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