At last week’s gathering of the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network, Carole Martin and I facilitated a session on network/multi-stakeholder engagement techniques. This built upon some work we’ve been doing with the cohort around “positivity” practice, and the question of how, beyond individual practice, we can spread the increased capacity that positive emotions bring to groups, organizations, and networks. To this end we explored some of the methods from Art of Hosting, and also engaged in some of the practices of Liberating Structures. Our leading question was, What about the way in which we engage with one another can facilitate the best of what we have to offer to a shared endeavor?
Co-authors of the book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, write that these structures “introduce tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. They put the innovative power once reserved for experts only in hands of everyone.” While this might sound very inviting, some of the practices can actually be quite unsettling, ultimately in good ways. Carole facilitated the cohort through one particular exercise called “What I Need From You” in which people gathered in trios, were given some time to reflect, and then were asked to both write down and speak the needs they had of the other two people in the trio. The protocol is that each person must say “__(name)__, what I need from you is ___________,” after which each person receiving the articulated need must respond with a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.” It turns out that this exercise is often difficult for people for a variety of reasons:
- The articulation can feel overly direct, and/or contrived (at least at first).
- It can feel very difficult to think about what we need from specific individuals.
- It can feel very difficult to express what we need from others.
- It can feel very uncomfortable to be put on the spot.
For all of these reasons, it is a powerful protocol, as it directs us away from “wouldn’t it be nice” to a thought process about how we might fundamentally depend on and benefit from others. It can also direct our attention to the gifts and talents of those around us. This is precisely the kind of practice that can help to evolve a culture of exchange and generosity in networks that can in turn liberate new and untapped potential.
So try it out. What do you need from (specific) others around you? What’s stopping you from expressing this need? How might you express it? What might the benefit be?