Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

That’s the question, and the answer depends a lot on how you fit into the larger context of the world. Whether you believe that the world works better with collaboration or independent action—or a combination of both.

 Self-Sufficiency/Independence

These are often words used when we’re in a view that each of us is separate, not only from all others but from all things, and even from ourselves. It’s also often the jargon of the “money-world,” where the only thing of value is money. In this world view, we exist as solitary beings who can rely on no one but ourselves.  Everything we accomplish is separate from what everyone else accomplishes. We tend to hoard our resources because we believe that it’s up to us to help ourselves. We imagine that we are on our own, that it’s all up to us alone and that everything we achieve is created by us alone. On the other hand, we appreciate being able to accomplish and earn and make things happen in the world. This view is useful for some aspects of life.

 Collaboration/Unity

In another world view, we all are energies fluidly flowing in and around in all directions. There’s a sense that we, as a whole, have everything, nothing is lacking. All is provided. Sometimes, it’s provided by “my” effort, sometimes by “yours.”  Sometimes by synchronistic happenstance. For example, when I was a lot younger, driving 40 miles to work and 40 back every day for little pay, my car kept breaking down. It was finally on its last legs. I felt scared and alone. Suddenly, out of the blue, I got a call from my parents. They figured I’d probably need a car and they wanted to buy one for me! I hadn’t told them anything about my situation.

Or how often does it happen that you suddenly think about somebody that hasn’t crossed your mind for ages and they call that day? Or you’ve got plans with somebody and you’re so stressed with everything you have to do that you’d just like a few hours to relax and that person calls and cancels? This could make us think that we’re all connected somehow, that we’re part of a larger unity. This view is also very useful in life, and is another kind of self-sufficiency—the self sufficiency of being part of the larger whole.

 A Different Kind of Self-Sufficiency

This kind of self-sufficiency requires awareness and integrity.  It requires that, rather than thinking of myself only as an individual person, I also identify as the larger whole. This is a feeling that inner and outer is one. The “I” that I’m identifying with also includes everyone else. If one part of the larger “Me” is hurting, all of us know it and help it.  If one part is doing too much, all of us know it and make it easy for that part to rest.  This combines independence and collaboration.

For example, when you’re aware of the larger “Me,” you notice what you need and don’t need. If someone who is overly generous wants to give you something, you think of them as part of a larger “You,” wanting to give something to another part of the larger You and you help them out by letting them keep it.

In this world view, we are a huge network of umbilical cords, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything else.  You can’t cut them, because then the whole system dies.  And why would you want to?  That’s so lonely.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t “lead our own lives.”  It does mean that we are aware of what we are and what we can give and what others give and we intertwine with the giving and the receiving.  Some people are good at money and some are good at atmosphere or love or light or joy or relationship or discernment.  In the money-world, only money is “something” and everything else is just taken for granted.  In the collaborative world, everything is “something”—miraculous, precious and treasured.

For more on Relationships, more on Group Dynamics, and also my posts on Self-Acceptance (scroll down to get to the past posts after this current one).

Conflict Resolution: What Escalates and De-Escalates Conflict

Conflict Scares Most of Us

Most of us shy away from disagreements or conflicts because we think conflict automatically makes things worse. We think we’ll lose in some way. But often it’s actually better to move into disagreement and air all the different viewpoints on a subject than to try to stay away from them.

It’s like being sick. Often we ignore the symptoms, but it usually ends up better if we find out what’s going on.

Here’s What Most of Us Do When Conflicts Threaten:

  • Avoid them
  • Push out/reject people that act in disturbing ways
  • Pretend to agree or give in
  • Blank out
  • Shut down
  • Cut people off
  • Discount the other person or group

In order to begin to move into conflict and progress toward conflict resolution, it’s useful to know what tends to escalate and de-escalate conflicts.

What escalates conflicts

  • Bringing into the conversation a third person who isn’t present: “Mary said she also has trouble with you being late to meetings.”  “Sam said he’s upset with you.” People do this because, unconsciously, they feel they aren’t strong enough to take the stance they’re taking by themselves and they need support.
  • Not being aware of one’s mixed signals: Saying “I’m not angry with you” in a loud voice. Saying you’re happy to see me while turning away. Saying you’re happy while frowning. The person or people you’re with unconsciously pick up these mixed signals and react to them automatically, also without being aware of what they’re reacting to.
  • Denying accusations: Often, when someone accuses us of something, we automatically assume we’re wrong or bad for being that way or saying that thing. We accuse ourselves at the same time! But accusations often highlight something about us that we need to bring in more—with awareness. (Ex: someone accuses me of wanting to be in on everything.) It helps to notice the little or large part of the accusation that’s true and to own it or stand up for being this way. “Hmm. I do want to be in on things. I specifically like to be in on places where there are problems, because I love to problem-solve. I like to help people find solutions, so that they will understand each other better and work better together.”
  • Stereotyping: “I figured since you are a man/woman/black/gay, you would be open to my feelings.” “I thought all people from the east coast talked fast.” Making assumptions about somebody because of their group identity tends to create tension (understatement of the year).
  • Not reacting when you’re hurt: if someone is attacking you and you stay expressionless or stoic, they won’t become aware of your reaction and will keep attacking. Or they may be looking at your expressionless face and unconsciously feel you don’t care, and attack more. Showing that you’re hurt tends to stop the person. Not always, but often.
  • Not having a feedback loop: when you continue to attack or criticize even after the other person has apologized or has stopped defending themselves escalates arguments.
  • Being indirectly hurtful or revengeful: snickering when someone is hurt, being sarcastic, ironic, pretending to be aloof, gossiping and triangulating. Sarcasm, for example, is an indirect jab that shows you actually have a criticism. Figuring out what your criticism is and being direct about it is way more useful than sarcasm when you’re in an argument.
  • Patronizing or condescending, as if you’re above the conflict: “I can see that I’m triggering your issues.” “You’re projecting onto me.” “You’ve had this kind of problem before, haven’t you?”

What De-Escalates Conflicts

  • Noticing your own mixed signals: Bring them into the conversation with awareness. For example, noticing that your voice is loud and becoming aware: “Am I angry, am I feeling urgent, am I afraid?” Noticing your voice is very soft: “Am I feeling unsure or shy, am I needing to be alone?” Noticing being turned away from the other person when ostensibly wanting to relate: “Do I need a moment to think about something we’re talking about? Do I want to leave?” Noticing that my arms are crossed: “Am I feeling strong and solid about what I’m saying and need to bring in this feeling? Am I protecting myself from the other person?”
  • Having the courage to bring in your feelings: especially fear, neediness, jealousy, anger, hurt.
  • Noticing your desire for revenge after you’ve been hurt and being congruent about it: “What you said hurt me and I’m noticing that now I want to say something hurtful back to you.” Rather than just “acting out,” talk about how the other person’s statements were hurtful and you don’t want them to say things like that again, or that you would like them to really get what they’ve done.
  • Noticing when you’re not feeling like interacting in the moment, and leaving rather than trying to force yourself to stay in the dialogue.
  • Not bringing an absent person into the conversation: Rather, notice that you don’t feel strong enough to speak to the other person alone. Either say that you need a third person there to help with the conversation or wait until you feel stronger to have the conversation.
  • Taking the other person’s side as well as your own, or helping them make their points. Noticing when you’re already starting to take the other person’s side automatically, and do it consciously for a little while before going back to your own side
  • If you find yourself stuck, consider your personal trauma history: Is this conflict greater than with this particular person? Are issues from your past coming up where you were hurt or helpless in some way
  • Noticing your hesitation to escalate: noticing where you’d really like to stand for your side, but you’re thinking it’s not ok to do so. Then really taking your side and standing for it strongly
  • Noticing in the moment your hesitation to de-escalate: maybe you’re feeling sad about arguing, maybe you just noticed you really care for or like the other person, maybe you realize that, right now, you want peace and harmony. But you believe you should keep arguing and standing for your side. Instead, when you notice these things, mention them, too.

 

For a simple and effective model on how to resolve conflicts, see my blog, A Powerful Conflict Resolution Model. There’s also more information on my Organizational Consulting work.

Wishing you a free and joyous life,

Zoe

 

Team Building: A Group Dynamics Metaphor

Group Dynamic

I’ve found a useful way of conceptualizing the dynamics that happen in groups and relationships—because, after all, relationships are actually just groups of two. Most of us think of groups and relationships as being a collection of people, each of us separate from the others, bringing in our own “stuff.” I’d like to bring in the concept of group fields or relationship fields that organize what happens in these collections of people we call groups.

A Relationship Field

Try to think of the relationship itself as being a kind of energetic field, or as being organized by an underlying structure or force or energy that we can call the relationship or group “field,” as if the relationship or group is an organism in itself.

A Relationship Dynamics Metaphor

Imagine several cups in a vat of chai on a stove. The chai is the “field” of the group.  See how the chai is in and around each of the cups. It’s simmering, moving around in one cup, out of the cup, into another one, etc. Now an especially hot part of the chai moves into one cup.  There’s a tendency for the cup to think, “I am hot.”  However, what the cup is feeling is actually the hot part of the chai, of the field.

In the chai is a piece of cardamom that hasn’t dissolved.  It floats into one of the cups.  The cup experiences, “I have cardamom. Cardamom is the way to be.” And on one level, it does have cardamom, because the cardamom is right now in it, but it’s not the “owner” of cardamom, because soon it will be moved out and into the chai vat again, and maybe it will move into another cup. Then that cup will feel, “I have chai.”

Group Roles

This gets us to idea that what we’re often experiencing as being our feelings or thoughts or who we are while we’re in groups are actually roles in groups, roles in the chai. Group roles are positions, attitudes, themes, thought/emotion patterns that are in the field—in the chai—and that move around among the people in the group or, if the group consists of two people, in the relationship. First I’ll start feeling something or having a certain opinion and you are moved to express something on the opposite side—because both of these are in the field. As we talk, if I pay close attention, my experience may change so that now I can relate to the opinion or feeling you were talking about before.

Team Building

The more we can allow ourselves to notice what’s coming up in us and realize that it’s not actually “us” but rather the field of the group or relationship arising in us in the moment, like the cardamom or the hot part of the chai, the more fluid and creative the group or relationship we’re in becomes. The more we stay stuck in what was happening in us a few minutes ago or an hour ago or a few days ago or in our childhood—or whatever—the more we believe that certain things are “me” and certain things are “not me,” the more groups and relationships start to become stale. Putting this group dynamic concept into practice can be really useful in team building and relationship building.

Team Communication

You could call this type of group process team communication, where each of us realizes that, while we’re in the group or the relationship, we each are the “chai” as well as being our individual selves. For more information on my work in organizations and with groups, see my website page on organizational consulting. For information on my work with relationships, see my page on Relationship Counseling.

Wishing you a free and joyous life,

Zoë