Conversation – Connection – Resonance

I continue to appreciate the work that many practitioners offer to help create a narrative for what many of us are up to in the work of circle-based change. The story shapes our attending, individually and collectively. The attending, collectively and individually,  shapes the story.

My story of what many of us are up to has been very influenced over the last 20 years by Margaret Wheatley (organizations are living systems), and Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea (circle as first and future culture). My story of what we are up to continues to be shaped by day to day interactions with colleagues. Some of these are brief moments, a long overdue phone call over tea. Some of these day to day interactions are with colleagues with whom I speak regularly.

No matter the narrative, and no matter the story, it will always be code for something more. The shadows in Plato’s Cave are only representations that give us something to work with.

This morning I read David Gurteen‘s definition of conversational leadership. I don’t know David personally. But I know more of myself through his words.

Conversational Leadership is about taking responsibility for the changes we wish to see in the world, recognizing the extraordinary and underutilized power of face-to-face conversation and adopting a conversational approach to the way in which we live and work with each other.

Beautiful, right. Why talk? To take responsibility. To connect with live-giving intelligence. To integrate work and life. Yup, that’s good.

“Why talk?” is foundational question — check out this post on “Four Pillars” that I use often.

I often position my work through The Art of Hosting as “conversational.” Yet, it is my experience over the last ten years in particular, that I cringe just a bit when I hear my own words. Why? Because when I look beyond the shadows in the cave, I keep seeing more layers, all good, and yet all incomplete. I would suggest that incompleteness, by the way, is not a failure, but rather, a disciplined way of living into the future.

For me, “Conversational” is code for “connectional.” There are, after all, many ways to connect. Words are a very important part of that. But so is silence. So is play. So is song. So is doing the dishes together. The leadership part of this for me is most often oriented to developing better ability to tend at the layer of the system. When my teen son wants to skip out of school and feigns a bit of sickness so that I’ll pick him up, there is more at play than just this moment. Trust, in the system that is he and me, is the long game.

“Connectional” is code for “resonance-based.” In the dimensional world that is time, space, and gravity, we are bound to many more mechanical images that masquerade over equally needed relationships with things less visible. It has become one of my most trusted operating principles, that there is always more unseen than seen, there is always more unknown that known. This orientation of layered representational symbols, is known through resonance with each other — that feeling of “this shit really works.”

I’m grateful for colleagues and practitioners who continue to clarify the story. Some stories loop around, coming to prominence for a time, then drifting to distant awareness for another time, then back to acute poignancy.

The circle-based work I continue to evolve with good colleagues continues.

This is the work of us as practitioners to influence the story and practice of our times.

High Heat


Heat. High heat.

Heat can be painful. Nobody likes to be burned by the kitchen stove, or the spattering from the fry pan. Heat can also grow things. Like the sun heat that brings seeds forth from spring ground, and delights us with a patch of radishes later in the summer.

In the online class of The Circle Way, it’s my co-convener and friend Amanda Fenton that shared, “The higher the heat of the meeting (or topic, or issue), the more circle components that are needed.”

I always love this orientation. Amanda is one who lives circle as much as anyone that I know. And she’s naming a difference, both in types of environment (everything from a casual exploration in which everyone knows they get a chance to speak, to conflict laden historical issues in which you’re not sure anyone will speak, nor if there will be anything more than tensions lobbed at individuals), and in skills of the people (from those who resist methodology to those that know circle in their bones, and are ready to sit for hours).

Circle is a container. Or as one recent participant in the same online class shared, a nest. I often find myself saying that circle is, on the one hand, a methodology (a convening tool, an important skill), and on the other hand, a way of being (an irrepressible commitment to a form that knits and makes connection visible).

“Heat,” I would add, is not a failure, as if you / we have done something wrong. Heat, rather, is inevitable. Because we live in times in which we are perhaps defined not by the difficulty that we avoid, but rather, by the ability we have to learn with integrity, together, in any of the heat that comes with living in these transforming times.

Heat comes from conflict. Or tension. Or disagreement. Or hurt feelings. Or intensity. Or deadlines. Or complexity. Ability to be skillful in the heat grows with application of circle. It’s the components that Amanda and I speak to in the class. For example, having principles in place that remind us to rely on wholeness (funny, my auto correct function in this editor just changed “rely” to “relay” — relay wholeness ain’t bad either). Or it’s having practices in place that remind us to listen with attention, because, such a practice is lifelong and for all of us. Or, it’s other components from the comments wheel, that are long-tested and lived as ways that help with the heat.

I’m glad for these components that give me courage, or sometimes, less fear. I’m also glad for 20 years worth of learning circle that have helped me to be in many heated places, with some inclination of what might help us not just reduce fear, but welcome the unique gift of heat.



Today begins a new series I’m co-hosting, of online classes on The Circle Way. Two new groups of 14 participants. One in the morning (Pacific Time). One in the afternoon (Pacific Time). This means that today starts the fifth and sixth groups that Amanda Fenton and I have taught / hosted / offered in this format, beginning in 2018.

Each class runs two hours. Each class meets weekly, and runs four times. They are fun. In part because they are a convening. Yes, some teaching. Yes, some communing. Yes, some encountering each other. And because they are online, using Zoom and Basecamp, the group is deliciously geographically spread. This time around, it’s Canada, Denmark, USA, Bermuda, Netherlands, and France.

Getting in the room is an important step today. It’s true of face-to-face gatherings, isn’t it. The first step. Helping to remove some of the hesitations, nervousness, and barriers. It’s even more true of virtual gatherings (which, thanks to Zoom, is actually a form of face-to-face). Getting started. Feeling the connection of the group. Leaning in to what is possible in the learning and in our journey together. Seeing who is in for the ride together.

So, how do you do that?

I’m excited that the first layer of check-in with this group will be a question about yearning. What is some of the yearning that brings you to this online class together?

Expressions of yearning are one of the thickest ways that I know to help people arrive and begin to feel the connection of the group. We could choose other questions. For example, even the basics of your name and your position. Those also create an awareness with one another. There is just less skin in the game for that. It’s pretty standard and expected stuff.

When asked what you yearn for, that requires digging a bit deeper. It requires some searching of what matters to you. It requires some vulnerability. It requires some disclosure. It’s longing. All of these, are added peeks into who we are. Sometimes, so that we can see ourselves. Sometimes so that we can see each other. Sometimes so that we can see the sharedness found in the expressions that we each speak. It’s not a short cut, but yearning does create some accelerated weave of the group.

Yearning can be a big circle, easily five minutes per person, or longer. Today won’t be that. It will be more of the one minute version, which is surprisingly a lot. Enough to bring the energy that can carry us through the four weeks together.

Beginnings matter. That’s what my teachers have often told me. Beginnings are particularly fulfilling, I find, when there is deliberateness in building connective tissue among us. Yearning — well, that’s just one of the great ways in. Simple question that invites thoughtful attention and contribution to the whole.

Here we go.

Free Listening

I often feel that what I seek to do in this blog is to be a noticer. Of things big. Of things small. Of things that are not things. Of moments that come and go like one gentle draft of wind. Of long arcs that are so worth giving ourselves to over years and decades. I notice for myself. For others, to encourage their noticing, I hope. It’s a really rich world, isn’t it.

I notice things that are painful, like some of the conditions of runaway confrontation. Or smoke-filled skies that won’t go away as forest continue to burn. I notice things that are joyful, like the teapot sitting in my friend Sarah’s window, and the garden beyond it neighbored by centuries old Douglas Fir trees. I notice. I notice. I notice. Perhaps we all do, but just rarely find ourselves removed enough to be in the soft edges of it all.

I’ve been teaching and convening the last week. It was The Circle Way Practicum, co-hosting with Amanda Fenton, and convening with 24 of us. There’s a pile of that that I’ll share over the coming days. Insights. Impressions. Ahas. Or maybe, just the way that that encounter, six days worth, peels away enough of the tough outside to see the everyday in a more noticing way. Sorrows and joys that bring me to tears.

Well, as I scan through email that’s been coming into my inbox the past week, I see this morning Charles LaFond’s post on Free Listening. Another story of noticing. Another beautiful image. Another something to feel some delight in, or whatever within the range of human emotions that are so often packed into a briefcase or a hall closet, only to be found another day when less busy.


She stands in the park during the Grower’s Market and she holds a sign.  “Free Listening.”  When I saw her, and her sign, I was so happy I could hardly inhale.

And more… on Charles’ sight for The Daily Sip.