Thursday, May 30, 2013

Myths of Power-With: # 4 - 
When Connection Trumps Everything

by Miki Kashtan

In my previous piece in this mini-series, I made a connection between power and needs, suggesting that the quintessential flavor of power-with approaches rests on attending to ever more needs of ever more people. I said then, and will say as often as I can remember, that the repeated experience of magic that arises from engaging in this way has sold me on it forever. I have facilitated so many groups and teams to reach decisions that are based on this approach, and the results often astonish everyone who participates.

Nonetheless, today’s piece is about a huge caveat I have about how to apply this approach within groups. I became familiar with this issue in communities of practitioners of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), especially when people gather in an attempt to make things happen rather than for the purpose of healing. Often enough people experience immense frustration with how such groups function, and are discouraged to see how challenging it can be to make any decisions about anything. I suspect that this issue shows up in a variety of forms in any number of groups and contexts where inclusion and power-with are important to participants in a group. Nonetheless, because I have experienced it primarily in the NVC context, this is the main context which I talk about in this piece.

Although I had experienced the challenge soon after I became part of the fledgling community that has since grown considerably worldwide, I didn’t have a framework for understanding the issue until a particular conversation I had with my late colleague and co-founder of BayNVC, Julie Greene, in 2001. The way Julie characterized the problem was that people didn’t make a clear enough distinction between what she referred to as empathy circles and action circles. The difference between the two is a difference in purpose, not in who is present – the same group of people can sometimes come together as an empathy circle and sometimes as an action circle. In fact, that was one of her clear recommendations to people gathering to make things happen: to have some meetings that are purely designed for relationship-building and empathy.

I have thought about this challenge many times in the intervening years, and now have some hope that I can support NVC groups, and likely others, in finding more effective ways to manage the difficulty.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Leadership 101

by Miki Kashtan

When my sister Inbal and I, along with our late colleague Julie Greene and with John Kinyon, founded BayNVC in 2002, one of our top priorities was to create ongoing generations of leaders. This was the reason that we established the BayNVC Leadership Program.
That this program is still running beautifully, and without us!, led by our former students, suggests to me that the intention succeeded. The same reasoning informs my choice, as the only remaining founder at BayNVC, to continue to focus on leadership development in so many of my activities.

Time and again, as I try to focus in this way, I discover how muddled the concept of leadership is, for so many people. Is leadership the same as power? Is leadership something given to us, or something we enter into, or something else? Is leadership only significant when it’s formal, or can we usefully refer to certain acts of people without any formal authority as exemplifying leadership? Is leadership a function, an attitude, or a perception?

Each of these questions folds within it some other questions. For example, disentangling leadership from power includes attending to the tricky issue of whether having leaders is necessary or desirable. Of course, what we believe that leaders do or how they do it is intimately interlinked with whether or not we would want there to be some form of leadership, and what we could imagine alternatives would be.

Still, this piece is entitled Leadership 101, and I want to aim for keeping it simple.

While all of this was swirling inside me, I decided to look up what others thought about this question. The dictionary definitions led me nowhere, defining the concept of leadership either by using a verb (lead), or by using another noun (leader).  When I followed those leads (pun so very intended…), I still didn’t find anything that provided a description of what it means to lead or to be a leader. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taking Ourselves Seriously Enough

by Miki Kashtan

I have been on the vulnerability path for many years now. I have talked in front of groups hundreds of times. I write a blog, which makes me in principle visible to anyone. Still, when I am in a group that I am not facilitating (it does happen!), it’s still sometimes challenging for me to express what I want.

"Self-Effacing Woman" by Soraida Martinez
In the workshops I lead, and in meetings I facilitate within organizational settings, I often see people who either don’t speak, or speak very hesitantly. One example stands out to me in particular, a woman who had a high level administrative position, who was respected by everyone, and who was carrying significant responsibility and decision-making authority at an organization I consulted with. Time and again the owners of the company would invite her into meetings for the explicit purpose of hearing her opinion which they valued so much, and yet she would somehow relegate herself to the role of taking notes, as if that were the purpose for which she was invited. When I talked with her about it, she literally found it difficult to trust that her opinion was, indeed, sought and valued.

Why is this happening, and why do I care about it enough to dedicate a blog entry to it?

I’ll get to why it’s happening and what I want to do about it further below. I want, first, to speak about why this is so important to me why I believe that changing the way we relate to our presence in the world, learning to trust that we matter, and acting on that premise, are part of what’s necessary to create a social order that truly supports life in thriving on our one and only planet.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Saying “No” without Saying “No”

by Miki Kashtan

Saying “no” to anyone, about anything, tends to be challenging. We know how uncomfortable it is to hear the “no” we would say. We want to avoid that discomfort and the consequences that might come our way for being “exposed” in our unwillingness. Many of us genuinely wish to be always caring and available, and find it strenuous to face a situation in which, for whatever reason, we don’t find the willingness or ability to say “yes” to what is being asked of us. In some cultures, or for certain groups of people, it is entirely unacceptable to say “no,” which only makes things more complex.

These challenges arise even in the most ordinary exchanges, or in our most trusted relationships, and are orders of magnitude more challenging when the relationship has power differences built into it. I plan to come back to the added complexity of how power and “no” interact. For now, I want to look at the “easier” piece, navigating a “no” in a relationship of equals, in a way that allows us to retain trust and a spirit of collaboration.

What Makes “No” So Challenging?

Every time anyone makes a request, two things operate simultaneously. One is the specifics of what is being asked for – the dishes, the report, the favor, or whatever it is. The other is the secret question that hovers over the request, known by both without being spoken or acknowledged, mostly without awareness: “Do I matter?” When the answer is “no,” not only is the specific need that led to the request not going to be attended to. In addition to that the person making the request more often than not will take the “no” to mean that the person saying “no” doesn’t care, or doesn’t care enough to say “yes.”

What this means, if we want to say “no” to someone, is that we need to find a way to subvert this fundamental dance. We can, instead, aim for a way to say “no” to the specific request while continuing to affirm that we care about the person making the request and about what’s important to them.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Does Anyone Deserve Anything?

by Miki Kashtan

Although Nonviolent Communication (NVC) has the word “communication” as part of its title, I agree with Kit Miller, friend and fellow on the path, who says that “NVC is an awareness discipline masquerading as a communication process.” On the path of transformation, both personal and societal, that I envision, I see a two-way street between our words and our consciousness. In one direction, it’s clear to me that we cannot truly change how we communicate unless we think differently. In the other direction, making a conscious choice about which words I do or don’t use, when and how, has had the astonishing effect of restructuring my thinking. In that way, language has become a primary spiritual path for me, continually bringing into greater and greater alignment my values and my way of being in the world.

The direction of change is always the same for me: moving towards a needs-based approach to inner process, interpersonal relationships, organizational structures, and social institutions. The practice itself has often seemed almost nit-picky. For example, I have been almost entirely successful in eliminating the phrase “I have to” from my speech, replacing it, instead, with explicit clarity about what needs I am focusing on attempting to meet by choosing to do what I might otherwise tell myself I have to do. This has been a liberating practice, in that I literally feel freer as a result, more aware of being an agent and owner of my life instead of driven by circumstances, obligations, and others’ expectations. I have similarly attended to “I don’t have time,” “I can’t,” “This makes me feel…” and the proliferation of terms that make something external to me the standard for evaluation (even something as innocuous as saying “She is generous,” which implies a standard of generosity external to me), with extraordinary results – more aliveness in me, more capacity to maintain calm and presence in difficult situations, more capacity to reach across differences and divides. I am confident I will come back to these examples and practices in some future piece.