Transformational Relational — A Narrative For Welcoming Wholeness

Transformational relational — this is a term that I had a colleague share recently from some work that we held together. It’s a mouthful, nine syllables in just two words. But it’s rather simple too, and gets to the core of so much of the facilitation, community, and team work that I do.

Transformational is about deep change. It’s not just the ordinary. It’s not just any average thought. Transformational has energy of moving from one state to another. It’s not just warmer. It’s when water becomes steam. It’s not just a different caterpillar. It’s a new creature, the butterfly.

Relational is some of the deep how of the transformational. This is the communal and social aspect of things. So much of my work is about methodologies for interaction and for creating connection. But even that statement, is a bit misleading — that’s some of the “just warmer” of relational. The deeper why and how is about creating access to a wholeness that comes from both us as individual people, and, from what we are as a group.

OK, that’s a lot. It’s etherial. It’s mystical. It’s inherently inviting too — people love the wholeness when they rediscover even just a bit of it. It also is complicated.

There is a narrative that I’ve been using that I think simplifies this, or perhaps, creates a more simple path in to the wow of transformation through relation. It’s really a couple of simple questions and premises that I build into most of this work.

  1. What is it like to be you? This is the most basic question I know to helping any of us reclaim more of what we are and who we find it. This is not a question in which you can ever say everything. It just points in the right direction to invite an inherent wholeness.
  2. What has your attention? There are no wrong answers here. This is just about becoming a good, or perhaps willing noticer. If it’s a news report, that’s what it is. If it’s the cup of coffee you had, that’s what it is. Of course there are likely hundreds of things that have our attention at any moment, 8-10 of which we can be consciously aware of. This question is more about permission to follow some of it.
  3. What’s that go to do with who you are or who you are becoming? This question rests on the premise that inner is connected to outer and that what is happening now is connected to the longer arc of the past, or the desire of the future. It rests of the reality that by being even moderately associative (the cup of coffee has my attention because it perks me up in the morning — I like the feeling of being perked up and feel it is needed for the work with do), we can find access to more of the bigger picture.

I’ve used variations of these questions hundreds of times with groups. Even if just held in momentary container, my observation is that they open up something in people. There is freedom. There is invitation. That points to being welcomed to show up more, or in more wholeness — which is, well, what so many of us are seeking both personally and organizationally.


I’ve been in a kind of quest for much of my life. Sometimes knowing it. Often not knowing that’s what I was doing. It has been to understand more of what is happening underneath the obvious. For me it’s the thing under the thing under the thing (which often turns out not to be a thing). I have particular interest in the nuancing of working / being with groups. I have particular interest in the psychology and emotional intelligence that is inner world connected to outer world. The inner complexities of being humans. The outer expressions of structure and practice.

Lately a version of this quest has been to ask, “What’s the secret?” Or, “What’s the special sauce?” For me, those questions are a bit of code for, “What’s the most simple essence of practice that we are trying to cultivate together?” I’ve been in deep convening with Fire & Water Leadership Cohort over five days (chairs above in circle awaiting arrival of our group of 19 to do some secret-hunting). I’ve been in full staff retreat for a community organizing team for five hours. I’ve been in deep friendship and colleaguing.

These last few days I’ve explored if the “secret” is about permission, which isn’t really a word that I even like that much. “Permission” stirs us too many images and experiences of over-exuberant authority or over-used rules. So many organizations over the last decades have insisted on a kind of control that prevents most of us from even being human together. We’ve been required to check our emotions or our insights or our holistic, complex selves.

Despite all the oddities that such restraints have created, I’ve been noticing that people in most places are really hungry to just be more of themselves. To connect with colleagues. To show some emotions. To ask real questions. To share stories. To dare to wonder and wander together. To celebrate. To share worries. To offer solutions. To offer improvements. And a bunch more. Permission, often found in a little shape of an exercise of turning to one another, opens more of us to more of us — I often count on some simple partner conversations that extend permission to show up. It’s not rocket science. But it does seem to create a rocket level of joy and appreciation and desire to go further together.

Here’s to the snippets of permission, and modeling, and honest presence that bring more of us in to the room to do the work, or the connecting that so many of us hunger for.