This past month I facilitated groups who were getting ready for the school year, getting ready to go off to their first staff meetings, department meetings, district meetings. They were excited and readying themselves for the ‘beginning of school.’ They were also ‘steeling themselves’ for having to work again with ‘that person.’ The one who is a pain to work with. The one who, ‘already,’ will be stubborn, obstinate and not want to ‘go with the program.’
They knew from the get-go who he or she was. “He wasn’t going to be easy.” “She wasn’t going to be agreeable.” Wherever I went, district to district, this person appeared. Folks were anxious. Unsure. Afraid.
The colleagues of whom they spoke of are sure of themselves and their ‘smarts.’ They can be cutting and loud. The way they interact when asked to collaborate is immature. They don’t want to. They defend, they blame. They bark. Somehow in each place I went there was a person like this. No fun.
If these ‘folks’ show up everywhere, what is going on? Is it gender? Would they listen to a man and not listen to a woman? Is it about power? Did they get passed over? Not recognized for all they have done for the school? Are they licking wounds? Did the curriculum change and they are mad because they had it all ‘down’? All of the above? And does knowing the specifics of the situation matter?
I felt a bit helpless in offering guidance to the anxious participants in the room. I spoke about norms and starting off with clear expectations. But in the end there is more at play than the rational. What I do know is that people get frustrated when their autonomy is threatened. They feel belittled. And when their status isn’t acknowledged, they rebel. They want respect. I get that.
AND, we are all on the same team and we need to focus on the Work – the students, the patients, the clients – the Work at hand. Sometimes we just can’t get beyond ourselves and think about the work. I feel the same way sometimes. Being an adult and working within an organization means I must be responsible for my words and my interactions with others. I have to focus on the bigger picture and others need to trust that I will put the interest of the student or the patient before my own. I have to be courteous and respectful from the minute I get out of the car until I get back in (and in the emails I send after I get home too). I need to self-manage and self-monitor and self-modify. And I need to be open to the organization’s purpose and work toward it – see how it aligns with my purpose.
Instead of starting the year from an aggressive, anxious stance with these individuals might we be in a space of inquiry, and not inquisition? Curiosity, not demand? Edgar Schein, author of Humble Inquiry: the Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling would invite us to be on the same side from the beginning and ask each other questions that invite one another to the work.
Here are some questions that might help start collaborative conversations. They presume a level of maturity and self-accountability for all involved. I thank Peter Block for his assistance with these questions.
- What is the most meaningful use of your/my/our time?
- What room is worth being in?
- What do I refuse?
- What do I say yes to?
- What do I stand for?
- What do we do within the existing structure to take a stand for meaning?
- What flame do I want to I carry into all interactions?
- What is at stake for you at this time?
- What social fabric are we constructing?
- What declaration do you want to make?
- What do I want to do with my power?
- What strikes you as important to share/discuss/reflect on at this time?
These questions provide a different ‘spin’ on working together than ‘just do it.’ We all need to be self-accountable. (Is that a word?) We need to take a look at who we are and what we are doing. Time to grow up for the sake of the Work.
If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to call me, 650-868-1916 and we can Face Time, Skype me at jenniferabrams, or email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com and we can set up a time to talk voice-to-voice. I look forward to hearing from you!
Had a chance to meet Russell Quaglia this summer. Coolest guy. A mensch. And, a great educator and researcher. His institute, The Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations “has been guided by the belief that students are the potential, not the problem, in today’s educational system. We are driven by the importance of student voice and a conviction that students have something to teach us. They are our companions on this educational journey.” GREAT resources available. Check it out.
And food for thought, KnowledgeWorks Forecast 3.0. “This forecast previews five disruptions that will reshape learning over the next decade. Responding to them with creativity rather than fear will be critical to preparing all learners for an uncertain future.”