James Traeger and Tony Fraser recently hosted a group inquiry on Power Listening to Truth. We have converted it into a Power Listening to Truth podcast for you to listen to below.
There is much discussion these days about ‘speaking truth to power’. But what if power isn’t capable of listening?
Speaking truth to power is not just a question of the skill of the speaker. It might also be as much about the skill of the person being spoken to.
James Traeger and Tony Fraser hosted this group inquiry to explore:
- How and why leaders avoid and suppress truthfulness.
- What can you do to encourage greater truthfulness in your organisation?
- How can you support your leaders to be able to hear the truth?
- What can leaders do to acquire the skills needed to encourage truthfulness?
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Transcript for the Power Listening to Truth Podcast
Claire Newell 0:09
Hello, and a warm welcome to the Mayvin People Change Podcast. This is the place to find thoughtful and heartfelt conversations about leadership and organisation development. Each episode is created with our listeners in mind. So if you have a suggestion for a topic you'd like to hear us talk about, please get in touch on [email protected].
Mayvin are thought leaders in the area of leadership and organisation development. We have a wealth of experience in this area. We have a thriving community and we offer regular free events such as our Artful ways programme. You can find out more details via our website mayvin.co.uk that's mayvin.co.uk.
New for this year, we're launching our exciting master's programme which is our MA in people and organisation development. Again for more details, check out our website. You can also find us on Twitter and LinkedIn. We'd love to catch up with you there too. If you enjoy listening to this podcast, please do leave us a review on your favourite platform. It will help us to grow our audience. Thanks so much for being here. And we hope you enjoy listening.
Claire Newell 1:19
Episode 12 Power listening to truth. Today's episode is a recording of our free online webinar that we ran recently entitled Power Listening to truth. We know from our research on truthfulness in organisations, that being able to speak the truth really matters to people.
And that truthfulness affects organisation performance. When people are not truthful organisations have more problems and relationships suffer. In short, more truth means better results. The typical answer is to focus on employees and make it their job to speak truth to power.
But what if power isn't capable of listening? James Trager and Tony Fraser hosted this session to explore how and why leaders avoid and suppress truthfulness. What can you do to encourage greater truthfulness in your organisation? How can you support your leaders to be able to hear the truth?
And what can leaders do to acquire the skills needed to encourage truthfulness? Right, I'll hand you over to James and Tony. And all the lovely members of the Mayvin community that came along on the day. Enjoy.
James Traeger 2:26
So welcome everybody to this event of Power Listening to Truth. I'm James Trager, for those of you who don't know me, and welcome. Nice to see you, for those of you who do. I'm going to be doing the session today with my colleague Tony Fraser. Tony if you want to wave.
Tony and I are going to be a bit of a double act. Where I just say a little bit about what today's session is about. We conceived Tony and I of this session because two threads in our thinking kind of merged. And our work, our practice kind of merge. One was that Tony for a while had been doing some research into truth in organisations and the mechanic truth in organisations. And also what you might just call the undiscussables.
The other thread was that for a while, we've been running a programme called the here and now group. And what that programme is, is a programme to enable people to deal with their defensive routines. This is a programme that a number of organisations have been running that seems to us to be not so prevalent anymore. And we're interested in that. Why isn't that happening?
So the truth in organisations and the lack of programmes talk about the ability for people to understand their defensive routines kind of merged. And we noticed that there's a lot of discussion in organisations about speaking truth to power. But rather less about how you enable those of power to hear the truth. So that's where today's event really, really starts to meet.
So how do we help senior leaders, their defensive routines? What we're going to do is. We're going to discuss how that sort of work has come about our thinking about it. We're going to introduce you to some of that research that I was talking about. That Tony have been involved in. We will talk about those defensive routines in senior leaders and how they seem to come about.
And we're going to give you a taste of a programme or a process that we think is necessary in order to help leaders deal with those defensive routines. And then inquire with you about what's needed to make this work more prevalent. Like we think it used to be actually. So that's really what today is about.
So it's going to be an opportunity to reflect on what we're going to be offering you and have a go at this kind of process. And just to let you know that we are going to be recording this session. So manage your yourself accordingly. When we're going to be putting you a breakout into breakout rooms for an activity at one point. We won't be recording those, clearly. So that will that will be a private space for you to reflect with one other person.
And please, if you do want a copy of that recording, or the slides that we're going to show you or anything, then please contact my colleague who Zoe on [email protected]. And we'll gladly send you the recording and or the slides. So that's what we're about today.
Welcome. And great, great to see so many of you. If you're, if you are able to turn your camera on, that's great. Please stay on mute if you've got a lot of background noise. And I'm now going to hand over to Tony.
Tony Fraser 6:24
Hi. And welcome everybody from me too. It was about it was a couple of years ago that I really got interested in, in this idea of truthfulness and how it affects organisation life. And it seemed really what the more I thought about it, the more odd it felt. Whilst truthfulness is really important, you know, reality. If you're if you don't know what the reality is, you can't deal with it.
There's and organisations are brilliant places for cover ups and avoidances and evasions. And given that, and I think, you know, kind of I say. Everybody knows that, that, that that you don't. Particularly powerful people don't get to hear the truth all the time. And often, they have ways of trying to find things out.
Yet, that that ability to be receptive to the truth is never on a leadership or almost never on a leadership development curriculum. And it's not something that's ever talked about it. It doesn't form part of performance reviews, or any kind of capability assessment or even in competency, you know, if you have competency sets, you know, the ability to hear the truth is, doesn't get it never comes into focus or rarely does.
So, we did some questionnaire based research, we had over, I think it was nearly 120 responses and responses from different types of organisation. Public private sector, from different levels in the organisation, you know, very senior people and more junior people. And here's, here's some of the things. These are highlights from the slightly longer survey that that, that we've come to.
So less than half the people in an organisation think that. You're on a five point scale. Thought that there, or said that truthfulness is good or excellent. The majority said it was fair, poor or very poor. So the majority of people say truthfulness is is not, you know, not good. And only 20% strongly agree that truthfulness is reflected in practice, and 20% strongly disagreed.
And despite this 40%, of the respondent said that their organisation does not make it clear, the truthfulness is important it's and and with the others. You know when when we investigated this, it isn't it's not a prime topic. We have the next slide please.
So, at the same time, it really matters to people 80% of people say they're more motivated when they believe they can speak the truth. And 95% said that level of truthfulness is either extremely or very important to them. And 80% said their organisation would be more effective if people were more truthful. with each other.
I think that's sort of the killer. You know, it's like, if we were more truthful, our organisation would work better. And it's, it's blindingly obvious, self evident. But that's true. And this is another one, I think that's really important. 60% said a lack of truthfulness had led to significant problems in the past 12 months.
I'm thinking, as you're listening to this, none of you are particularly surprised by any of this. You know, it's, yeah, well, we'd know that, you know, that's, it is that's the way organisations work. And what people are, aren't less or least truthful about, we ask questions about, you know. What is it easiest to talk about what is hardest to talk about and be truthful about? So, you know, here are again, things that you would imagine would come to mind.
Conflict, bullying and bad behaviour, questions or challenges to senior leaders on new or different ideas. So people do not feel safe to say, what they think, what they believe, when they've got new ideas, when they disagree, or when they're talking to somebody very senior.
So we want to say, by in reporting this, the important thing to grasp is, truth matters. And if it doesn't happen as much as it needs to, and then this odd thing that nobody does anything about it is. There is no, it isn't addressed as an issue.
James Traeger 12:00
Thank you. So as you can see, from this highly polished diagram that we put together, the we were reflecting on this idea of the discussion about truth to power. And, actually, well, we were wondering about looking at it from the other end of the telescope, which is what is the experience of senior leaders, which means that it actually is quite difficult for them to hear the truth. So in a way, taking their world view to heart.
If you imagine, any of us, we all have defensive routines, we all have defensive patterns, there are things that we don't like to hear about ourselves. And when I, when I personally or any of us are under stress, or pressure, those defensive routines get even more triggered, even more arch, if you like, that's the proposition we would offer you.
So if you imagine a senior leader at the centre of this circle, what they've got is a huge amount of incoming, they've got a high, huge workload, you know, the lack of time to do anything, you know, let alone, deal with their bodily functions. They've got the pressures of being top as Barry Oshry calls it, the person who is awake at night, when everyone else is asleep, thinking about the various things. Sucking up that responsibility.
They've got the very secrets that they carry, you know, in the organisation that has a hierarchy of secrets. And they carry some of the difficult secrets that, they are hard to share about awkward and uncomfortable truths about the organisation.
Then there are these post Covid patterns of work that has just been thrown at them. They've got all the current leadership trends, or the irony of them, reading all these leadership books about how they should behave, and realising how far away they are from that reality. So making life even more difficult and hard for them.
And then they've got somebody who's just been on a course, speaking truth to power coming at them with a load of stuff that they really don't want to hear. So you know, in a way, no wonder that they have all of these defensive routines, and that people are very aware of those defensive routines and manage around them.
I had a great example of that, or current great example where I'm working with the senior team of a regulator, a large regulator, regulatory body. I'm also in the, in the process of facilitating a senior team day together, which has been a run up and the, the aim of the day is to develop a greater sense of collective leadership.
And the chief executive has basically said what he wants the day to be like. And a few of them have been clever enough to spot the irony of that. But none of them have said, this is a bit of an irony, isn't it that you want us to be more collective in our leadership, and yet you've told us what we're going to talk about on the day.
And, and nobody's pointed this out. So I pointed it out to him in the last few days. And he was up for hearing it, he was up for hearing it. But it's interesting that what he reflected on was why has nobody told me this. Why is nobody pointed that out, because he's not a silly fellow.
And he can see the irony of this, too. So, you know, people have been managing around that, that, that set of truth. And in some ways, that's the kind of the, the arch challenge that most leaders face, that there's, both they have their defensive routines, but there's also an expectation that they have a defensive routines. So you know, it's understandable.
And what's interesting as well, from our point of view is we don't think that organisations fully recognise this as a challenge. You know, in a way, it's not on the leadership development agenda. And our view, and we're going to tell you a bit of a story about a number of programmes that used to exist, a bit more prevalently, still around, but but more marginal.
Like, for example, Kurt Lewin's famous T group, which is designed to address exactly this issue, which seemed to be much more marginal now. It's as if it's gone off the organisational radar.
And one of our questions I suppose, for today is how can we get this back on the radar, this idea of dealing with defensive routines as a practice? So you know, to summarise, leadership roles inherently provoke anxiety and insecurity, the natural response to people to threat is to is to increase control and defensiveness.
This stuck pattern itself is undiscussable, as my example of the regulatory authority shows, and so it goes on. I think Tony, you were gonna offer a story, right weren't you about this?
Tony Fraser 17:16
Yeah, some somebody close to me. And people talk to me about their stuff. And on the, somebody close to me, wanted a conversation with and we had a long conversation about her feeling that in the way she relates to people. She doesn't feel properly connected, there's, she always holding something in reserve.
Now, and in my eagerness to be helpful, I asked lots of questions made lots of, kind of came up with lots of ideas and ways in which, how this might have come come about and what to do about it. Real, you know, with all the best intent.
And after we this was happening in a car ride together, and we took a break for a cup of coffee when we sat down and had a cup of coffee in a cafe. And this person said to me, you know, I'm feeling less and less connected to you. I feel more and more, kind of in a downward spiral. And I, I was absolutely shocked in like, I thought we were having a good conversation.
It turned out that my helpfulness was a barrier, that instead of helping her think through or understand herself, my interpretations were being sort of planted. But, and I felt really hurt and upset that that, you know, I got it wrong, if you know what I mean, because it mattered to me. And it was that exchange, though, that I mean, she was extremely fearful of telling me this, but that exchange was a shifting moment.
You know, it was in that process that I came to realise that my helpfulness doesn't help and that I needed to be even more or better tuned in to the other. And I think in order to hear that I needed to, well, I need to do two things. One is accept my own inadequacy. And the second thing is to reassure her that telling me this did not create a fracture in our relationship that we were, you know, I could hear it and still be okay. And that she hadn't harmed our relationship.
So I think what I'm trying to convey in this story is, it's, you know, this is intricate stuff, you know, it's not, it's not easy. In order to be able to hear the truth, you're, you know, I have to be willing to acknowledge my failings and my inadequacy. And still be present, not run away, not defend myself, not blame the other. And that takes a lot of work. That, you know, that doesn't happen. You know, you can't teach that as a method. There's no technique for that. But what it takes is a sort of a degree of self understanding and self acceptance.
James Traeger 21:07
I think there are environments that we can create there in the leadership development space. And we're going to tell you about one of them that we've been involved in, that can develop the leaders capability and capacity for dealing with or coping with that exposure and vulnerability. It's what Chuck Phillips from the NTL, which was Kurt Lewin's organisation that he founded for those of you interested in organisational development. He calls 'work proper', you know, that moment when the socialised agreement that we think we have between us breaks down.
And what we then get is an opportunity for what's sometimes called contact in Gestalt terms. Hence, the story that Tony was saying that opportunity to admit one's vulnerability and blind spot in order to have a different type of contact, it is possible while it's not a technique, I think, to create environments in the leadership space for that to happen. And that, that, where we can perhaps facilitate an organization's ability to be a space that can hear greater truth. So Tony, I think you were going to talk a little bit,
Tony Fraser 22:27
I mean, the going back to the sort of organisation, you know, the history of this, that the T-group, which was one of those settings in which this sort of thing was first explored, was developed in in the United States during the Second World War. And and the reason was exactly the sort of thing that we're talking about, it was about speaking truth, to power or power listening to the truth. T-groups were developed for Second World War, bomber crews large in on the on the large US bombers, there was a crew of about 20 people.
What they were finding was the attrition rate, the bombers were being lost at such a rate. And one of the main reasons for it was the senior officers on board the captain and the navigator in the copilot, were not being told what the crew could see.
What you had was very high levels of anxiety, the pilot, the copilot, the navigator, were hugely stressed crew members who had information and wanted to let those officers know. But the officers being too anxious and focused to be willing to hear and would use their authority and try and maintain control. And, and so information that was vital to their survival didn't happen. And they were being shot down and and destroyed.
So the T-group was a setting in which people were invited to explore their relationships with each other, and how they communicated and how they were seen by the others. That process, which which was pretty crude, and could be quite harmful it because it wasn't managed, very the evolution of it which happened in Roffey Park back in the mid 70s In the UK, and which I was part of was a programme called IRO Interpersonal Relationships in Organisations.
And basically, you'd get 12 people turn up range of often quite senior managers, often managers who knew that they had obstacles, that that they they weren't good their relationships were an obstacle to their effectiveness. We would start the programme simply by saying you're here to explore your, the way you relate to others, or to understand how you relate.
It was a sort of, we would then leave an open space, but with these ground rules, so the ground rules were simply be aware of your experience, take responsibility for what you say, Turn questions into statements, ask for and give feedback. Be concise, personal and specific, do not explain or justify your behaviour or feelings. Share your first and subsequent expressions and be aware of your body as a source of information. So those were the group rules. And that was it.
The first, my I have vivid recollections of how, what happened, for the first, probably three, four hours of being together, the group would turn hostile, and aggressive, particularly towards the faculty, you know, towards the facilitators. Then, eventually, you know, and the facilitators simply would not rise to those to the provocations and the aggression and so on. And eventually, they, the group would work out that they were there to engage with each other, as well as the tutors.
Our job was to help them to do that. And in that process, they they found how to understand the impressions, they, they the feelings, they evoked the, the responses they created in other people. And they became more and more open, and able to cope with the realities of their relationships think, their act as it were in relation to other people tended to dissolve away and who they really were, they could come to terms with who they really were, and other people did, too.
Tony Fraser 27:30
We, we were, in those days, pretty astonished at, at the time, something like we used to run one of these programmes for 12 people at least once a month. And we had, and, you know, the big corporates would send their people to this. And we had an 18 month waiting list of people, it was recognised very widely as a, you know, a way of changing the management culture of an organisation and the behaviour of individuals. Want to carry on from there?
James Traeger 28:13
Yes. So what we thought we would invite you to do is to, with those ground rules in mind, have a go at something. Now, this isn't directly the same work, but it is very close to it. And we're going to invite you to go into breakout pairs in a minute. And to discuss with your partner in the pair. What do you imagine people say about you? So what do you imagine people might think is the undiscussable.
For you, you know, that makes you perhaps more difficult to work with or be with, and that they don't say, because they don't want to hurt you or upset you, or, in some way ruffle anybody's feathers. So this is a an opportunity to for you to kind of look at the corner of your own eye, at your own shadow, if you like. And imagine what people might say about you. And in the same way that we might encourage when we run a group using those here and now ground rules. Notice when you talk about it, and notice when you actually do it.
So there'll be an opportunity perhaps in your pair, where you're probably say, oh, yeah, I recognise this. I know lots of people who, for whom they're indiscussables. So I know this particular chief executive, and you might start to kind of talk about it as if it's over there. And the invitation is to bring it back to yourself and each other. And that, in a way is one of the defensive routines that we have some times as we slide away from the difficult question.
So the invitation is to spot that and to bring it back. And to go back to that question, what do you imagine people say about you? So we're going to put you into pairs for about 20 minutes. And then we'll invite you to come back and not talk about the detail of what you talked about. But just kind of reflect on the process of that, and the experience of that. Okay, good to go.
James Traeger 30:37
Hi welcome back. So we just would like to spend a bit of time then reflecting together on how that was really what happened, what was, what what was difficult and uncomfortable about it. What, what did you find insightful about it? Was there any change in the relationship as a result of doing that, between the two of you, and the invitation, I suppose would be as it's a fairly large group to start just by sharing into the chat.
And then what we'll do is perhaps pick up some of those themes and develop that discussion is the next step. So just pop into the chat any thoughts around how that was? What you found difficult or uncomfortable? What what what insight you had, and anything that had an impact in terms of your relationship? As you were doing that? One of the things I noticed as people are doing that is my own discomfort around silence.
James Traeger 31:47
Very good, that's nice things coming through. Yeah,
Tony Fraser 31:52
Okay. Yeah, this the whole thing, I mean, you know, the first thing that comes up is safety. And you know, that unpacking what, what is safe? And what makes something safe, what makes something and how do you create the safe space, and you know, organisations are not safe spaces.
They are places where there are real risks and threats of, you know, loss of status, loss of influence, loss of reputation, know, all the risks, the, you know, in organisational life are huge and think, you know, here in a space where, you know, it's, it may be a stranger or somebody that you're not familiar with. There are also risks, but the effect is the same. It's difficult.
James Traeger 32:54
Yeah. So there's quite a bit coming up from, about the experience of discomfort and how we manage or contain that sense of discomfort in order to learn, I think, a lot of learning requires a bit of discomfort. And yeah, actually, what we tend to try and do in socialised spaces, like organisations is trying to move towards comfort, move towards, you know, what makes us feel safe.
Tony Fraser 33:26
Nims has said something here, we might need to feel safe in ourselves is one of the, that's if, if you feel safe with yourself, then nothing, it's nothing you expose is going to affect that. But that takes such a lot of work, to, to feel comfortable with your own mess.
It takes four years plus of work, if anyone's interested.
James Traeger 34:01
And maybe maybe a lifetime,
Unknown Speaker 34:04
and maybe a lifetime. Yeah.
James Traeger 34:08
One of the things we were talking about in the break ourselves, Tony and I was what it takes to be able to be a good facilitator of spaces where people feel safe enough to explore that vulnerability with others about their own your own defensive routines.
And Tony was telling the story in the in what we call the IRO group, the Interpersonal Relations in Organisations group and also experienced it in the here and now a group that we ran recently. That what happens first is that the facilitators, defensive routines are triggered, you know, so what happens first is, very often the facilitator is for one of a better word attacked.
You know, why are you doing this to us, or what is this about? So, you know, to be able to feel comfort in your own discomfort. Safety in your own vulnerability, understand what your own trigger points are, have practice in that type of space. That's the type of work that you need to do in order to facilitate this type of work. And in our view, there needs to be much more resource of facilitation in organisations to be able to create safe spaces in order for this work to to happen.
Tony Fraser 35:29
I also wanted to go back to Amit's first comment in the second second things said on the chat, which which I, you know, it's like how does organisation culture impact senior leaders open to hear the truth? I want to turn that right, right, you know, exactly the opposite way.
It's, it's the leaders willingness to be open to the truth that defines the culture. It's the leaders that default by their behaviour and by their receptiveness, they define the culture? That's how the culture gets known. Is, is it okay to say things that are disturbing or disruptive or critical? Or in another direction? Or is it not? And it's the leaders response, when those be with when they're in receipt of those that defines what the culture is? Certainly, particularly around truthfulness.
James Traeger 36:35
I mean, do you want to respond to that? Did you want to come back?
No, it's it's a really interesting angle. It's a chicken and egg, isn't it? You know, leaders come and go organisations stay. And? Yeah, you're right, that the leaders are, are the ones who need to set the tone into the truth. But how, but again, I'm looking at those, you need to be in a place from the outset that you are, that you care enough, or want to hear the truth enough to change this culture. So is it a bottom up type of activity that employees should then encourage senior leadership to consider or how do you transform something like that?
Tony Fraser 37:35
It's a really good question. I'm remembering some work I did, where I was asked if, it was a big accountancy firm, and the culture had gone off, and that they wanted to kind of reset. And they, they asked me, you know, how would you do that, and there was a sort of a series, they were going to run a series of town hall events.
My suggestion was that they, they arrived, they said, they wanted to hear, you know, the top team would arrive in a location, say to the group, we'd like to hear what you have to say to us, and then organise a kind of process, and then they would go out, the people would would construct their messages. And then the leaders would come back to hear the messages. That was my proposed methodology. They threw it out. They said, No, no, we'll just come and make speeches.
And what a surprise, they didn't change the culture, you know, was they, they told people how they wanted it to be, they didn't, the essence of it is to create a safe space. And, and we were having a conversation in one, you're in breakout. Also, I think, relevant, it's, there are two parts to it. There's the behaviour on relational part. So the individual has to have something in them that enables them to hear things they don't like, or that are uncomfortable.
And there's a process and procedural part, you know, there have to be safe spaces that are structured, and that enable, you know, and people need stepping stones to make to make it feel safe, you can't you know, an individual is not going to stand up in a large group and say something outrageous or they're very unlikely to and if they do they you know, they will have a huge sense of risk, but you can build it you know, from people talking to each other with like minded views to common statements which are not easily identified.
So, just very quickly, so what it's what work now, you know, in my organisation is, there is a, a new safeguarding policy in the organisation that makes it much much easier to tell the truth, I don't know if it's easier on the senior leadership to hear it. But there is definitely an acceptance that there is no expectation from anybody to be quiet and sweep things under the carpet.
But there is an expectation to, to talk about things and even to report it to the board member who is in charge of safeguarding. Even though it doesn't have to be, you know, we say safeguarding, but it could be on anything. That's what I'm trying to say. It doesn't have to be big, big issues, everything that you are concerned with everything that you want to say it's part of the process of safeguarding. So that's helpful.
James Traeger 40:39
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, and I do think that going back to our original proposition around the experience of the leader, you know, we expecting a huge amount from senior leaders to be able to deal with their defensive routines with all the incoming that they've got.
So there is a something to bear in mind here, which is a conundrum that we in the world of organisational change, or development, or whatever we call ourselves, have to consider it a much more strategic level, which is, how do we kind of unwind this knot that we've tied around senior leaders being the issue, and around the undiscoverable nature of our experience of them being at the core of culture change.
Because it puts them in a very, very difficult position in a very highly political environment that they tend to exist in. So there is something about thinking about the future of organisations or as we generally like to call it now in may have been related to a master's programme, the future of organising, that enables a different way of thinking about the organisational space that can enable much more truth to be spoken. Because actually, it's a lot to ask of a leader. That's an awful lot to ask of a leader.
Tony Fraser 42:10
Yeah, I think that's really important that we don't blame leaders. It's not an inadequacy. It's, it's normal. And it's not surprising in the context that they're working. So it's about supporting and enabling, rather than banging them over their head and telling them they must do better.
James Traeger 42:35
So I wonder if anyone else wanted to kind of speak to either what they've said or what someone else has said on the chat. Because otherwise, we're recreating a certain dynamic, aren't we? So we should be good to hear if anybody wants to put their hand up, either their real hand or their virtual hand and join the conversation? Yeah, Nicoll,
I have to put my hand down now.
James Traeger 43:08
Don't worry about it. That's fine.
I think somebody mentioned care or brought care as a notion into the conversation. And then when I was, in my conversation with Michelle, like, I became really, really aware of how my values, my sense of my own sense of values kind of shows up, and how that kind of creates more of an agency and puts me at choice about how I handle things. But also like the care and attention I'm trying to give.
Yeah, to the other person in the conversation as well. Actually, you know, to the point about because, well, when told that you should you know, it's not about beating people, a bit of me thinking and I actually sat there thinking oh, yes, it is. In my recent experience, I expect more.
So I'm conscious I've been really really judgmental really, really judgmental at the same time holding a level of compassion for the situation the person's in so not to stop me wanting to cut somebody off at the knees sounds really brutal, doesn't it? And I suppose the the there is something about what you notice of people's kind of commitment. Yeah, that their own commitment to navigate through some of their own stuff. So how open they might be to develop in some you know, their resourcefulness? Sorry, I've just outed myself there is as a knee chopper offer.
James Traeger 44:37
Well, I think you're what you've done there is admitted your knee chopper off of self which we've all got a bit of. That's, you know, that's something that again, goes into the shadow in the organising spaces, and it is we're all very nice round here. And actually, what we need to do in order to kind of deal with those judgments in an adult way is is admit to them.
James Traeger 45:00
Move towards the difficult, which again, needs to be done in a careful and safe, sensitive way. Rather than pretending that we're good people, and they're the bad people over that.
Yeah, we share the same frailty. Yeah.
James Traeger 45:19
Something I find. And it's interesting to know what your own motivation to do this work might be. I grew up in a family where I was the third child, the youngest of three. And I noticed that what made me feel unsafe was not knowing what people really thought. Because I would see, you know, for example, we would go and visit relatives, and we'd take a trip around the North Circular Road.
I was born in Jewish North East London, and grew up in West London. I would, we would go and see relatives, and we took we drive around the north silicon or one way. We'd spend time with relatives and I thought we were having a lovely, lovely time as a family. Then on the way back, my parents would be in the front of the car, basically moaning and complaining about kvetching, as we would say in Yiddish, about all the people that they just spent a lovely time with.
And I realised that what this did for me personally is made me feel quite unsafe. If I didn't really know what people thought, I'm not blaming my parents for that. It's something I'm sure that's pretty common in most people, but actually, what prompted me to do this work is a sense that I really want to know what people feel about me and think about me in order to feel safe, even if it's an uncomfortable truth.
So one of the things you might consider in terms of your own practice in this area is what motivates you to do it or not do it. Anybody elsewants to put their hand up and invite any other contribution or notice anything anyone else has said that you're curious about? Yeah.
There's the, thank you. You know, again, this is something which I reflected with respect to the question, but it can be at the family side, which can be better to get feedback from who is around us all the time. And I remember the one of the phrase by Manfred Kets de Vries in one of his session that, he says that we do in organisation 360 degree to get feedback. But we should do 360 plus 360. That is the family members to get a 720 feedback.
James Traeger 47:49
So thank you.
Tony Fraser 47:53
It reminds me of we used to do this thing where somebody would we'd give them the 360 report, we'd say, you know, if you show it to your partner, a typical response is, I hope you didn't pay much money for this. I could have told them this in five minutes.
James Traeger 48:11
Yeah, absolutely. And, of course, you know, family's got lots of hierarchies of secrets, and lots of undiscussables. And, and that kind of thing going on. Anything else anybody wants to do wanted to offer before we start doing a wrap up? Can I see? Yeah, please.
Fumbling around for the thumbs up button there. I just wanted to pick up on something about the satisfyingly imperfect, I was just reminded of it because James, you showed us a little sketch here. And yeah, and you said something about being unpolished. And, and I love it, because I think what's helped me engage differently with people is when that kind of notion of knowing and that expertise and organisational outfit that we all wear, to be experts and to be all knowing kind of shuffles off of it, it loosens.
It's reminded me of a time when a very senior person who wanted more safety to speak and wanted more openness, but didn't really know how to go about it was quite open about that. And you could see that in a way they showed up.
In meetings where people would go on and would apologise for splurging, people started to apologise a bit less. I noticed over time in the company of that individual. And I think that was something about noticing how we do construct our voices to be heard.
You know, the way in which we revere eloquence and succinctness don't really give much patience and time for people for things to tumble out for people to use their own language for their true to tumble out. So, so yeah, there's quite a bit in there I'm thinking about about the way we can talk our voices, the way we assimilate, adapt the organisational lexicon to be heard.
And I think my dream would be you don't need to be eloquent to be heard. You don't need to it for it to make sense for it to be polished to be heard. And that's when I know that it's safer to speak and it's safer to hear. So I just wanted to reflect that back and also thanks to Penelope for the very stimulating conversation that sparked this
I feel really moved to also out Moi a little bit because she read a really beautiful poem she composed and I don't know whether. I thought anyway, it might be an ending it might not, but I would leave it there.
James Traeger 50:49
Moi would you be up for sharing it?
Yeah, my heart rate going a bit, but I think that's probably good. I need to take some risks don't know. I thought this was one of the artful knowing ones. So
James Traeger 51:04
it's all a bit Artful isn't it?
It's a bit of a reaction to the way truth does have to contort itself and find light and so so it sparked from me thinking about the question.
If truth was a living organism, what would it look like and how would it be? So it's about truth and love.
Truth contorts itself. Truth walks the tightrope. Truth juggles itself to exhaustion, truth find safety in the shadows away from the spotlight. Truth sustains. Truth is life. Truth is master of courage in a wicked world. Truth needs love, love in the hard and heard conversations, love in facing what we can't hear ourselves. Love in vulnerability, love, in play, love in the fury that wants justice, love and giving love the love that love deserves, love in meeting as humans. And so love has no word count.
James Traeger 52:15
Brilliant. Love has no word count, fantastic. And as you were saying that I was also reflecting on Nicoll, what Nicoll said at the beginning about the, in order to give people those really difficult messages and to be able to blurt rather than be incredibly eloquent in how we do it, we there needs to be love there.
There needs to be an intent to be loving, even when we're really angry or upset or unnerved, or whatever that might be. And I think that's, you know, an important part of the skill set. You know, don't really care about this person, and I'll tell them what I really think of them.
Tony Fraser 53:06
And I think the other side of it that do I care enough about this person to allow them to hurt me? Is, seems to me really important that in a way, it's the I'm willing for you to hurt me and stay close. And not run away.
James Traeger 53:32
Moi I'm wondering that you could send us the poem and we can distribute it to everybody. Yeah.
James Traeger 53:40
I'd also like to add an attendance what is it I reminded myself something, the love has no word count, was a reaction to me being asked. I was doing some work and safety to speak and inclusion, and ED&I and I was asked to distil all the issues and recommendations in the one page
James Traeger 54:05
Put in some bullet points
Which squashes out the space for dialogue and you know outsources the thinking and the relational a dialogue and there's something about with with truth not being on senior leaders agendas. Actually in a lot of places it is, it's it's under let's be more inclusive organisation.
Let's do a ED&I and the link between truth to power and meeting as humans with an active attention to power is very much the work of diversity inclusion and is the bedrock I think it the work is everywhere. And so I would, I would argue that although that business case or proposition isn't visible, it is there whether leaders accept it or not, face it or not, it is happening. And more and more I think people are voting with their feet. Yes, and with the amount of turnover in organisations
James Traeger 55:03
Yeah, go for it. So
Sophie Tidman 55:06
if you think about EDI is about letting more voices into the conversation and having more messy conversations where we're actually changing language as we're speaking, and making mistakes, and you need more forgiveness and you need more words. So, yeah, concision is not our friend in those circumstances.
James Traeger 55:30
And it strikes me that in the kind of code post COVID and COVID world, the space for just reflection where we can let our ideas and our experience and our truth just tumble out, has become even more confined. You know, there's so little space when we're in one Zoom Room or Teams room to another.
There's very little space for reflection for engagement for heart to heart conversations where we can, you know, care, some care enough about someone to hear what they really think of us, or vice versa.
And so there's something about the need of our profession, such as it is in the change world to bring those spaces back make those spaces happen. So that the important work of relationships and difference can be can be heard, can have a voice can tumble out.
This is so, I've now gone to neatness I've got, I've gone to nips and messiness. I suppose the comfort that's found in an illusion of neatness. And what's been offered before about this sitting in the context of relational work as much as procedural work.
So, yeah, yeah, I already sort of fessed up to Michelle, earlier that, yeah, my verbal expression, given my brain going ping, ping, ping can be bit of a nightmare for people. So anyway, I'm just on one of those now so I'll just shush. I've got machine metaphors, the more living system kind of metaphors floating around in my head as well.
James Traeger 57:20
So, we did have one more slide that, you know. To be nice and concise and eloquent to so I might just sort of offer you that as a, as a kind of a final thing to start to kind of talk to. Which is this one. So there's something of an inquiry in the spirit of what we're talking about here. Which is, you know, how do we make this happen?
How what could you say or advise us would be the way in which we can bring back onto the agenda, something that we think was more on the agenda in the past, in some places anyway, of having spaces where it was safe enough to be risky with this type of work?
So there's a so what here, you know, it's about some of these things, registering the truth, the truthfulness matters, and how we can offer the critical skill of being open and available to hear the truth ourselves.
And which leaders are available, and adjacent to us that we can perhaps have this conversation with to start to kind of open the door, offer a chink of light into the space of truth being spoken. How we can encourage their own self management and self awareness in that and self understanding. And, you know, as we've demonstrated today, the safe spaces that need to be created for there to be an opportunity to blurt ineloquently as well as eloquently.
How do we really feel about each other? What do we really think that we don't normally say? And how do we open ourselves up to hear the things we might not want to hear? So, in a way, it's kind of like any thoughts? How do we do? How do we put this on back on the agenda or onto the agenda in the organisations that we encounter?
I just find myself suddenly being caught out by thinking about safe space. Because I think what one is trying to do is actually within that safe space, it's very potentially unsafe.
James Traeger 59:50
You know, I'm just and then I'm just thinking, I'm sure we've had this conversation before but I was just thinking, how could it be described? Other than safe. Space? Yeah. That's that's where I'm at. So I'm getting I'm blocked because I'm getting caught.
James Traeger 1:00:12
It's a paradox, isn't it? Because it's safe enough to be risky. You know, it's, that's how we sometimes. Yes, exactly.
We do that in children's playgrounds, don't we? We design children's playgrounds to enable kind of self expression. And minimising or avoiding the bumps.
Tony Fraser 1:00:36
Well, there are bumps, but they don't cause long term or permanent injury. No, no, you know that. That's what the matting and yeah, you know, the, it's calculated that you can fall off this and hurt, yourself. Yeah, but you will mend.
Yeah. And I've gone to you know, there's a, we're majoring on wellness, aren't we right now. I'm, again, I'm just, I think I'll leave this conversation, understanding how we conceptualise wellness. And whether our conceptualization of wellness in itself is limited. Because actually, there is something about what I'm hearing today, which speaks to how you enable people to stay well.
James Traeger 1:01:23
Yeah. Yeah, any other thoughts about how you or we, or anyone can facilitate this more in the organisations and systems that we encounter?
It's Lynda here, when you talked about the knot, you know, sort of that knot that we've got leaders into it. One of the things that was coming to me was its more. It's more of a daisy chain. Lots, you know, we, we sort of it builds. And, and, you know, the way that the daisy, daisy after me probably has also taken on this, this attitude around truth, and whether we can start to just dismantle that in a practice or less aggressive way.
And I, looking at this slide. What came to mind was having spent over a year with a leadership team, trying to introduce what we call a mentoring platform. Helping them understand that it's okay for people to have views. And that it's okay to express your own response to that in a personal way, it's okay to be a person. And I found quite a lot of the conversation with senior leadership was it's about it's okay to be a person.
James Traeger 1:03:04
Yeah, that's a lovely, lovely way of putting it. These organization's the way we currently construct them tend to kind of deny the personhood of people. Which reminds me of, you know, John Heron's work around feeling and personhood, as he called it, you know, that actually, organisations are dehumanising spaces. And our job is to remind them, remind people of the personhood.
Yeah. And what we were doing was in the way, that that employees or anyone would come up with a, some sort of how do we get on around here? Or what about this or that situation? How do I deal with it, we were really working with the leaders to encourage them to tell their own stories of how they had themselves as they came up through an organisation experienced this so it really was about bringing that personal individual human someone's put into the, into the chat. And that did a lot to start people seeing the leadership of the organisation in a more open way.
James Traeger 1:04:19
Yeah. And one of the things I've noticed about COVID and the move to being on Teams or Zoom a lot more is that of course, what it does is it opens up these spaces to people. You know, people's real lives, their, their wallpaper, their dogs, their cats, their their families.
And actually that's had an impact hasn't it's on that humanity potentially in in potentially a positive way. Gyorgy, you mentioned something about containment. I wonder if you wanted to say something about that because it's really good, really good.
I was just reflecting on what, Penelope was saying, and the importance of safety that has gone through this conversation. And perhaps safety sometimes implies and, you know, safety talk added in the chat and around playgrounds, complete safety that people want for, or you won't hurt yourself.
But hurting ourselves is important. And tripping up and learning from the mistakes. So as a facilitator of such discussions, in conversations in teams and organisations, being able to contain that space, so people feel that it is okay to fall and it doesn't lead to disgrace. But the group, the space will hold them, allows perhaps more truthfulness, to be spoken.
James Traeger 1:06:03
Yeah, lovely. And that concept of containment, I think is a really powerful one, in terms of what we're talking about here. And perhaps a better way of framing it than safety are an alternative. Tony, did you have any last thoughts that you wanted to offer? Before we close?
Tony Fraser 1:06:23 0
I think one of the things that I'm, I'm thinking about thinking about two things. One is there are, you know, speaking truth to power is the thing. So the, you know, the bottom and encouraging and creating a mechanism.
So well, well, this, I guess, the cultural, psychological, relational stance of encouraging that, which I think I mean, referred to and, you know, from this organisation. There's the procedure or process, you know, that there needs to be structures and procedures and settings, in which that's possible.
And then there's what I think we're really talking about what we're focusing on here is that capacity to receive. And that that's a personal development thing. Is being I think the property, the proposition we're making, is that's rather neglected, and needs to be quote, operationalised, how do you make that shift? And it's not a, it's not a comfortable?
You know, it's, there's a barrier to get across to get people to the point where they can do that? Yeah. Yeah. I think, yeah, maybe that that's my sort of take on it. That there's, you know, you've got these three components of, of the willingness from below the structures and procedures and processes that creating those spaces and methods that enable. But then that personal capability in leaders?
And I guess the question is, how do we invite the leaders, out of their defended spaces, into that receptive mode. And equip them so that they don't, you know, become incapacitated by hearing things that are uncomfortable? Yeah. So that they can cope. And I think that last question, how do we invite them across? is, you know, it's not that I don't know how to do that is, if I'm honest. And I think there is, you know, an inherent resistance in it. Yeah.
Zoe Morrison 1:08:46
It's just made me think my husband always says the truth hurts. And I suppose just knowing that, and maybe just preparing for being hurt, that might help a little bit.
Tony Fraser 1:08:56
And letting people you know, you, you will still be here afterwards. And you will, you know, you are not going to disintegrate.
James Traeger 1:09:06
You know, is at one level quite funny, but also, I think a genuine fear. Absolutely. Because genuinely fear being destroyed by what's discomfort?
Tony Fraser 1:09:19
James Traeger 1:09:21
Okay, we're basically done. So thank you so much for joining us today. We'll be following up with the slides if you'd like them in the recording, and Moi's poem, of course, which was lovely to hear, and really, really relevant. And, yeah, thank you for joining us. Plenty more events coming up.
If you'd like to hear more about our Masters, where we're talking about these things in more depth, then let us know. And our master's programme starts in April. The first cohort and it's really great to see you today and I hope you have a brilliant rest of your day with enough truth and discussables to make you free, as Amit says, so thank you.
Tony Fraser 1:10:13
Claire Newell 1:10:17
Thank you so much for listening to us today, and we hope to see you next time. Take care. Bye bye
For more information on Power Listening to Truth, take a look at our blog post on the subject here: Power Listening to Truth