I was in a meeting recently discussing the take down of Harvey Weinstein and others accused of sexual harassment, and the rise of the #metoo campaign. We were freely exchanging opinions about these trends in culture, except for several men who declined to add to the conversation. When I asked them about their thoughts on the matter, and they replied that there wasn’t anything they were willing to add; because, they said, the truth was that they were only allowed to agree with the perspectives already in the room. As much I as prodded to elicit other points of view, they remained firm. They weren’t angry, resentful, or upset about it. They were just unwilling to risk a damn word.Read more
While I’m not aware of my fears all the time, when facilitating groups, my “big fear” becomes very alive.
Will I be able to serve this group well? Will I be able to intervene when necessary? Or, will I fall into my habitual pattern and avoid getting messy? And so it goes, on and on, the inner voice of anxiety. (more…)Read more
“I hate this exercise,” she announced in moment of quiet as the group sat working diligently on their own.
“I am sick of having to use my own oppression to teach white people about their privilege,” one of the only women of colour in the group angrily proclaimed, sitting back, arms crossed, challenging my authority, attempting to bring the group onside. (more…)Read more
For me, as a consultant on diversity and inclusion (D&I), “Diversity Work” is a radical call to embrace difference. It is a means of challenging our conditioned patterns, biased views, and unjust practices.
Fundamentally, it is about liberating ourselves from old patterns in order to care more deeply for each other, and creating fairness in our relationships that allow us to discover new and dynamic collaborations.
When I communicate with the companies I work with I assert that legislation and policies are necessary (whether that be new hiring processes or putting cameras on police). But, I am also clear with them that that is not sufficient, because legislation and policies only regulate bigotry, unjust practices, and institutional oppression — they do not end it.
For long term, positive culture change we must include inner transformation to end bigotry and institutional oppression. And there is a crucial orientation we must take, I believe, to successfully support the organizations and people we work with in transforming.
We, as consultants and facilitators, must orient our clients and teams to the interpersonal dynamics in the here and now.Read more
In my experience, any time we engage in a conversation about our differences with an intention to prove the other side wrong, we’re heading for a dead end. When we take a right-wrong stance to any conversation about difference — whether it’s about race or gender, politics or religion — it reveals that we’re more interested in affirming our positions (and our sense of self tied to those positions) than anything else.
Engaging this way also rests on a hidden belief: that the tension between our differences can be fixed. Even if by some miracle – by simply pointing out why “my” difference is right and “yours” is wrong – I do convert you to my side, this at best creates a false harmony. False, because it keeps our psyches untouched, our perspectives unchanged, and our ways of being with one another limited. The only real victory in this case is a shallow truce that avoids a greater complexity and, ultimately, a greater intimacy, in favor of a more complacent sense of safety.
As a facilitator, I’m interested in working with groups that are keen on developing themselves. I’ve found that one of the most essential ways we can foster growth is through engaging our differences. Consciously engaging our differences is transformational for our ability to learn and grow through relationships.
As I experiment with different ways to support curious, keen-to-grow groups, I’ve come to rely on some basic orienting frames for engaging differences in a way that has the greatest transformational impact.Read more
If there were a word for our chapter in history, it might be “interconnected.” Organizations, teams, movements, individuals, economies, ecosystems. Is there any part of our lives untouched by accelerating connectivity? Our curiosity and imagination—aka, advance into novelty—is weaving us together. And as we get closer, we can’t avoid experiencing the uncomfortable and exciting paradox of our differences and our similarities.
When we bump up against each other, we get more opportunities to delight in the new and different. And we also get more bewilderment, non-understanding, not-knowing or downright conflict. Whether you desire it or not, interconnectedness brings more contact, more friction, and therefore more creative tension.
Well, if we add to this observation the findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, we get some very compelling implications. Especially for the worlds of work and leadership.
Here’s the Harvard study In a nutshell: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” (That’s a direct quote from Robert Waldinger, fourth director of the now 75-year long study of adult development.)Read more
Many of us live very interconnected lives, working and traveling across cultural and geographic boundaries. With this greater ability to bridge distances, comes increased challenges of difference and diversity. Our differences are exciting, but can be incredibly stressful—and for good reason. In our evolutionary history, humans were far more likely to be killed by another human, usually from a different tribe, than by any other predator. Hanging together ensured our survival—and we are still sensitive to difference as a possible sign of danger.
A significant difference that occurs between us in our work lives, loves lives, and social lives—one that Ken Wilber has repeatedly pointed out as being of great significance—is differences in world views. How we see the world, and the interpretations we make about it can result in enormous divisions. Something like Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl can be seen as creatively courageous or as a step backward historically. Agreement about what’s good and how we ought to live can look more and more impossible.
It is important for anyone in leadership positions today to understand how our world views evolve, and to explore how these differences can be worked with. We use a simple map for exploring world views: The Ego-centric stage with its emphasis on protecting the self, and the danger of narcissism; the Ethno-centric stage with a strong sense of community, safety, and stability which may stagnate in its conformist values; the World-centric stage which brings an immense expansion of identity, but global scale problems, and the Kosmic-centric view which frees us from the boundaries of space and time, but also insists that we re-engage the other levels.
Understanding worldviews affirms the notion that with greater maturity, comes greater perspectives and an increased capacity for care. Our identity can become more fluid, which leads us to empathize and join with others more freely—even when on the surface our differences appear significant. As we develop, our view of the world can outgrow the limitation of black and white thinking, and prejudice and fear decrease. Because our identity isn’t so rigidly fixed on ideas about “us” and “them,” we can meet others with curiosity whether or not they understand us—or agree with us. This brings along an invaluable ability to empathize, connect, relate, and bring people together for coordinated action.
Being willing and able to join with others across differences makes us a more stable, trustable influence, which is ultimately what skillful leadership rests on. For those leaders and change-makers who are wrestling with our most complex challenges, bringing people together is an essential skill that requires empathy, compassion, and the ability to integrate differences without rubbing out the creative tension of diversity.
Diane Musho Hamilton
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®
Author, Everything is Workable, a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution.
How do we open up a conversation about race in the wake of tragedy like the one that took place in Charleston, South Carolina?
Every painful conversation is unique, and every context may require a different approach from the facilitator. Whether you’re holding a town meeting or community dialogue or an informal conversation around the dinner table, in my experience, the best place to begin any truly challenging discussion is with our immediate, felt experience. In our conversations about race this last week, I would begin with the emotional impact of the news of the shooting in South Carolina.
I would pose a simple question like, “How is everyone feeling right now?” and then allow perspectives to pour forth. The expression that I would first want to support is an emotional one, that of pain and loss in the room—the pain of the murder of innocent people and the loss of the nine beautiful souls who died at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.
It may seem obvious, but people will often rush over emotions to problem solving or political strategizing or discussing facts—but it isn’t satisfying. Presencing the sorrow and grief is fundamental to our human experience and it is unifying to a group. It binds us in the heart, reminding us of the vulnerability we share and of our capacity to care. Sorrow is softening, humanizing, and humbling. So we need to open space for the pain to pour forward, and for the emotions of grief, of loss, of sadness to actually come into the room.
The gut wrenching pain of the murder of innocent people is conveyed by sorrow, grief and loss. The gut wrenching pain of the murder of innocent BLACK people AGAIN comes in a wave of anger, torment, and outrage.Read more
For the past ten years, my work as a facilitator has primarily focused on diverse groups where multiple stakeholders need to come together around a shared purpose—often large international non-profits or multiple organizations.
A year ago, I had a client situation where two people had an intense conflict during a gathering I was facilitating and I felt terribly unequipped how to deal with the situation. I knew I needed more training in order to fully serve my clients amidst these kinds of intense, unexpected conflict situations.Read more
There is an old saying in Zen: Everything the same; everything different. This is a truth that is so obvious that it goes without saying. We live in a universe that is one unified whole. The myriad things come from the same unknown source, are made of the same basic materials, existing within the same dimensions of time and space, and operating under the same set of physical laws and principles. Nothing is left out of the universe, and yet, out of this fundamental sameness pop infinite, extravagant differences.
Difference abounds. Quarks are different from atoms, molecules are different from cells. Single-celled life forms are different from plants, plants from animals, animals from human beings.
I am different from you, we are different from them, they are different from those other guys. (And usually, it is those other ones that are the problem). Life builds up in complexity, and it is said that the most healthy ecosystems are those containing the most diversity.
The paradox of sameness and difference in the context of human interaction is again so obvious that we might not care to note it. Of course, we are the same. Obviously, we are different. We like the sameness, until it becomes dull and heavy, and conformity burdens our conversations and dogma confines our mind and restricts our ability to grow and change.Read more
One of the perennial challenges facing leaders is competing cultures, because competing cultures inevitably fuel conflicting value systems.
Competing value systems are critical for leaders to pay attention to because these are “hot spots” where conflicts often swiftly obscure creative and collaborative opportunities. Where people could collaborate, they now fight. Where there might have been agreement, we find resentment. Coherence is traded in for conflict. When this happens we demonstrate our shortcomings. Larger possibilities are forfeited for all-too-common expressions of our weaknesses as a species. We feel threatened by cultures not familiar to us. Differences bring out hostility. We become destructive instead of constructive.
The issue for many leaders today is that when faced with these consequences, it often appears like the best approach is to retreat from difference, diversity and tension.Read more