Every meeting is a story

makes me think story activist story as a map story as process partner Mar 07, 2022

This morning I was up before the sun and sitting in front of the computer ready to deliver a "Dialogue with Masters" session for the CP Yen Foundation.  The Foundation focuses on encouraging a culture of respect and participation through offering, training and providing information about the power of dialogue.

It was stimulating to think about dialogue and the application of conversation for transformation through the lens of story. I've been thinking about story for a long time. And I've been thinking about and teaching hosting for a long time, so I'm not sure why my BGOTBO ("blinding glimpse of the bloody obvious") was so recent. Here it is:

Every meeting is actually a story.

Yes, that's right. Every meeting -- at the board table, the kitchen table, the café table or the picnic table -- is an unfolding story. Just like a story it has a beginning, a middle and an end. That's why understanding how the geography of story works is intrinsic to being able to ride the waves.

You know how you feel at the beginning of a story. There's an anticipation. Maybe an anxiousness.  Each of us shows up with our own story. Each of us steps into the meeting as the main character of our own private hero's journey. We're asking ourselves: What will happen? How's this going to turn out? Who are the other characters? How does it work around here and who (or what) is in charge?

This mixed bag of emotions enters the room and takes a seat at the table. We are in the Divergent phase of the Breath Pattern. As a host, a leader, even a seasoned participant, the best thing we can help the group do is to answer these questions. Most of us need good framing before we can truly participate. And many of us will want to get a sense of others, the deeper intentions behind the meeting and  especially the power dynamic before we will commit to engaging more deeply.

Be ready for the ride, because here comes the middle! Often there's a "honeymoon phase" when a new group gets together. We're attracted by the energy we create together, curious about the skills, talents and personalities in the room, eager to advance new ideas. But eventually, we step (or stumble?) over the boundary and we're in the Emergence phase. Answers don't seem to be forthcoming, confusion is rife, irritation rises. That's also why this could be called "the messy middle."

Of course in the stories we like best -- in books, as movies or any other type of entertainment -- we love the messy middle because facing the challenges forms character, there's  suspense, we're not sure what is going to happen. But we are hooked because when the brain gets curious nothing will stop it following the story. 

Unfortunately, being in a meeting and falling into the messy middle doesn't feel thrilling, it feels uncomfortable. Human beings will do a lot to avoid discomfort, including assigning blame, being louder in their opinions, abandoning ship or simply trying to rush to conclusion too fast.

I like to share the phases of the Breath Pattern with people in my groups upfront because when we get to the messy middle -- as we will inevitably  do -- it seems like a natural part of the journey. We have more courage and stamina to stay in the phase for long enough for -- you guessed it -- emergence to actually happen.

Then it's in to the Convergent phase. The story is winding down as we get clear on what will happen next and who will be involved. It's time for the story to come to an end. If we've done our work together well, if we've stayed together for long enough, our stories meet to form a new and integrated sense of common ground.

More is possible when we weave our stories together.

Isn't it time to have a brilliant ally on your side?

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