Twenty years ago, I made my debut as an organizational psychologist. Perhaps influenced by academics and my former life as an accountant, my envisioned ideal was a neutral, even stoic, helping professional. But I failed spectacularly; I have always had preferences and get very passionate around values, ethics and methods in organizations and leadership. I’m also sensitive to dynamics and emotions in the room, find myself contracting when conflict and stress arise, and become deeply touched by the lives of my clients.
For a long time, all this human being-ness was brought to my supervisor, to my therapist, to my meditation class or to the yoga room. Anywhere else but into the present moment while working with my clients. I would try to hide it in the shadows, so I could deal with it afterwards. And when these seemingly unprofessional moments slipped out – passive or overt – I was filled with embarrassment.
More and more, I was longing for more integration between my personal and professional selves. I saw many of my clients – leaders and consultants – also longing to bring more of their whole selves to work. They were hoping that I could guide them and be a role model.
Imagine my relief and joy when I met Ten Directions, where I experienced Diane Musho Hamilton´s way of working with neutrality:
“True neutrality is dynamic. It requires full, embodied engagement. Nothing is left out. Not our mind, our emotions, not our body. Neutrality requires us to feel. The more we feel, the more we can let go. We learn to bring our feelings online; our sensitivity to energy, engaging from position of involvement rather than observation. In this way we engage our own life force as a facilitator — our own dynamism — which in turn enables greater participation and involvement from everyone around us.”
This way of re-engaging my life force has indeed changed me as a psychologist and a facilitator.
Before I took the Integral Facilitator Certificate Program, my methods were primarily linked to the second-person perspective – the You. My previous trainings emphasized deep, reflective listening, asking circular questions, making hypotheses around the systemic logic and group dynamics. In this way I would de-center myself, visiting other perspectives than my own.
I had also been well-versed in the third person perspective – the It, which included setting ground rules, holding the group’s outcomes, designing the process, while considering the structures and roles.
But what I really missed in my previous training was a visible first person perspective – the I. Learning how to speak from my personal voice in a skillful, clear way. Using and centering my own perspective, the one which I had been toning down to avoid diagnosing others, and misusing my authority and power.
Now – in the afterlife of my Integral Facilitator training – how am I practicing the art of engaging from the first person?
One thing that I find extremely useful is to practice feedback. Not as professional feedback practiced from a so-called objective 3rd person perspective. But giving and receiving feedback as a transparent 1st person, and using my Self-As-Instrument.
I find this 1st person practice scary, empowering, vulnerable and compassionate.
- Scary: Our nervous systems have a habit of perceiving feedback as a threat. Feedback can trigger shame, discomfort and disclosure. This is why creating a safe container around feedback is important.
- Powerful: Feedback fertilizes human growth. Our self-perception is limited – we need other people´s perspectives to evolve. In learning communities practices of feedback are extremely valuable.
- Vulnerable: If the positions of the receiver and the giver are perceived as the same, there is a possibility of great depth and transparency in the exchange.
- Compassionate: Feedback has the potential to increase intimacy, caring and love. It serves a greater developmental purpose, both when it “kills” a habitual or egoic pattern and elates an emergent strength.
So how am I practicing?
Diane often offers a quote from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: “Just be yourself. The world will give you feedback”. This makes me smile with hope – my life is my practice, and possibilities are all around us, for example:
Create routines and safe spaces.
In the community of Integral Facilitators, we have ground rules – for example, talk straight, give praise and offer feedback. This allows me to “just do it” – no escaping or negotiating. It also supports my nervous system to tolerate the discomfort of both giving and receiving.
I recently offered feedback to a very skillful facilitator. I felt the vulnerability in the situation and my words and tone became apologetic. Luckily she pointed it out and asked for my direct and clear feedback instead of a nervous dance around the topic.
Ask for it
For me, it is easier to give and receive feedback if there is an intention. For example, is the feedback wanted and asked for? One of my new clients – a leadership team – have worked together for many years and feel bored and habitual in their communication patterns. I am asked to ´disturb” them, so they can work with more freedom and flexibility. My job is to model how to challenge habits and support growth, so they can integrate this feedback practice as a team skill. Because of their clear and courageous intention, I am challenging their styles and beliefs more than I usually would.
Raise a wise ´doorman´
I have my own inner ‘doorman’, who discerns which feedback to let in and out. Which to open up to and receive, and which to offer and express. We are still working on his skills – sometimes he accepts all kinds of overwhelming noise and rejects the gold. Once my dear friend gave me some very brave and precise feedback about an uncharming pattern of mine. I totally rejected her feedback and explained why she was wrong. Two years later (!) I suddenly realized that it was true. (By the way: she kept me as her friend).
Hopefully we will all become more fluent and skilled in giving and receiving feedback. As a sign of compassion and care. In doing so, we might grow more conscious of our idealizations and be able to loosen our fixations to certain self-identities. To grow, to flow, and to be more whole. Just start the practice – many of us are starving to be fed.
Nina Jensen is a specialist and supervisor in workplace and organizational psychology in Denmark. She has been leading team development and leadership training in organizations for over 20 years. In 2016, she graduated as a Certified Integral Facilitator with Ten Directions.