Monthly Archives: December 2014

My Yoga Class

One day I will teach yoga. But not this year. This year I will continue to evolve and practise being in yoga.

I would recommend yoga to everyone. The more you learn the more you realise there is a yoga flow/position for everything – with most being of multiple benefit to your body, soul, mind and spirit. There are also many different styles of yoga to suit everyone. Hot and fast (like Vinyasa from Ashtanga), slow and restorative (like Yin), based on holding positions (like Iyengar) or flows and breathing (like Kundalini).
Or like me you might enjoy a combination of whatever takes your fancy on that day. Instilled by a teacher who is constantly developing their practice to bring you OM chanting, varied meditations, breathing, extended positions, pair work, chakra work and self-designed flows. A professional and a guru.

Yet, you might wonder why I don’t invite you to my yoga class. To practice beside me.

The thing is, in yoga, I don’t have to be anything for anyone.
My yoga doesn’t need explaining or understanding. It just is.
When I’m doing yoga, I’m in yoga. Not a care in the world and no consideration for how your down-dog is going.
There is no competition in yoga. No right way or wrong way, just my way.
My focus is completely on my breath and body. No space for anything else.
Of course there are days when other thoughts invade. Which is why it’s always practise. Practise at presence and focus.
When you’re done, it feels like…

Yoga is my go to place. My sanctuary.

It’s difficult to share that with you.
It’s precious, and just for me, and I’m selfish in yoga.

One day I will teach yoga. But not this year.

Om Shanti


Leadership, Mastery, Conflict

Once again this year on Thursday last week I was delighted and awed by exceptional facilitation that left my brain aching, my practice challenged, and subsequently behaviour changed. Neil Denny piloted his Conflict Leadership Masterclass with a small group of eclectically diverse professionals, with two things in common. Neil, and a love of good coffee which he readily supplied. Although he did refer to us collectively as middle-class which I’m still uncomfortable with.

[Interjection > if you now want to read about class, check out this Times newspaper article. Neil had us mapping out news articles to Kartman’s Drama Triangle. Fab exercise with both hilarious and insightful consequences. In a triad we found this article in the Times of the day.This blog will proceed to not explore class.]

Ego and Power

What made the session so exceptional, is that Neil like others I have experience the stylings of this year, facilitates learning without ego. I’m not suggesting superiority. In fact the whole experience of observing someone perform in a traditionally authoritative and leadership position without ego, cancels out arrogance or superiority in replace of humility. For me, that feels like the presence of great leadership. I am absorbed and learning, and with that, ready to be curious.

To be the trainer/educator/leader is a position of implicit power. Whether you chose to be power-full or not – power is constructionally and traditionally present within these roles. In learning and development leadership, it’s all over it. By assuming said role it is therefore your responsibility to acknowledge it, and distribute it for the benefit of others and for the benefit of learning and growth. The alternative – power remains tacitly yours. Ignore or neglect it, and your ego will be sure to own it for you.

What I observed Neil so ‘deliciously’ exercise, and model encouragingly is negative capability. The paradox between ‘expert’ and the ‘not-knowing position’ that allows others the opportunity to really flourish and realise their ability. How? It helps if you start in position of positive regard, open to seeing the potential in other people. Whatever their presentation. You are the leader here, and that’s how I see the three naturally come together: leadership, learning and conflict.

Contextual Dynamics of Conflict

Neil presented Mayer’s Dynamics of Conflict, highlighting the presence of power in the leadership position, with encouragement not to use it. Resolution approaches that include comments like “I’m pulling rank” just don’t cut it. Yes they may work, but not without tipping the power in your favour and ultimately leaving the ‘other’ dis-empowered by nature of the interaction. Who knows, you might work with someone comfortable with that. But Neil suggested that conflict leadership is about conflict engagement and not necessarily the expectation of resolution (however this is ultimately likely to follow).

Another of Mayer’s contextual elements which struck me was personality, and how easily we use trait to dehumanise the ‘other’ person in conflict. Neil added that to dehumanise the other person is step 4 in ‘how to make an enemy’ (from John Lederach’s book Reconcile). It’s easy to refer to the ‘other’ as obstacle, vehicle or irrelevant, rendering them less human, e.g. “that’s just what they are like…lazy”. A personally attributed fault rather than a situational cause or reason. Viewing behaviour as something a person is, not what they are currently doing.

This relates to perceptions of addiction. People are commonly described as an alcoholic, rather than someone who is currently dependent upon alcohol. The former describing fixedness, whilst in the latter communicates belief in the potential for change.

Avoiding dehumanising, as the leader in conflict it’s more helpful to come alongside and validate the other person’s position: no need to sit on the fence, but walk alongside it, stick your head through and look around to get a real feel of their position (I understand this as demonstrating empathy – but Neil wasn’t keen on this term – and I agree that empathy is often misunderstood; making it one of my favourite topics for conversation). A curious position, with a genuine interest to understand where the other person is coming from. To let them know you understand before expressing your position is validating, to express this without agreement or joining them is empathy.

Emotion in Conflict

Leadership conflict also goes a step further for me with regard to the presence of emotion, the emotional competence of those in conflict to respond effectively, and the responsibility to do so. The presence of conflict means the presence of threat, which triggers a natural fight or flight response; whether or not the perceived threat is an actual one. We’re talking immediate here, with no paused attention or rationalisation. OR the created relational affect of one person with power and another with none in conflict. The physiological changes can still automatically occur, even when we chose to ‘fight’ or stay in the situation and exert effort to communicate, engage or resolve whatever is present. And at the same time our micro-expressions are ever present, betraying our intended approach: our choice to override biology with rationality and choose what we communicate. Biologically, I can see and interpret your non-verbals when you feel threatened. Not because I’m a body language expert but because I’m a human too and we’re designed to interpret how each other feel. At this point I can perceive without attention and react to a physiological display of feeling ‘threatened’, which then emits threat. In that case my auto-bio response is defence (fight or flight again). We mirror. We are both interpreting threat. We confront, or not.

The beauty of being human and not ape is meta-cognition, 3rd-order thinking (some evolutionary psychologists argue this is how we evolved, for others it was hallucinogenics that enabled this – oops another occupationally hazardous digression), including the ability to be an objective moderator of subjective experience and thoughts. We have the ability to: notice our physiological fight or flight; override it; make choices to act in spite of it; and notice that others’ non-verbals (our immediate interpretation of their position) may not be an attempt to threaten, but their own perception of feeling threatened. And if you’re the leader here, with the power, the Other is on the back foot.

Aside of whatever role you happen to find yourself in, leadership is a choice. In Neil’s workshop he offered out that choice for consideration, and gestured that with leadership comes the responsibility for approaching conflict with leadership. This for me means leadership in conflict comes with the responsibility of demonstrating emotional intelligence. To make choices regarding visible (or anticipated) emotion that balance power and maintain comfort with discomfort to engage in meaningful dialogue. And to be aware of and prepared to acknowledge this. This can be as simple as finding more respectful ways of asking ‘why’? Like ‘I wonder what your thinking is there’ or ‘I’m interested to understand what’s important to you’ or ‘what do you mean by…’. Though potentially too simple without context, it’s that not-knowing perspective mentioned previously.

Learning through constructive conflict

True learning is going to place of ‘stretch’ and engaged flow, where it’s safe enough to challenge existing ideas and beliefs, and being open to consider those of others. It’s Maslow’s self-actualising – whom I’ll continue to champion, as despite being old his theories hold relevancy. Leadership in learning enables constructive conflict to facilitate learning:

Somewhere in between pedagogy and andragogy, there is a place. A sweet spot. Where responsive intuitive leadership enables conflict, curiosity and true learning. Superseded by doing something different, because you choose to.You’ll find me there – growing in the komorebi.

I love my work because observing from equipoise is the most rewarding place to be; collaboratively learning with mutual benefit. I thank everyone who has attended something I’ve facilitated this year for providing that for me. And all those brain-achingly good 1:1s! More importantly those who have enabled this for me, by being exceptional leaders in learning.

“If the smartest person in the room is you – you’re in the wrong room” – Richard Tirendi

Fact, perception or mindset?

Analogies and Metaphors

The world is infinitely complex, and any attempt to simplify, which means the elimination of contradictory elements, will fail to capture that complexity. One can, however, attempt to compress or condense those elements into a more abbreviated or altered form. That is the role of metaphor.
— Kit White, 101 Things to Learn in Art School (first spotted here)

In was in the woods, in my wellies, a long time ago, when my sister said to me proudly “my dad knows these woods like the back of his hand”. (If you’re thinking ‘isn’t that a smilie’ – just go with the narrative)
So I took of my glove, and studied the back of my hand to learn about the woods. Then checked the other before concluding that my Dad’s hand must have a map on it, because mine clearly didn’t. His hand was easily big enough for a map.

I’ve been pondering since a few months back, and listening out for language used to describe concepts and application of theories, through metaphors and analogies.

One of my books (my ‘would be’ #mysixbooks as David G shares here) is full of metaphors. Miller and Rollnick describe strength focused collecting summaries as picking a bouquet of flowers and handing it to someone, in motivational interviewing. Another is the climbing to the top of the mountain with patience and acceptance before change is approached. That motivational interviewing is like dancing, the music is the spirit and the steps are the skills – collaborating, coming alongside. And not forgetting the empathy pit analogy.

I hear how they can bridge a gap and enable assimilation of a new concept or theory. I’ve first hand seen the lightbulb moments afforded by an effective abstract figure of speech.
Equally so, a poorly placed metaphor or analogy can create distance between the speaker and listener/group/reader. With the potential to further confuse.
I wonder, is your analogy fitting for you? Or your audience?
Does it help you understand?
Or will it help the person you’re talking to understand?
Does the language you use allows your idea to leap across cultural or contextual boundaries to reach another’s reality? Or does it firmly place the concept out of reach? ‘You will need to come of here if you want to understand this’.

For me, I’ve often gone from a position of understanding to complete confusion – after a metaphor or analogy has been used to explain something. With the apparent intention of providing greater clarity. Or maybe just for comedic effect.
Actually, I was comfortable with the concept from your initial explanation. In fact, I was just starting to ‘making sense’ of it. Creating my own example, with relevance and context, and considering how I might apply it. Whether I agree with you or want to challenge – that wonderful feeling of on the edge of figuring out something new, understanding what you were saying, feeling stretched, but alive by what you had to pass on. Engaged in the complexity.
Then out of nowhere, flying in side-ways you offered an(other) example. Nay, more an abstract analogy, juxtaposing the phraseology.

So I wonder why.
Did I look confused? Is my ‘learning’ face the same as my ‘clueless’ face?
[note to self – to improve self-awareness, check this out in mirror next time each occur].

Again recently in the space of 30mins someone was throwing the baby out with the bath-water. No babies. No bath. No water. But lots of leadership theory and debate.
Then someone was wearing stilettos to walk on cobbles. We were inside, wearing flats, talking about coping with failure.
Oh and that reference to a 70s sketch show. Was it your intention to exclude those born after the 70s who haven’t had the inclination to seek out and watch it? “You won’t get this but it’s like…”.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) literature is full of analogies – whole books of CBT analogies. Potentially great for training, but as I recently read the plant analogy: the roots are the values, the earth the beliefs, the stem is attitude…. it went on. This new explanation appeared more complicated than just explaining, simply, what CBT is. The metaphors is then post-penny-drop, to support remembering and applying.

There appears to be value in the constructivism, and constructionism of a clarifying metaphor – only that’s just it: constructs. Whilst I love my imagination, value yours too, Einstein once said (according to one of those websites which is probably quoting heroes erroneously) “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough”.


I saw an image on Twitter: that to fail means the First Attempt In Learning. I’m not so sure about that. What if its the second, or 3rd or 4th. This guy failed 40 times before he succeeded. What if learning is a continuous habit, and fitting with Prochaska and DiClemente, failing is an important part of the cyclical process. And if you get it right first time, and stop to bask in your satisfaction, maybe you then miss everything else that there is to learn. How to make things even better.

I’m no longer a fail-virgin. This year I received my first official fail, as judged by someone in authority to me, someone wiser, and in a leadership position. It was my first because of all the formal learning assessments I’ve undertaken, never before have received an F.

So why do I feel like I’m winning? wow, I hear that too: arrogance, ignorance, delusion. Or maybe determination, with a strong desire to ask out loud – do you realise how much I have learnt doing this module? did you notice the effort? my complete engagement and enthusiasm? are you aware of my work project which has been directly influenced by studying this? so much has happened and been learnt, and I’ve challenged myself and challenged practice and applied reaching ideas into my own. But still, in your summative assessment of my learning, I failed.

As beautifully demonstrated here by Steve Wheeler. My assessment wasn’t for learning, it was of learning. The method didn’t pick up what I truly learnt. At the same time I agree my 1st submission wasn’t good.

You never asked any questions. And then you left. Are we to be that removed from each other? you don’t know my name in the street, yet we were a group of 15.

When I spoke to another of our 15 whom I admire, and discovered we had this failure in common, her devastation was visible. She had felt so rubbish about herself. She hadn’t been for a tutorial and I discouraged her from going, sharing that I’m not keen on situations (especially one-to-ones) about my own development where I leave feeling stupid/insignificant (insert any word that reminds you of the last time speaking with someone was liking being spoken at and your neck hurt from looking up).
As someone said to me recently, “I save my limbic responses and resilience for the stuff it’s meant for, like bereavement”. I was expecting my own devastation and tears in this new territory of F, but they never came. So we coached each other. Getting the pass is a matter of course.
Us millennials do it chumbawumba-style (sorry couldn’t help it!).

I’m writing realising blogging is a process for learning, not of learning. I know why I failed this year and I haven’t before. It’s because I’m ok with it. I don’t need to be your yes-person anymore. I don’t need your permission to be. (cue Rita Ora).

Then this week when I’m investigating plagiarism by a remarkable, nay exceptional person. I do everything within my capacity to speak with and not let my body betray me by showing my true and present disappointment. Because its not about me. And reflecting on a blog I read about being fair and doing what’s right, and how sometimes they clash, and the balance is hard: I make sure I ask questions to understand the full picture, and identify needs. I promise myself to always seek to see. I ask what they need, because I wasn’t asked, and I review the assessment: was it of, or for, and does it fit?
And I realise I ‘love supporting the growth of others more than I love myself’…….so I’m following Liz’s advice: I’m going home