I once took part in a 2-day experimental gestalt workshop which proved to be an absolutely intriguing experience. As soon as I arrived in the group of 12, we were invited to pair up with one other person and introduce ourselves. After 10 minutes, the facilitators invited us to reflect on and discuss how we chose the particular person we chose to pair with. What was it about him or her, ourselves, the environment, the context of the workshop? Did they look interesting, safe, familiar, attractive?
Each person was then invited to continue the conversation with the other, but this time to disclose something about themselves that felt more edgy, risky. Something they wouldn’t normally share with a stranger. After 10 minutes, we were asked to reflect on what just happened, how it felt, the focus and style of conversation and to discuss further: ‘What I notice we talked about is…’ It was fascinating to look at what kind of things we disclosed and how, rather than being locked into actual content.
After a further 10 minutes, we were asked to discuss what we didn’t talk about, and to take another risk. To reflect on the underlying issues, feelings, experiences, thoughts that emerged while we were talking but didn’t get articulated between us. ‘What I notice we didn’t talk about is…’ It felt strangely paradoxical, weird, scary, exciting. We became aware of all kinds of unspoken dynamics that lie beneath encounters, hidden out of sight like a subconscious dance that stays unacknowledged.
The potential for this kind of conversation is powerful in leadership and coaching. It takes courage and wisdom to self disclose in the right way, with the right person, in the right context and at the right time. It’s what some psychologists, therapists and coaches refer to as ‘use of self’ to progress a relationship with a colleague or client, to raise awareness of an issue or address an opportunity or challenge. I have found it useful in interviews, coaching and group facilitation, especially if things feel stuck.
So, imagine the conversation: ‘Something I’m aware of as I sit here with you is…’, ‘Something I’m aware that we’re not talking about is…’, ‘Something I would like you to know about me is…’, ‘Something I’m aware of at this point in the meeting is…’, ‘Something I’m conscious that we never seem to talk about is…’, ‘What is the issue at the heart of this matter that none of us are talking about..?’, ‘What I’ve noticed about this conversation is…’ ‘What have you noticed..?’, ‘What is happening now?’
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.