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Martin Challis
Scene4 Magazine-inView

april 2008

Ways of Being and Practices of Communication

The Challenge of Change

With change comes challenge. Whether change is lead by design or accident there are often challenges to face. Change being the nature of growth.

When an organisation, team or ensemble recognises the need to change certain practices and ways of operating, it embarks on a journey that requires exploring open forms of communication.

Individuals within an organisation respond differently to the process of change: some are eager, some cautious and others resistant to some degree. No matter to which category participants belong, the capacity to understand and apply desired ‘Ways of Being’ and desired’ Practices of Communication’ will directly impact the individuals ability to embrace the process.

These desired ways include such actions as: the practice of mindfulness, building presence, and the expansion of choice using certain processes within communication, such as the use of processes; Hindsight, Midsight Foresight and others.

The Ways of Being take the whole human system into consideration, that is: the body, the mind, the heart and the spirit; and are represented and articulated by what Stephen Covey refers to as Voice. Covey in the Eighth Discipline speaks of the four parts to our nature as four capabilities, intelligences or dimensions. He insists that “these need to be honoured and respected and integrated into a synergistic whole”.Doing so helps a person find his or her voice who in turn can inspire others to find his or her voice. Voice he says is “when your talent and your passion (what you’re good at and what you love doing) overlaps with what the world needs”.

Our participation and contribution to the change process is represented by our Voice. And here we make a choice – will our Voice be active or passive? Will we use our Voice to contribute to the emerging whole? Will we use our Voice proactively and positively in open forms of communication?

In her article entitled; Spiritual Activism Mindfulness & Presence: Activism in the Now;Carla Goldstein suggests that: “Through the practices of presence and mindfulness, we begin to see how the process of our own activism for seeking [and embracing] change matters. If we are using a peaceful process, we are creating more peace. As we become more aware of the impact that our own actions have on others, we can become more committed to the whole and be motivated to shift our activism approach away from the dominant adversarial ‘us versus them’ framework towards a unifying ‘we’re all in the same boat’ framework.”

“Being mindful is having a big picture awareness that gives us a measure of objectivity about what we are thinking. It helps us step outside habitual responses and solve problems more creatively. When we are fully present in the moment and we quiet our dominating monkey mind [our chattering thoughts], we make room to experience our lives through the rest of us— our heart, our body, and our mysterious spirit. Presence opens the way to directly experiencing our deep connection to the rest of the world.”

 Meeting the Challenge

Creating greater levels of mindfulness requires refined attention and a clear intention to notice the internal responses of inner ‘chatter’ that rises and falls. With practice, time and repetition previously conditioned patterns can begin to dissolve and other capabilities emerge.

The desire for greater levels of presence and mindfulness is contingent on the ability of each person to take action; to participate in their own development.Incorporating Humberto Maturana's dictum that “all knowing is doing, all doing is knowing,” we see that taking action leads to knowing-in-action. We also understand that taking action needs to be underwritten by the application of appropriate techniques and tools.

Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer reinforce the understanding and appreciation of the benefits of using tools to take action: “Tools and methods do not just help in solving problems; they also help in developing new capabilities. Hammers are essential to carpentry but they are equally essential to creating carpenters.  In the words of Buckminster Fuller (1976), "If you want to change how people think, give them a tool the use of which will lead them to think differently."  So, creating and using tools is the core activity in the domain of capacity building, the ultimate result of which is new practical know-how.”
(Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer - research paper on Community Action Research)

As hammers are essential to creating carpenters so then are communication tools essential to creating greater levels of communication and ways of being.

Creating Choice in Communication

It is important for leaders, artists and communicators to expand their self-awareness, break ineffective patterns of communication, and improve behaviours in order for growth to occur. Building a skill base through the application of the tools of communication is essential for meaningful change to occur: tools such as the Stop – Think – Reframe and Act process so often cited by people such as Daniel Goleman in his work on Emotional Intelligence.

This process refers to the ability to self manage and choose responses to situations that can be challenging sometimes causing less effective forms of communication. Instead of reacting habitually and with less self awareness the idea that it is possible to create alternative responses becomes very appealing. Using “Hindsight – Midsight – Foresight” is an example of a tool that can be applied to create alternate responses.

With the benefit of “hindsight” it is possible to look back and learn from situations we would like to improve. Using “midsight” we are able to become more aware of how we are reacting within the moment itself and wherever possible make more effective choices. And by using “foresight” we are able to prepare for likely possibilities and plan to make more effective choices in the future.

As part of the communication process there is a stimulus and a response. We are sometimes caught out by the stimulus because we don’t see it coming. When this happens we can use “hindsight” to unpack our response and learn from it. With the benefit of “foresight” we can begin to plan a new and potentially more effective response should this stimulus occur again. When it does occur, we use our “midsight” to catch the habitual response and choose a different one.

Building Know How

Feedback from those I know who have begun exploring and applying this process indicate they have found it invaluable. They note they are becoming more aware of their behaviours, their responses, and their habits in communication. Habits that are less effective become exposed and habits that are productive become more valued. For example: the habit of being overly reactive in a stressful situation becomes more understood when using feedback and reflection with “Hindsight”.  After which, an alternate response in “midsight” using the STOP – THINK – REFRAME – ACT process leads to a much more favourable outcome of being less reactive and more effective.

The Tool of Proactivity

Stephen R Covey, in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses new ways of framing the way we look at things. He cites Albert Einstein who is famously quoted as saying, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” To move forward we must look at the way we think and the choices we make as a result of the way we think.

Covey calls this being proactive. He says that in communication we have “response – ability” – the ability to choose our response.

The major gear change is the moment where we make a different choice – this is where the work is. The first time we do it can require a lot of work; simply, because it is unfamiliar and we are testing new ground.  By attending to and noticing the benefits of the new response we gain feedback that allows us to evaluate, consider outcomes and move forward.

An Example of Using a Tool of Proactivity

A member of a work-group in a small design firm recalled that one particular team member could at times behave in a way that intimidated and unsettled him and others in the team. This person could at times become overly demonstrative and say things that were clearly intended to cause a reaction – she would do this at team meetings, and on other occasions when the team was gathered. As others in the team chose to let this behaviour pass and not call it out; he would eventually find himself reacting, getting angry and usually inflaming the situation. Not only did he feel annoyed and angered by the situation he knew he was being ineffective and not setting a good example to other team members. He felt stuck in a pattern and was unable to break the cycle of cause and effect.

He explored the situation with “hindsight” and relayed the situation to his coach. Moving into “foresight” they discussed alternative responses that he could explore. Together they rehearsed the possibilities. He did not have long to wait for the next occasion to arise when the team member began to go down a familiar path. Using “midsight” and applying the STOP THINK REFRAME ACT process, he did not leap into reaction. He calmly allowed the heat of the moment to pass and later quietly called the behaviour pointing out a more effective alternative.

The implicit and explicit feedback he received from his peers and his own internal state of being reinforced the benefits of the exploration. He also commented that it took a lot of effort and preparation to break his patterned response for the first time. But he felt confident he could continue to look for ways of improving his responses and the general standard of communication within the team. As a result he also noted achieving a deeper sense of presence and mindfulness which brought with it a sense of peace and fulfilment.

With reflection and self-examination within our journey through a change process, we are expanding our levels of emotional intelligence and practicing new ways of becoming more effective in our professional and personal relationships.

We are effectively breaking patterns. We are doing this by examining our ways of thinking, by looking at our ways of perceiving and judging, by seeing our ways of behaving, by creating new choices, and certainly by looking  at our ways of using language.

Use of Language

The way we use language in communication gives us a clear indication of our ability to create choice. As Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; “The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility” [If my words say] “He makes me so mad!” [What I am choosing is] “I’m not responsible. My emotional life is governed by something outside my control.”

Covey’s table of Reactive Language and Proactive Language is helpful to illustrate the difference between the two states.

Reactive Language

Proactive Language

There’s nothing I can do.

Let’s look at our alternatives.

That’s just the way I am.

I can choose a different approach.

He makes me so mad.

I control my own feelings.

They won’t allow that.

I can create an effective presentation.

I have to do that.

I will choose an appropriate response.

I can’t

I choose

I must.

I prefer.

If only.

I will.

In order to move into greater states of mindfulness we become more aware: of the way we use our words, the state of our thoughts, and the rise and fall of our feelings and emotions.

 Our language reflects our inner state as do our behaviours. In communication we become less reactive and more capable of making effective choices. When this happens our values take precedence over our reactions and we are able to communicate with deeper levels of authenticity and mindfulness.

Summary

It is clear those individuals who are living and applying the benefits of an experiential learning process, “knowing is doing and doing is knowing” are deriving great benefit. By taking small steps in their personal change process they have begun to make significant changes that continue to build and enhance their overall growth and the growth of the organisation, team or ensemble of which they are a part.

As a result of its interconnectedness, the whole system derives benefit from every small improvement in: an increase in mindfulness, the individual’s deepening sense of presence, effective behaviours, enhanced communication and affirmative leadership. 

For those who participate in a conscious change process; their “response –ability” to expand positive ways of being, and affirming effective ways of communicating, continues to grow; they experience an expansion of themselves and the whole of which they are a part.

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©2008 Martin Challis
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Martin Challis is an actor and director in Australia. He's also the
director of the Studio For Actors and Ensemble Works and
a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives
Read his Blog

 

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