If news headlines are any indication, most of us hold on to our positions with rigidity, a black/white thinking; entrenched in our beliefs of what is right. The great Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, calls this type of thinking “rock logic.” “We are like rocks, immutable, inflexible and intolerant,” she said. “We do not see any way around something because we only see our way, which of course, is the right way.” She then spoke of another way of being which she calls “water logic.” This is a more fluid response, where one shows a willingness to shift and change depending upon the circumstances. With water logic we are less believing in the absoluteness of our positions.
Let’s be honest, we all display “rock logic” at different times. We have strong convictions and depending on our personal styles for handling conflict, and our particular circumstances, we can all get pretty “rock solid” in our approach at times.
Here’s how I saw my rock logic challenged one day. I was asked to re-create a Management Orientation process in my role as a relatively new leader in a healthcare organization. There were seven other leaders who shared the responsibility for delivering the Orientation to new managers, and I would need their buy-in with any new approach. In preparing for the meeting, I came up with, what I thought, was an innovative solution, which I was excited to present. I believed the meeting would be short and productive.
In the agenda I shared the purpose and desired outcomes for the meeting. I began by presenting my idea hoping there would be a general consensus and some discussion and we could then move into application. Instead, something wild and unexpected occurred. My proposal was greeted with some excitement, but then one person ran to the flip chart to expand the concept. Soon another person excitedly shared her idea also running to the flipchart. This happened a few more times and I began to feel as if the meeting that I was running was out of control. Instead of joining in their excitement, I found myself resisting their ideas, internally shooting holes in all their suggestions and coming up with many reasons why it wouldn’t work. I wanted MY idea back!
I observed as everyone in the room became more animated and excited. The room was filled with laughter as all involved listened and built off each other’s ideas. I finally realized, once I softened my position, that this was the best possible outcome of a meeting. The group was now owning this design, and therefore would absolutely buy into it. It was a complete collaborative process (the sum here was greater than any individual part). It was also a really good idea! I watched as I allowed myself to become influenced and join in their excitement (water logic).
In one hour a new approach to our Orientation was created, as well as a beautiful new logo. As people were leaving, I heard a chime of “that was one of the best meeting I have ever participated in!”
I have reflected on that meeting often and I know that its success was directly related to my willingness to let go of my position and roll with the creativity of the group. I also recognized that a high quality plan emerged because it included the collaboration of a group thinking creatively together. The design developed in that one hour meeting is still in place ten years later!
In support of working with this principle, here area few tips from my study of theatre improvisation that have helped me to loosen up when I am feeling inflexible, intolerant and exhibiting “rock logic.”
- Whatever is thrown out in discussion, respond (even internally) with “Yes, AND …” (even if every cell in your body wants to defend and resist).
- Everyone shares their information, continuing with “Yes, AND …”
- Everyone works off each other’s ideas to build and expand.
- Blocking (ideas) is not allowed.
Next time you feel yourself tightening, getting rigid and defensive, take a few deep breaths, lean in and listen. Be curious about other’s ideas, ask questions and listen for how it could work. Know that different perspectives create new and exciting possibilities. Be willing to be influenced.