For several years the USA has been navigating a massive state of emergence, with all of the disruption that accompanies it. Tensions are also flaring at the global level. Having grown up in South Africa during apartheid, the conflict and polarity feels to me like deja vu. In some ways, it is even worse.
We do not yet know what is trying to emerge in these frequently fiery conflicts. Most of us have little individual influence over the larger whole, but we can choose to navigate conflict within our own communities.
Fire, like conflict, is a natural process. The sequoia and the redwood, those ancient and enormous trees native to California, have evolved in harmony with the fires which periodically sweep the area. Giant sequoias can keep growing for upwards of 3000 years, and yet without the catalyst of fire, they cannot grow.
It is fire that opens the cones of the trees, prepares a fertile ground and clears space for light and water to reach the seedling trees. The trees themselves have evolved to withstand the heat. It is thought that the thick, deeply grooved bark of coastal redwood acts as a fireproof shell.
To use the metaphor of redwood burning, some of what is in our current culture needs to be eradicated. Yet too much heat can leave nothing behind. With an increase of devastating fires as a result of climate change, we may even lose those redwoods. Given the added threat from nature, what does that mean for our current society as we know it?
What can we as leaders and coaches do when faced with the raging fire of a systemic shift?
A primary principle of Relationship Systems Intelligence holds that systems are in a constant state of emergence. Learning to create from that emergence is the key to navigating change. Although it's easy to slip into the reflex of thinking about who is trying to do what to whom, a bigger question revolves around what has been trying to emerge, perhaps for decades.
To return to our metaphor, more burning may be needed to create the conditions necessary to growth. In the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), we as individuals cannot create solutions alone. We depend on all of the ingenuity of the system to emerge what happens next. Systems Inspired Leadership leverages the tools of Relationship Systems Intelligence to support change.
To quote our Faculty member Michelle Davis, connection begins with a conversation.
We can use our ability to read the emotional field - to know, feel, see and sense who is in conversation with us. We can meet people where they are, and sit in the fire of discomfort as we navigate conflict. If ventilation is what's needed, we can support it by creating a space where people can speak honestly to what they are feeling.
In our awareness that something is trying to shift, we can own our part of the chaos by helping to unfold it. The more blocking that takes place, the more disruption will happen.
How then can we use our skills to create safety around this unfolding?
Those who practice Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) and Systems Inspired Leadership know that conflict is something to be explored rather than avoided. As part of this exploration, we begin to understand the situation from another's point of view.
1 | Be conscious of which conversations are likely to be productive.
Shifts come from authentic conversations. We start from a place of humility rather than from power. When it comes to tender topics, who are you open to hearing from, and who might be open to hearing your perspective? Who is yours to interact with?
Our ability to create a shift in the face of polarity depends on our own stage of evolution, and whether we can meet the person before us and stay in the fire of discomfort long enough to listen and respond.
2 | Establish the rules of engagement.
Before you dive into a difficult conversation, create a Designed Team Alliance (DTA) which outlines how you want to behave and what you hope to discuss.
While having this discussion, what atmosphere and energy do we want to create around it? What points are off the table, at least for now? What topics are essential to the conversation? What might allow us to develop a better understanding of one another?
(Full details about the Designed Team Alliance can be found in our Meet-Reveal-Align-Act article.)
3 | Watch for frozen frames.
With so much of our work now taking place online, a “frozen frame" makes it easy to see when our virtual connection is unstable or lost altogether.
In relationship, a frozen frame is a bias. When you notice yourself making assumptions about others based on the way that they speak or look, it's a hint that your frame might be frozen.
Pause. Take a moment to open yourself to a new discovery. Listen to understand rather than listen to counter. Become curious. Concentrate on hearing, feeling, and seeing something different from your usual view or previous perspective.
4 | Revisit the Five Principles of Relationship Systems Intelligence.
Choose one as a focus to work through what is emerging for you. From that, begin to rehearse how you might use the tools and skills you already have to help what wants to emerge to take root.
For myself, my challenge is to watch for the moment I begin to react to somebody or something - and pause. In that moment, I can find the space to rehearse how I might be able to create from it, and put those insights into practice.
5 | Remember, not everyone involved agrees with those who hold extreme views.
We all need to be mindful of collapsing entire groups or populations into a connection with those who are creating havoc, aggression and damage on their behalf. That is how the next chasm is created.
In disagreeing with the actions of one, be careful not to write off the entire group, culture or nation.
In navigating conflict, consider the question of what is yours to do. None of us can solve the entire puzzle of disruption that we are experiencing today. Which pieces can you shift from where you sit? What challenge might you give yourself on a daily basis to cross the edges of conflict you see around you, and support others in doing the same? Act from that.
As you step in and step up, trust that in shifting these smaller pieces, you are part of solving the larger puzzle. Evolution occurs in small changes and innovations that tip the domino to make a difference somewhere else.
Change happens one relationship at a time.
Learn more about Relationship Systems Intelligence in the books "Creating Intelligent Teams" and "Systems Inspired Leadership."
Marita Fridjhon, CEO and Co-founder of CRR Global.