Four practices for more collaborative presence

Competitive and Collaborative world views

Underneath the great diversity of human culture are two basic social configurations: the domination model and the partnership model.

Riane Eisler

In an earlier article (https://beatrixedercoaching.com/the-impact-of-perspective/I wrote about the influence our subconscious worldview has on the outcome of working with – or against - others. Despite the fact that most of us understand the benefit of collaboration, we often are oblivious of our domination-based consciousness that inadvertently recreates power-over dynamics and lead to disempowerment, disengagement and conflict.

Conflicts are normal, natural, inevitable and necessary. Conflicts contain life force, stimulate change to the status quo and can be a doorway to growth and understanding when handled in a competent way.

Yet, most of us have not learned to be conflict competent and conflicts are easily associated with negative beliefs:

Perceived as a threat, triggering strong emotions and inducing anger, anxiety, distrust, hostility, lack or loss of affinity and suspicion. In conflict situations – even with people we know well and trust - we easily lose our capacity to find creative strategies to meet the needs of all involved parties.

How do we learn skillful dialogue when society conditions us

  • to either impose our needs on others
  • or abandon our needs at the first sight of conflict? 

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn

Conflicts undermine the sense of trust and safety and our autonomic nervous system reacts below the level of conscious choice. Instead of choosing our response, we react automatically: our auto-pilot program has a visceral and reactive pattern of fight / flight / freeze / fawn and each of these reactions is characterized by certain behaviors:

Fight

Behaving in a way that is assertive, competitive, power-over, non-cooperative, self-centered

Flight

Characterized by behaviors of avoidance, distraction, withdrawal, isolation, rejection

Freeze

Showing little emotion and involvement, feeling paralyzed or “frozen”, spacing out, feeling powerless and incapable of thinking and making decisions

Fawn

Characterized by behaviors of appeasing, accommodating, pleasing; ignoring own beliefs, needs, values

Creative tension

When we fall back on these automatic and fear-based responses, we miss the creative tension there is in any conflict. Tension continuously arises and subsides in all our relationships, pulsing to the rhythm of contraction and expansion, as we strive for connection while embodying our individuality.

This tension is a primary energy and is both within us as individuals and between us and other people.

On a biological level, you can think of the contraction and expansion of your heart muscle as it pushes fresh blood to your arteries or the rhythmic movement of our lungs taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide.

On a mental level, you can think of the rhythm of tension of any creative process of planning, overcoming obstacles, carrying out and then accomplishing the work to release it.

On an interpersonal level you can think of contraction and expansion for example when you are afraid to say “no” to something (contraction) or when you allow people to experience their anger / disappointment without feeling obligated to fix them (expansion).

So, what would happen if our desire to connect and collaborate would be bigger than our desire to be right or to win?

How do we learn to consider everyone's needs as equally important?

And how do we move from considering all needs to making decisions that are translated into actions?

It is a huge undertaking that requires the courage to shift some of the basic understandings we learned and venturing into a new mindset that trusts the possibility that everyone’s needs can be met.  In order for us to navigate these situations of tension and contribute to collaboration, we need both courage and skill.

4 practices for more collaborative presence

With courage and skill, corporate leaders can practice Inclusive leadership so as to promote change from within their organization and foster holistic sustainability that serves people, planet and profit. Inclusive leaders are committed to unlearning these internalized cultural messages of scarcity-competition-domination and inspire others to do the same.

There is a strong element of ownership in the process: of wanting to collaborate for the sake of collaboration, without the expectation of a specific outcome. Stepping into our courage motivates us to move out of our comfort zone of doing things the habitual way.

Four practices can support our commitment to connect and collaborate:

  • Self-confrontation

Self-confrontation starts with being aware of our cultural blueprint and honest about the impact of our actions on ourselves and others. Self-confrontation is compassionately noticing those views, actions and habits, whether we evaluate them as appropriate or not. Self-confrontation is the fine balance of cultivating radical honesty with yourself without over-criticizing each of your actions and without rushing into indulgent self-forgiveness, bypassing the sweat and stretching of true learning.

It requires humility and the willingness to face the fact that sometimes even our best intentions bring unintended and non-desired results.

  • Common humanity

When we are in touch with our common humanity, we recognize that independently of gender, race, age, culture and personal orientations, we all share the same universal human needs. Some of these basic human needs are subsistence, safety, respect, freedom, affection, creation and meaningful contribution for example. These needs are timeless and they underlie our own words and behaviors as well those of other people.

  • Interdependence

Building on the understanding of our common humanity (we share the same human needs) is the realization that we are interdependent. Our choices influence the lives of others, be it with people we know and physically meet on a daily basis or people we might have never met. Just think of how this article is bringing up feelings, thoughts and maybe actions in your life while we may not know each other in person.

So, the awareness of this interdependence can be helpful in committing to care for the whole, regardless of a person’s power, rank or position. Inclusive leaders will be able to hold multiple needs – such as their personal needs, needs of others, shared purpose and values of the group - while choosing a path of action. Inclusive leaders are able to practice interdependence by making decisions with others and for the whole system. Admittedly, this can be odd in the beginning because so many of us are used to unilateral decision-making and merely negotiating our own needs without thinking of the larger context.

  • Possibility-thinking

As we recognize our common humanity and interdependence, we can connect to our own needs and those of the people around us. The beauty of needs is that they are a motivational energy that we can channel to connect with others and grow together. Becoming aware of a need opens up possibilities to meet that need and it is inspiring to recognize that much more is possible than any of us can imagine at any given moment.

Our needs are universal and abstract and they are not linked to one specific outcome or a specific person performing a specific task – that’s the strategy to meet the need. To give you an example: If I haven’t eaten all day, I will feel hungry and my need will be getting food. Some strategies to meet this need for food might be

  • cooking something at home or
  • going to a restaurant or
  • requesting the help of a family member or friend to cook me food.

So, it is not our human needs that are in conflict, only the strategies. Strategies are the endless number of thoughts, actions and resources we use to try to meet our needs. When we manage to internalize this understanding of our human needs and strategies, this brings us from a mindset of scarcity-competition-domination to a mindset of resourcefulness and creativity.

Conclusion

When you start practicing these four concepts, it can feel complicated and slow. It is easiest to start in low-stress situations and focus on one concept at a time. A first step might be getting in the habit of recognizing and naming your own feelings and needs. As you get better at this, include the feelings and needs of other people into your focus.

Over time, you will have more trust in the process and you will be able to better harness the resourcefulness of people with whom you work and communicate. Inclusive leadership and true collaboration will allow you to tap into the collective wisdom and creativity of the group and work towards holistic sustainability that serves people, planet and profit.

As organisations and people become more collaborative, this does not mean that competition will completely disappear. Probably competition will remain present so as to improve the effectiveness of collaboration.

Equally, power relations will continue to exist, however the function of power will shift, giving more weight to the function of coordination and less to the role of coercion.

 

Questions for reflection

  • When does the domination mindset show up in your life? With yourself? With others?
  • What are the rhythms of tension (contraction – expansion) in your work?
  • What is your reactive pattern in stressful situations? Is it fight / flight / freeze / fawn?
  • How will you remind yourself of Common Humanity, Interdependence and Possibility-thinking?

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