Question Respectfully – The Foundation
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein
“If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” – Steve Jobs
Real Question/Same Page materials as a workshop were originally developed for people seeking to consistently build trust and respect. For many years clients have reported that the tools and skills they have learned from this practice are extremely useful in resolving relationship difficulties and, incidentally, as a tool for personal growth.
Definition of a Real Question:
1. I don’t know the answer.
2. I want to know the answer.
3. I am willing to ask the question.
4. I’m willing to listen to the answers and reflect on them before answering.
I am hopeful that professionals in several fields including businesses, attorneys, mediators, and educators will be able to use this approach with their clients to obtain similar results. Beyond the professional arena, I would like to share these materials with individuals, couples, and groups who for their own reasons are curious about a new method for resolving partnership communication issues simply and efficiently.
The Paradox of Long-Term Partnership
The definition of a partnership is “two or more individuals who choose to work or live together while striving to demonstrate a consistently high level of trust and respect.” New partners, if they are well-matched and in a relatively low-stress situation, communicate often and with minimal conflict. They are often able to create plans that work out to their mutual satisfaction.
Some longer-term partners speak or write to each other much less often than when they first met. Small conflicts that had been easily settled may escalate into tense arguments. If these conflicts go unresolved for days or weeks, the partners may drift into an uneasy silence until their next painful encounter. In moments of honest reflection, they may admit: “we just don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.”
Other longer-term partners maintain a lively “give-and-take” style. They look forward to time together to “catch up on what’s been happening” since they last spoke. When they have a question, they offer it respectfully when the partner is available to consider it. They sometimes schedule regular “partnership meetings” to consider important short or long term plans.
In summary, “Real Questions” are the foundation of trust and respect. Paradoxically, in longer-term partnerships, Real Questions tend to be less often asked and answered, eventually undermining the foundation of the relationship.
Real Questions Workshop
This workshop explores the means by which this trend can be reversed, allowing some previously struggling relationships to, through practice, strengthen and deepen over time. When most people use the phrase, “getting on the same page,” they are speaking only metaphorically. The phrase has come to mean that “somehow, by some unknown means, we will come to understand and accept our differences. We can then create a common platform for moving forward. Our previous disagreements and even our hurt feelings will not burden us or block our future progress.” The “page” to “gather on” represents a wish and a sometimes desperate need for an effective plan that will work for all parties.
When, if ever, have you ever heard, “We have to get on the same page and here are the steps we need to take to do so.” If you have ever endured a long painful argument or a wrangle-filled three-hour meeting when you prayed for that magical “same page” to land on the table in front of you for your signature, you can understand how excited the group who developed this approach was when they effectively implemented the steps included in this process and held the signed “Same Page Letter” in their hands. Individually and collectively, they said, “YEA!!” They then understood that the process of “asking and answering Real Questions” really does answer that fervent prayer. The “mythical page” is mythical no longer.
On The Same Page
So what does a “Same Page” actually look like? How does it get filled out and by whom? It turns out to be a two-step process. “I do my page and you do yours,” is the first step. We write a “Same Page Letter” together is the second step. Before I can ask you a “Real Question,” I have to survey a map of my own feelings, intentions, and thoughts. I have to observe how any of those parts of me may be in conflict with each other and work to resolve those differences first. Otherwise, one part of me may misrepresent the rest of me to you and we will be more confused than we are already.
Again, please notice that the term “observe”’ is not metaphorical. It’s literal. “Observing” in this case means looking at a physical object. It turns out that we can, and in some cases, must draw a map of our mind’s activity at that moment so that we can make choices about what to focus upon, what choices to consider, and what internal steps to take before we try to communicate.
Partnership Mapping System
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m of two minds on that question.” Turns out they were underestimating by half. For the purposes of this workshop, we will each be understood to have one brain operating in four separate minds.
We will move onto the literal “Page” to track the interaction of those four different ways of seeing and perhaps responding to the same event. There will be a sequence to follow as we observe the minds’ interactive process: “Energy/Confidence” first, then “Values/Practices,” and then “Plan/Thoughts.” The fourth mind is the “Internal Observer,” watching with us. (Please don’t “freak out” at the seeming complexity of the above. Our prime objective in all this is to “keep it simple” which we will do by keeping it visual. You will be able to track the process at all times by touching the map on the table in front of you. The most important question at all times will be, “Where am I on my own map right now?”).
We trust that as you learn this process, you will be able to use it as a “Partnership Mapping System,” in the same way you use the GPS on your phone or in your car. “Getting on the same page” with your partner is analogous to starting out from two different locations in two vehicles and arriving at the same destination without getting lost along the way. So, to begin. There will be seven “lessons.” We hope you enjoy the journey and find it rewarding.
“Getting on the same page with oneself” is made much more possible by using this map. We will first visit the “Bottom,” “Top” and “Middle” Circles, in that order. Then we will create a connecting link from the energy/confidence center (“Bottom”) to the center of plans/thoughts connection from values/practices (“Top”) and see what effect that linkage has on the entire (overall) experience. Following the visits to the three large circles, we will launch the planning process from its platform, the “Middle Circle,” and travel down the right side of the page through the steps listed there: “Situation,” “Strength,” “Struggle,” and “Strategy.” At that point, the relationship of the fourth circle, “Internal Observer” will be made clear.
The structure of the map is important:
– The lines forming the outer edge of the three large circles are labeled the “Rim.” It defines the boundary between self and the outside world from which comes all manner of influence/expectations, positive and negative.
– The inner circle is labeled the “Core.” It is the realm of greatest security and certainty, where an individual feels most “together.”
Our ability to develop trust and respect for ourselves necessitates acknowledging painful emotions first of all to ourselves. If that emotional material is completely blocked, it grows in intensity until it finds a way to “take over” by “acting out,” that is, taking an action to release some of the pressure in that compartment. That action is not related to either “values” or “planning,” the “Top” or “Middle” circles.
The high-intensity emotions stored in the Bottom Circle have the power to “veto” any activity in the rest of the brain. It has that power by virtue of its role as a “security guard.” All of this information is vital to clear communication. Naming the emotion or feeling of the moment and recognizing whether that involves being “on the rim” or “in the core” helps us to know when to share information with another or when to take a “time out.
The small circle (upper left and separate from the other three circles) is called the “Internal Observer. (I/O)” It represents the part of each person that is quietly watching and recording the arenas of emotion, values, and planning. It looks on, usually does not interrupt the process of the other three, but has the capacity to offer constructive comments or suggestions if asked. If an individual surveys the map and asks “Where am I now?” the I/O will point out where the most intense level of awareness is at that moment.
It is normal and inevitable for awareness (I/O) to move about the three circles depending on circumstances. The top two circles are considered to be “conscious” in the sense that the individual is quite aware of what is happening as it happens. The “Bottom Circle” represents “the unconscious” dimension of mental life in the sense that emotions many times occur out of awareness unless the individual chooses to focus on them.
Questioning Respectfully with Real Questions represents a methodology that can put partners on the same page while building trust and respect – ongoing utilization provides a strong, long-term foundation for partnership both in our personal and professional lives.
Are you ready to unlock your Internal Observer? Learn more about our workshops here.
By Jonathan Thomas