I’m blogging this from Calgary Airport on my way home from Banff.
During Open Space at the AIN conference I started a conversation about the shadow side of improv, suggesting we sit in a circle and use a talking stick. The idea of the stick is to assure that only one person talks at a time – if you don’t have the stick, you just listen.
I also pointed out the option of holding the stick and not talking, if you wanted to hold a silence. Someone made good use of that and it was a good experience. At first, I could feel my own sense of anxiety; but as I gave it my attention I realised that this anxiety was not being caused by the silence, but being highlighted by it. Sitting with it for a while, I felt able to slow my racing thoughts down and get a better sense of connection to others. In the silence, I could hear their breathing and mine, again building a sense of a deeper, more primal connection.
I find extraordinary things happen in response to the apparently simple use of a talking stick. Once people can speak with the comfort of knowing they won’t be interrupted, and also with the strong sense that they are really being listened to, the whole quality of speech changes. It becomes more heartfelt, and people seem to choose to show greater vulnerability. You soon learn surprising things about your fellow participants, and realise how superficial are some of your previous judgements about them.
It was also satisfying to see a group easily holding strong emotions and charged conflicts among participants. In the spirit of open space, I confirmed that although I was opening the conversation, I was not facilitating it. I invited us all to jointly hold the space, and we did – more elegantly than I would have done had I tried to somehow take charge.
This was another occasion where no mention was made about a confidentiality agreement; it seems to me that a more sophisticated kind of trust often emerges when it’s not laboured.
I come away from this particular experience, and also from the event in general, reinforced in my desire for minimalism in facilitation and intervention. Greater stuff seems to happen when you get out of the way.