This blog post talks about an experience I had recently with a close colleague, Tim Merry. Tim and I have been good friends and colleagues for several years; and, in addition to Kelly and Allen, Tim is one of the people that I’m learning the most with about systemic transformation and working in difference. In fact, it’s because I think our work together is so good and our relationships is strong, that I’ve decided to share this experience and our learning from it. (Even if it’s a bit sensitive and painful for both of us!)
And I knew it would be okay.
And it was. Not because this story has a happy ending. There actually is no ending, no particular resolution. No, I knew it would be okay because Tim and I are in relationship.
We didn’t have a chance to talk about what had happened that day. Or rather, we didn’t take the chance. I was trying to figure out what had happened and how I was feeling about it, and Tim - after checking in with me - was giving me some space and trying to figure it out for himself, too. (And we had a training to conduct!)
Fortunately, Tim and I share a practice of running, and the next morning, we took a run together. We talked about my experience of the teach and how I saw historical patterns playing out, his experience of what happened and the impact it had, what we thought we were learning, and how it might be important to the group we were facilitating together.
And then we took it back into the training room. We sat in circle together and we shared our experiences both in the teach the previous day and during the run that morning. We shared that these issues will arise again and again when working with teams of people and how we, as practitioners, were moving through it together.
In the circle, questions were asked around, “What did you decide?” or “How will you act going forward?” And in the ensuing weeks, there have been questions about “What did you guys do?” and “How did it resolve?”
Ideally, in the moment of the interruption, we would have named it and decided how to go forward together. But that didn’t happen. It often doesn’t.
That’s not what we did. We didn’t problem solve. We didn’t come up with a resolution to avoid future occurrences. Instead, we attended to our relationship. We shared our understanding of the situation and our reactions, made apologies where needed, saw and heard each other well, and decided a next step together. We decided to stay together.
And so this is what we’ve shared with folks, “We continue to work together and be in conversation about our learning,” but somehow this doesn’t seem to be enough for some folks.
But that is what is happening.
I get that this is disappointing. The desire for more “resolution” is completely understandable.
- I also want us to know exactly what to do next.
- I want us to solve the problem.
- I want us to have so much certainty about what to do that we know how to avoid the problem in the first place.
- I want us to know what agreements to make so that we don’t interrupt, disrupt, and hurt each other ever again.
But I don’t believe that resolution was - or is - the goal.
In fact, I think there are a few real risks to forcing resolution in situations like this:
- We have resolution, but it isn’t real, or it is superficial. It might address the current circumstance but it doesn’t give us any capacity to deal with future occurrences.
- Forcing resolution can lead to short-term alleviation of feelings and discomfort but may have no real meaningful impact beyond making us feel better in the moment.
- Our relationships are not rooted in reality as we move from our lived experiences of each other to a set of “should” or “shouldn’ts”.
- Our relationships become more vulnerable to future disruption. We aren’t able to build the resilience - we don't get the practice necessary - to face future challenges.
- As process facilitators we undermine the work of the group because we don’t allow the discomfort or learning that comes from it.
This resolution in relationship is not neat and tidy, but more real, deep, and entirely based in practicing together.
The relationship is our resolution.