Regarding differences, the quality of presence, and performance

A few weeks ago, I attended a management team’s annual strategic planning meeting. At some point during the first day, the team explored different ways of improving relationships with their clients, all of which are other holding company businesses. While some used the word ‘client’ over the course of these exchanges, most of the group’s companies expressed a willingness to act together as partners.

Difference between suppliers and partners

As client-partner representatives were present, I invited them to express their views on the differences between a relationship with a supplier and a relationship with a partner. Elements such as transparency, ongoing collaboration, and finding approaches to optimize everyone’s goals were discussed. The discussion continued with a listing of observations and actions that could improve the overall situation, with the renewed intention of having members act as true partners.

Language, a tool to be used with precision

I realize how important it is for a facilitator or leader (everyone, for that matter) to pay attention to the language they use, and to make distinctions that will sustain exploration, raise awareness, and improve relationships.

I believe that language is the key element that nurtures and forms group culture. I believe that we stand to gain a lot by paying greater attention to the words we use, and taking the time to understand the nuances (subtle differences) in the meaning that we give to them.

In my mind, I revisited conversations from the past, and realized how common it is for people to use the same word in a conversation, and yet to give it meanings that are different, sometimes significantly so. Still, conversations continue without anyone pointing this difference out, either because they are unaware, or they don’t dare to do so.

Looking at it another way: distinguishing between clients and partners

Come afternoon, the partners had already left. I suggested exploring the other side of the relationship. That is to say, the difference between a client and partner. Since we had a little more time, without getting into the immunity to change process, I suggested identifying common behaviours that are contrary to the goal of becoming an exemplary partner.

The behaviour that emerged was learning to let go and respecting the choices the client wishes to make. While the whole team appeared to agree on this point, something didn’t feel right. While I was paying attention to what was being said, I was also trying to figure out the incongruence I was feeling.

Another difference emerges: letting go and resignation

Another distinction emerged at one point. I said, “While I hear a strong willingness to positively contribute to partner relationships by letting go when it’s appropriate, I’m also detecting a sort of negativity I would term resignation.”

The impact was instantaneous. I felt that the group’s attention and curiosity peaked significantly, and that their energy was now more coherent. I really like these kinds of moments, because they give me the impression that the members of the group have just opened a previously-closed door, and can now sit down over a coffee and discuss new possibilities and learning opportunities. Great potential, which gently manifests itself!

What lessons can we draw from exploring the differences between letting go and resignation? While words and behaviour can be identical, resignation is filled with negative emotions driven by feelings of disappointment and frustration, among other things. This shows that an important need has not been addressed, or that something significant has not yet been said. For the relationship’s sake, the latter needs to be expressed in a constructive manner, so that a vicious cycle does not emerge.

During the discussion, some also shared specific situations and were able to agree on the behaviours that could be encouraged. It was a rich experience for the team; it gave them the tools, confidence, and solidarity to meet their common objective.

The quality of the facilitator’s presence, and more

In hindsight, I believe that this example shows how a facilitator or leader (everyone, for that matter) can benefit from cultivating the capacity to be present. In my opinion, it is the essential ingredient for deep and meaningful interventions.

Developing the ability to be present for oneself, others, and the environment is a strong and unique point of the integral facilitation approach created by Ten Directions and Diane Hamilton. The integral facilitation approach is rich and coherently integrates the development of the presence of the facilitator and his or her behaviour, the understanding of group dynamics, as well as the structures and processes behind facilitation.

Why is it important?

The purpose of this post is to share several differences that you may find useful, to invite you to develop your capacity for precision and nuances in language, and to make you aware of the possibility of improving your ability to be present to all of your senses, which leads to concerted action and, ultimately, remarkable results.

Some of you are surely wondering how you can put this into practice. Here’s a suggestion:

1. Choose two contrasting ideas (letting go and resignation, partner and client, partner and supplier, etc.) that you are currently questioning.

2. Write a few paragraphs using the following questions:

  • How do I distinguish between A and B?
  • When was the last time I was exposed to A or B?
  • What happened? How did I react? What were my thoughts? How did I feel?
  • What do I learn about myself? About others? In general?

3. What actions or conversations do you see as opportunities for practice?

4. Go!

Through my post, I would like to encourage organizations to develop leaders and facilitators capable of working seamlessly and creatively with a broad spectrum of group dynamics.

These people can move beyond executing tasks competently to demonstrating sophisticated levels of presence and facilitation.

I’d love to read your own experiences in which the differences shown here (or elsewhere) have allowed you to explore and ultimately unblock difficult situations. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me via private message.

What if we could change the world humbly, one conversation at a time?

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françois beauregard

François cofounded Pyxis and triaxiom9. He is passionate about software development and human organizations and wishes to be part of projects yielding outstanding results and maximizing quality of life and personal satisfaction for all stakeholders.

François acts as a coach, trainer, facilitator and senior consultant for organizations wishing to adopt innovative governance practices. In 2002, he founded the Agile Montréal with a few colleagues. Since then, he continues to promote and practice Agile approaches.

Entrepreneur at heart and wanting to push his explorations further, François practices and participates since 2014 in the development and application of an organizational approach for Open Participatory Organizations (OPO) and more recently its specific application to agile contexts (Participatory Agility).

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