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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Over twenty years of teaching teams and organisations to support their discussions with pen and paper we kept meeting the same insight so often it became so familiar we gave it a name: the one-third rule or the thirds rule. Someone in the team would say it is not us it's them. Or it's the management, or the system or the professions and consultants who dip in and out of everyday working life. Or although it went unsaid everyone would go away with a nagging feeling it is all their fault. The blame or the responsibility would pinball around. It's you? is it us? or them? Is it me? Or the system? These are uncomfortable moments which undermine our reflective capacity. As one person put it. You don't play the game of sticking the tail on the donkey because the donkey might be you.

Mapping moments at work in teams, especially where there is a complex mix of roles and tasks something surprising often happens. We notice that we are working with a mixture of roles and responsibilities. The fingers stop pointing at each other and point at the different places on the map with observations and then negotiations about me being here on the map and you being there. We hover and shimmer between different points of view and ways of seeing and saying things. Looking at the map of the keywords in the conversation, it is clearer that there are several patterns of relating going on at once. The map measures up to this complex push and pull of influence and control as well as the call and response of voices for and against one solution or one line of responsibility and another.

Mapping and tracking this vital and often fleeting back and forth of ideas and feelings led to us making what we called the "one-third rule". It goes like this, in any moment of difficult or conflicting views, or in any moment of breakthrough and celebration keep in mind the "one-third rule" which is to say one-third of what is driving what is happening for better or worse right now is coming from me, one third is coming from you and one third is coming from the system (or the model or the profession). Don't pin it all on one of these three. Of course, it is tempting because to pin it all on one because binary thinking gives the illusion of tidy thinking for a moment or two. It may make things tidier to blame the system or take it all on yourself, but the reality is always more nuanced.

Of course, it is never exactly one-third this person is responsible and one-third me and one-third the system. It is simply a useful rule of thumb to hold in mind and check in with automatically like a driver checking the rearview mirror.

For more on the one-third rule see Therapy with a Map or check out details to book for the workshop Ten Key Skills in Talking with a Map

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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Are we getting along? Are we going round in circles? Are we in role? On task? what is the process? Are we socially aware and answerable to each other?

Whenever we are doing things together regardless of what it is, we have an eye on how things are going. I like to think of how we do what we do as a dance. When we dance, we are engaged in a multi-sensory process: working with inner and outer realities; listening to the music; watching our moves and feeling our bodies. Conversations when they are not taken for granted or simply transactional are not so different to the multi-media, multi-sensory orchestration of dancing. There is a pattern to it with a pace, a rhythm and steps. Some dances we know and fall into without thinking. Others throw us off balance and need practice and negotiation. The dances we do have patterns of relating which have a push and pull of power with moments of leading and following. Away from the dance floor, there are deeply woven dances between men and women, between bosses and employees, politicians and the media, parents and children. There are also micro dances we do such as the side shuffle, barging through or giving way as our paths cross on the street.

When the dance goes wrong, when it doesn't fit the needs or circumstances of that interaction, then we need to notice, name and negotiate how to change the dance. The problem is we are quick to blame the dancer. Someone has clumsy feet; someone is leading too strongly or not following in the right way. Blaming the dancer is like rushing to judgement and missing out on naming the dance carefully, with compassion step-by-step. We are too pressured and too driven to get the job done or the talk transacted to stop and reflect on how we are relating. To stop and talk about the process is exposing and can be anticipated as judgy or embarrassing. So we tend to avoid it, dismiss it as distraction or postpone it to some future, magic time when we hope pennies easily drop and reflection kicks in. It is true that talking about how we are getting along and who has what roles and how each of us is helping or hindering is likely to be personal. It might raise challenging issues of gender, privilege and power. It may touch on differences of personality and temperament. The process is complex and once the moment has passed it gets fogged over by new events and interactions. We rehearse privately in the moment what we might say but then carry grudges and 'should-have-saids' within us. When or if we do speak in the immediate moment about what is going on (and it is not a routine and natural part of the conversation) it can feel accusative as if what is happening is somebody's fault and there is something wrong. When we do speak, we need the three C's of compassion, courage and curiosity but above all we need the patience to find a fourth C called clarity. Clarity comes more easily and more mutually when we talk with a map.

We have to watch out for blaming and shaming the dancers when we name the dance.

The quality of how we introduce the shift from content to process is crucial. It needs to be an open address from us to we, or we to us. What are we doing? This inclusive approach steps back from the accusative voice that says with finger pointing: what are you doing? Or the confessional voice saying: it is all me. It's my fault. The pronoun of choice is neither you or me but we. How are we doing this dance? Where does it come from between us, within us and around us?

If we start with the idea that we are part of something, we are putting attention to the whole pattern of interaction at that time, in that moment in this context. We are naming the dance and achieving a careful multi-dimensional description of it and our experience of it before making or considering any judgement about answerability and responsibility.

For more along these lines of conversational and reflective awareness see Therapy with a Map (Potter 2020) or Talking with a Map (2022) Or book into the half day webinar on Key Skills in Talking with a Map on the bookings page of this site

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Updated: Oct 24, 2022

When we talk seriously to each other our conversations soon turn to sharing stories and we do something with stories that delights us. We make links. We see patterns. If we don't think we have got the thread, we ask questions. Where are you going with this? We offer our own perspectives and, in the process, the story telling becomes more conversational. This conversational quality of story sharing is important to making links but also for seeing where the gaps. It opens a space for reconsolidation of the story and our individual working memories are in joint action and create a bigger space for reflecting in the moment. This conversational working memory space is extended even more with a map of the key words of the story on paper between us.

When we say we like a good story we might just as well say we like a good pattern where all the links join up. We like to meet our deep need for narrative coherence and see all the links in the chain of a story connect. We like 'loopiness'.

Part of the dramatic art of storytelling is to have twists and turns in the chain of links. It is almost as if we the participants in a story are being teased into fearing there wont be a plot or tidy ending. The loop wont loop. This is where the art of storytelling in fiction differs from the art of talking through stories in therapy to help and to heal. In storytelling in the majority of cases we expect narrative coherence. We expect the story to fit together and everything that gets mentioned must have some purpose in the plot or in the development of the characters. This is often yearned for in therapy but there is a benefit of seeing that when we are helping or counselling each other making links involves also finding and meeting gaps. In the context of therapy, the enthusiasm for loopiness and smoothly storying the story should be regarded with some suspicion. Our more troublesome and painful life stories may have missing links or gaps. Or we cannot bring ourselves to make the links that are calling out to us. The coexistence of links and gaps is clearer when telling stories together is assisted by pen and paper to keep track of the key words. We can leave question marks or make a blank space as the sign of something not yet voiced or understood. The gaps point to what Donnel Stern calls unformulated experience or Philip Bromberg points to as an absence of autobiographical memory that leaves us with feelings that haunt us. I would like to call these unstoried memories and mapping some of the feeling words that point to them can help begin the process of storing and authoring the unstoried memory. You might have read the word unstoried in the preceding sentence as unstored and there is a connection in the sense that unstoried means not stored in the maps of individual and shared experience and not part of my story or our story. In the healing process of therapeutic conversations and storytelling, the gaps are as important as the links. The big gaps in our stories don't get the eureka shout out that the big links get. The tools and methods of Cognitive Analytic Therapy and the methods of talking with a map help us build relational awareness so we can move between picture and detail, past and present, attention to inner life and outer life, life alone and life with others.

Making a link means tolerating the awareness of knowing that A led to B. Noticing and naming a gap means tolerating not knowing if there is another link or story between A and B. To make sense of gaps we need to avoid rushing to closure around one story of explanation or another. Rushing is always tempting for everyone. It is what for me is storying the story too quickly. We do this when we want to avoid embarrassment, cricisim, and shame, we close the story prematurely or in a superficial manner of covering up.

Of course, links are essential. Cause and effect, call and response, push and pull. Links give us leverage -something to go on. We help each other link the links. It gives us orchestral ability. It gives us confidence to untangle the tangled memories and see patterns. Like untying knots and unravelling wires and cables, it takes time, co-operation and patience. In the process we discover gaps and ties that are broken. We need to notice the gaps and give attention to the process of unravelling and straightening. The gaps may appear and then vanish. We might want things to add up, but we need to notice when they don't. We need to make friends with gaps. I learnt slowly as a therapist to be able to say I don't know how that led to this or how these things fit together. Gaps can be invisible and easily bypassed. Gaps are where links lie ready to be made or circled round carefully and respectfully with a promise to return now and then with compassion and curiosity.

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