, or see others being adversely affected, our habit is often to pull back, close our hearts, create judgments about the other person, and all around make them less than human.

For me, for example, where I get completely lost, is whenever I interpret anyone’s behavior to mean that they don’t care. My entire life, as far back as I can remember, I’ve been profoundly affected by anything that registers in me as unkindness or lack of care. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to recognize the nature of the effect. It’s a shock to my system. Despite all I know about what human beings are sadly capable of inflicting on each other, I am still, somehow, shocked whenever I see any instance of it. My soul still refuses to believe, as it always has, that cruelty and unkindness truly happen.

It is not uncommon for me to receive several such shocks in the course a normal day. Almost anything can affect it. Sometimes it’s just seeing a tattoo, and thinking about the pain a person put their body through in order to have the tattoo. I could feel this shock when seeing someone throw something out through the window of a car into public space. Or when hearing someone say “I don’t care about how she feels!” I shudder when hearing someone make a joke at the expense of someone else or a group. I cringe in some movies when an audience laughs at a person designed to be made fun of because of their weight, and just thinking about what life is like for that person that would lead them to accept an acting role in which they know they will be made fun of, and why others find it funny. I feel this shock when I see, in many of the places I work with, how bosses talk about or interact with their employees. At times I feel this shock more than anywhere when I see how many parents respond to their children.