I wrote this as a part of my original certification submission for Kantor Structural Dynamics – Level 2: Changing Behaviour in High Stakes. It’s as relevant now as it was back then, and is the reason why I share it with you all now 🙂
The insight reflected here is useful to catch sight of in any intervention, as clashes between systems are a common occurrence – and also a fantastic place to begin working to meaningfully change discourse.
In general, I hate planning. I hate plans. And I know that hate is a strong word, but it resonates and reflects most accurately my distain for them.
It links back to a childhood story for me – in the early days of high school, everyone was given a school diary to make notes in, plan, schedule, and generally keep organised. Early on, I had embraced this to a certain degree. However, I also used this to capture my time spent with a girl. Young love, early days.
One-day returning home from school, I threw my bag down in my room and went to grab a snack. I sat and ate, watched the television and relaxed. When I got up and returned to my room, I found my mum reading through my school diary. Shock and horror set in. How dare she?! My own private space, with my own private thoughts.
I shut down, then and for the foreseeable future. I needed to protect myself, to Survive. As such, I further embraced my Random propensity and become as autonomous and independent as possible. This meant relying on memory and minimising written form, to protect ones’ self.
Whenever someone requests a plan, bullet points, lists and the like – this story is evidently triggered. It can manifest in a number of different ways; an Oppose is the clearest, even in low stakes engagements. But as the stakes increase, this morphs into grey behaviours – denial, avoidance, and extremely absorbing. Finally, I will end in a place of shutdown: physically present but emotionally absent. A complete withdrawal into self.
The Meaning plays an important part of the story. An over-abundance of shared Meaning, of this letting-go of data and to be robbed of the right of holding it, and running with it independently and autonomously then plays out. “Tell me what you’re working on…” – a seemingly innocuous ask of an employer to an employee has the ability to trigger me if left un-caught. All of a sudden, the confronting wave of having to share what was mine, by force, comes to fruition.
Reactions can manifest in a number of ways, with my vocal signatures progressing into reckless or irresponsible places, but ultimately ending with anarchic behaviour. This Random Meaning vocal signature expressed by me is often experienced by those around me as crazy and unconnected. Understanding my own difference, I can see the connections between the arguments, however due to stakes being raised I am unable to communicate them effectively. This leads to a self-defeating interaction, despite my intentions.
Upon reflection, I have witnessed this in a number of discussions but have not caught it until after the fact. It is always my intention to communicate as much as I can the best I can, but this can often be received as crazy and even absent-minded. In low stakes, the contrast is evident. There have been a number of times where people have remarked on the brilliant or intelligent nature of my contribution.
Those moments when confronted with the situations – without time to think ahead – are the most confronting. My heart rate increases, I can feel flushed. I will respond by going on the offensive, but with much of my arguments being disconnected or seemingly random, this can actually exacerbate the situations. The lump in my throat grows.
In even higher stakes, I feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, my head pounds, and I want to retreat. No – I want to run. I slink back from the engagement, disable myself. Silencing myself to save me from the confrontation that I know is going to happen because I am seeing this play out right before me, like a car approaching a wall at high speed, in slow motion.
There is a wonderful opportunity here for me. In knowing my story and my triggers, I can begin to further understand my relationship with this system, and begin to rewrite my own tale. More importantly, I can practice changing the discourse in the moments as they arise.
When I do notice, and I see these situations approaching, like the car to the wall, I need to remember to stop and ask myself ‘why?’ – and even verbalising this By-stand should help quell the rise of the lump in my throat. Voicing the By-stand will provide the opportunity to compose myself, and then also give the other party time to explain the ask. Remembering that this is a two-way street, and they are able to provide information around their request as I am in a response can enable a far better dialogue.
Pulling the ‘why’ out of the kit bag more often, and with practiced efficiency, will help to access a lower-stakes situation far more frequently. I must do this, knowing that if I don’t access those lower-stakes spaces more easily, the perpetual cycle of withdrawal or raised stakes can only continue.
Pre-planned, one such example is from a Systems Thinking intervention that I coordinated in Singapore comes to mind. This situation gave me the opportunity to increase engagement and change routine appropriately.
From previous interventions, some feedback I was given was that the ‘leaps’ I was making in connecting cause to effect were too large – my Random system was making connections others couldn’t see, and subsequently couldn’t understand. For this intervention, knowing the demographic and team requirements in the need for a Closed system and regimented learning I decided to create a plan.
It took me an extremely long time to get pen to paper. I procrastinated and avoided for as long as possible until I could not put it off for any longer. Knuckling down, I created a plan for the week in excruciating detail. I wrote out teaching plans, daily and weekly schedules, expected outcomes and possible deviations that could be followed.
Upon arrival in Singapore, the intervention began. My routine was methodical, and I worked through my checklist. I still left enough time for myself to ad-lib and be independent in the evenings when I walked around and explored the city… but work was strictly to the plan.
At the end of the week, one of the leaders in the work pulled me aside and said she was astounded at “how closed the structure has been” (her language, also not having been through any Structural Dynamics work). She said that the group had a preconception that they were going to be coming in and putting all of their grievances out on the table. The structure and methodical nature of the week had lead them through their problems in a planned manner to work out what really were the problems.
This process examples my changing relationship with the Closed system. I continue to routinely practice many of the attributes to help in rewriting my relationship.
Another such example has only started to occur recently; moving house.
My wife and I recently applied for a new rental property to increase our living space and allow the kids their own rooms as they grow. Moving house can be a stressful time and seems to invoke raised stakes easily – after all, your entire life is uprooted, boxed, and put somewhere else! The tasks that come with moving house are also extremely onerous.
My wife is extremely stuck in the Closed system. When there are tasks to be completed, she’s methodical, ticking each one off her many lists as she progresses through. This works extremely well when getting the kids ready for school, bags packed for Kung Fu or swimming, or organising a vacation. It also seems to work great when moving home.
The difference that I have found when moving home – in countenance to the aforementioned examples – is that there’s even more work that needs to be done to make stuff happen. There are also blind spots that she might not also catch because they are not on her list, which is where I come in to assist.
Understanding the difference and what is missing between what we do now, versus what we will be doing at the new property, and adding those things – in a Closed manner – to our lists allows us to share a calibrated view of what needs to happen, and act on it. My embracing of the system is also helping maintain constructive dialogue in an otherwise stressful time.
There is an additional opportunity to change the discourse by also recognising – when lowering stakes in a Closed system situation – what can I Follow (and how), as well as what can I then offer as a correction (an Oppose). By offering the By-stand – bringing in a ‘why’ – will further open up understanding in the conversation and can lead to an appropriate Follow, or an educated course-correction.
Appreciating what the Closed system can offer is now new to me. The simplicity in rules and coordination to move through check-lists one item at a time makes sure things get done in their required, appropriate order. Especially from my recent move example, I have a new-found empathy toward the Closed system – a complete removal from my Random disposition at the appropriate times.
Rehearsal, in an attempt to normalise the use of the Closed system, has also assisted me somewhat. Simple tasks like calendar maintenance to plan the day, compiling a list of things to do, or even spending methodical time building a plan for presentations and reports has helped me practice further use of the system. It’s also lowered the stakes when subsequently confronted with these things from outside myself.
Recognition of these triggers and where they come from has allowed to catch – and occasionally embrace – the power of the Closed system in many situations. Rewriting this story will be forever and ongoing, but this awareness will enable mindful dialogue when confronted with these triggers.