Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of Not Taking Things Personally

by Miki Kashtan

I can’t think of much personal advice that we hear more frequently than the idea of not taking things personally, and still, despite being told repeatedly and even being committed to it, we rarely know how to implement it. Why is it so difficult, and is there any clear practice that can help us get better at it?

Why We Take Things Personally

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is quite simple. It’s because everything reinforces the sense that whatever is being said is indeed about us – both from without and from within.

Here’s an example of how that works from the environment. I was sitting at a management meeting where the finance person was expressing her huge frustration that when she comes to other managers with feedback about how their departments are doing relative to their expenditure budget, they become defensive and provide excuses about why things can’t change. One of the managers immediately started arguing with her, whereupon she expressed even more frustration. 

After a while I stepped in, because it was clear neither of them was able to hear the other. I wanted to see, first, if I could hear what she was saying. I asked her if what she wanted was to have some sense of trust that people on the team would come together to hold accountability for the whole instead of advocating for their own departments. She breathed a sigh of relief, and said that was exactly what she was trying to express. That wasn’t, however, how she had expressed it. Instead, her language was full of expressions about the other manager. So I was entirely unsurprised when, at one point, he exclaimed that he didn’t want to be blasted each time he spoke with her. I said to him that I was hearing something different, and repeated what I had said previously. I added that I can see that he could take it as an accusation, whereupon he said: “It was an accusation.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blame, Responsibility, and Care

by Miki Kashtan

One of the core milestones on the path of consciousness transformation is the moment when we can fully integrate the radical awareness that our emotional responses to the world and to things that happen to us are never caused by another person. This awareness stands in stark contrast to our habitual speech, which states that we feel what we feel because of what someone else did. Instead, we learn, if we apply ourselves deeply to this practice, that our emotions are only caused by the meaning we assign to what someone did, and that meaning is generated from within us, not by the actions.

How We Create Our Experience

The version of this path that is specifically taught as part of training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is the idea that our feelings emerge from our needs. For years, I was teaching NVC in exactly that way, naming feelings as caused by our needs, categorizing them into those feelings that arise when our needs are met and those that arise when our needs are not met. Over time, this neat package became more complex, as I realized that whether or not my needs are met is, in and of itself, an assigned meaning to what happens rather than some “objective” reality that is “given” by what happens. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Myths of Power-With: # 3 - The Maligning of Hierarchy

by Miki Kashtan

Like many people I know, I used to think of hierarchy as entirely synonymous with power-over, and of both as fundamentally wrong. It still takes conscious, mindful practice to remember that I no longer see it this way. Because it’s not fully integrated in me, I am delighted to be writing about this particular myth, imagining that my own faltering understanding might improve as a result, and that it will also make it easier for others to follow my thinking, as I am less likely to speak from the other side of a piece of personal evolution.

What Is Power?

Although this is the third installment of this mini-series (see the first, and second), I haven’t yet described what I mean by power-over, power-with, or even power more generally. Given how difficult it is to tease apart hierarchy from power-over, I want to start there. I define power, simply, as the capacity to mobilize resources to attend to needs. This simple definition has been a radical revelation for me, for two reasons. One is that it becomes immediately clear that all of us need power, or we wouldn’t be able to attend to any of our other needs. The other is that in the way I define it power itself appears neutral in addition to being necessary. This definition separates power from how it’s being used: despite our general use of language, power-over is not something we have; it’s something we do – it’s our choices about how we use the power we have.

I have found these distinctions exceptionally helpful in understanding our behaviors, because it serves as a reminder that the urge to use power over others is independent of the actual ability to do so. In other words, it’s not so much that power corrupts; it’s that power provides the possibility of carrying out urges that we might have anyway, regardless of our access to power.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Holding Dilemmas Together in the Workplace: A Sneak Preview of the Future

by Miki Kashtan

Throughout human history, stories have been a source of inspiration and bonding. Especially in these difficult times, when we need inspiration about what’s possible, when so many of us are hungry for some faith that collaboration can work, I feel so happy to have some examples that nourish me in my own work. This is, simply, about what work can be like when we embrace a deep intentionality of collaboration.  (These are three real-life stories, two of which are changed in non-substantial ways to protect anonymity.) They all exhibit the path I think of as inviting people to hold a dilemma together. I have written about this path in other contexts, and I am truly delighted to share something that can offer a visceral sense of what the future could look like, however small the scale.

A Hiring Challenge

A colleague of mine, let’s call her Jennifer, was in the process of hiring an administrator. In the process of interviewing people, one candidate, named here Susan, stood out as being an absolute fit for the scope and quality of the job. The only catch was that Susan wanted significantly more money than Jennifer’s budget; more, in fact, than Jennifer herself was earning. She approached me, initially, to get a sense of what people at BayNVC were getting paid, to help her assess how to respond. After some back and forth, what stood out to me was that she was going to make the decision by herself, without involving Susan. Whatever course of action she was going to take – accepting what Susan asked for, turning down the offer, or negotiating with Susan about a lower pay – all of that was going to be inside of Jennifer. In this, our familiar and common world, she would be operating separately from Susan, and Susan from Jennifer. Each would decide for herself what works for her.

Here’s what I said in a final email: “Does she know she will be making more than you? Are the reasons for the ‘minimum’ she wants about sustainability or about dignity/value? Dialogue with her, invite her into the dilemma, make a decision with her.”

This idea – inviting people into the dilemma – is one I am more and more drawn into. It’s one of the ways that I see myself supporting people to embrace collaboration. It’s revolutionary in its simplicity, and in general doesn’t occur to people. Most often, when I find a specific enough application, people welcome and embrace it – whether parents or bosses. In this case, with Jennifer being an NVC trainer, she was very happy to experiment, and invited Susan to have a conversation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Response to Comments on The Invisible Suffering of Children

by Miki Kashtan

Since I wrote my piece on The Invisible Suffering of Children, I have received a fair amount of commentary, both on the blog and off it. I am not surprised, as I knew I was walking into charged territory. In this response, I want to address some of the threads of what came.

I want to reflect, in particular, about three comments I got from father, mother, and late teen son from the same family, Rick, Sarah, and Leo, all of whom I know personally and love. What a treasure that has been. What most surprised me is that it was Leo, the son, who is the oldest of three, not his parents, who raised the issue of boundaries and the question of children’s need for security. Rick and Sarah, on the other hand, were speaking, in different ways, for the excruciating struggle of what it’s like to want to parent in the ways I describe and to run against obstacles – both external and internal. The external obstacles take the form of inability to manage it all alone in a society that leaves parents without clear support structures and makes their children their own problems. This is contrasted with societies in which the village that it proverbially takes to raise a child is actually there, and children are tended to by everyone. How can one parent, even two, handle three or more children with challenges, and provide the level of presence, engagement, creative thinking, and flexibility that are required for living a collaborative life? This echoes, also, the comment by another person that invited me to think and reflect more prominently about the role of the systems and structures within which parents raise their children. It’s a pioneering act to parent children in the ways I allude to in our kind of culture. Pioneering anything means, by necessity, not having sufficient support structures, and therefore being called to task more than is sometimes humanly possible.