Army National Guard, Support Project
A vehicle maintenance shop of a state Army National Guard called me last May. Three of the five employees were suffering job-related distress and requested professional help. They wanted to be seen together. I made an appointment with them and moved into Communologue.
As we met, I set up the standards. In my first session I told them, “Everyone in this room is a trained killer. We’ve been trained this way to work with others protecting the United States. You were trained in the Army, I in the Navy. Still we are all killers. I believe the situation we are facing cannot be resolved by the kind of methods we were trained with. So here we are going to study and use the tools of creating Peace.”
Over the next several meetings I trained them in PreValidation, the concepts of Master/Slave, in MasterTalk, and the concepts of The Lizard Brain – Safety. I modeled PreValidation, mirroring and used Validation. I told them I would not solve their problems, but that I wanted to help them develop the tools to solve their own problems.
The overall situation was that the previous shop foreman had retired. Several people were in competition for the job. One, of the three I had seen, had sought the position. An outsider was given the job. A power dynamic came into being between this new shop foreman, the Sergeant Major, and the other member, who’s skills made him a natural leader.
Meetings became progressively more relaxed as I continued to maintain the Communologue environment. Eventually the focus of the group became more and more on the behavior of their shop foreman, a Sergeant Major. The group dynamic began to polarize between the three men present and that one man not present. While I could maintain PreValidation toward this absent person, the Sergeant Major, I did not have his “truth” in the room.
I told the three that I did not believe we could move further without all members of the workforce present.
That message resulted in two private meetings with the Sergeant Major. In the hope that I would have them all together, I brought the Sergeant Major up to speed with PreValidation, Master/Slave, and MasterTalk. He avidly learned Master/Slave, and saw it as a very clear model for understanding the difficult dynamic of leadership in the new “peacetime” Army.
The Sergeant Major “brought” the whole group to me in the next session, including a fifth member who I had never seen before. I maintained Communologue, but had to do a lot of positive triangulation (even the split board technique). Thus I was doing most of the mirroring and validating. The room seemed very tense during that first meeting.
Over several sessions, as tension decreased, the group began to focus on that powerful dynamic between the Sergeant Major and the un-promoted “shop-leader.” Both were “acting out” on the job and acting “unprofessional.” Everyone in the team seemed to want to solve the problem and to get on with doing their work.
I suggested that the next meetings be with just the two principles. A series of increasingly candid meetings followed with just the three of us. Then in the end of January there was a break-thru. The two came to me having made “peace” with each other – out of my presence! They expressed that together they could solve the issues in the shop. Their appearance was friendly, and I heard many validating and PreValidating phrases passing between them.
About 3 weeks later, I was invited to a BBQ feed at their workplace, and visited the whole team. Everyone seemed relieved. They spoke with confidence of being able to solve their own problems and work together.
Notes on Process
How did I run these meetings? Here are the things I focused upon:
I personally displayed patience, let go of the outcomes, served to make sure people felt heard and understood only. I reminded them of my belief that the problems were theirs, created by them, maintained by them, and solvable by them. I affirmed their collective and several responsibility for the results of our time together. I invited them to talk about and work on their troubles outside our meetings and to also try out any techniques we used (mirroring, validation, etc.) in their homelife.
I provided both structure for the meetings, watching the clock, as well as the connection to the next meetings. I was very punctual about starting and stopping, while at the same time suggested that meetings would go on until a solution was found.
I made sure that no one spoke without being acknowledged and without being invited (pulled), at least twice, to complete their thoughts. Note that while I taught the men about mirroring, I did not insist that they do it. However, I mirrored quite a bit. My goal was to make sure that everyone felt heard – heard thoroughly. No one was forced to speak, but I would invite each speaker to clearly finish their point before I permitted others to speak. I used Deepening Pulls frequently, as this group seemed used to only saying one sentence before being interrupted.
Almost always those who spoke would receive some sort of validation after they spoke or at least PreValidation, by me if no one else. I gave, and got the group used to hearing and speaking, many PreValidatory statements.
I interrupted and prevented any crosstalk or retorts. I converted these OR statements into AND statements, making sure both people were heard fully. When emotions ran high, I used my whiteboard (Split Board Technique) to ensure that structure of hearing and understanding was maintained through the passion.
I specifically taught PreValidation and Master/Slave and reinforced those teachings throughout all sessions.
I used Boundary Inserts continually in response to MasterTalk, until the group began using them on their own.
If I thought a clear an example of confused boundaries would appear, I might
- stop the process
- teach a small module about boundaries
- affirm self-responsibility for each person’s part of the situation
- strongly discouraged “unowned” or vague speaking,
- and then, using the Cat Mirroring, continue the conversation at the point I had interrupted the speaker.
In general, I disregarded any hierarchy within the team, using first names for everyone and giving the Sgt Major as much time to talk as anyone else. I would often invite reactions (“What did you think when he said that?”) to any kind of reference to “orders”. I invited them to speak about their beliefs about hierarchy (“Do you see this as a military or civilian situation? How come?”)
I would generally express some sort of delight, verbally or non-verbally, when strongly differing points of view would surface. (“Oh, cool! Look at how different those points of view are. Let’s take time to hear them both!”)
I could probably think of more, but I think mostly I am reiterating examples of my own Communologue Guidelines.