Working with Whatever is Available. An Aesthetic Approach
“Only love expands intelligence. To live in love is to accept the other and the conditions of his existence as a source of richness, not as opposition, restriction or limitation.” Humberto Maturana
As professional helpers, we often find ourselves in situations where the clients that request our support have already decided on and committed to a specific set of activities and deadlines.
For many practitioners in our field this is a big challenge as it limits their options for providing effective interventions and support.
In AHUM we work with whatever is available as long as we find the purpose of the project meaningful and feel that the client is committed to our working together and is open to co-creation.
We always work with what is present, the existing richness of the systems of the clients, and we are committed to realizing together unimagined possibilities.
The Knowing is in the System
In any project that we participate in, we assume that organizations are “knowing systems”. We trust that they are equipped with the potential to solve their problems and fulfil their dreams if they manage to surface and reclaim their collective strengths and resources.
The potential for learning and advancement is available, but sometimes it is hidden in unexplored places, waiting to be uncovered and cherished.
We explore possibilities to bring forth hidden areas that are often overlooked by our clients when they have to make decisions on critical matters.
We see ourselves as “not knowers”, as external observers who are unable to provide certain answers to complex problems in systems of which we are not a structural part, and therefore, we avoid making instructive interventions and providing solutions, because we trust that the systems know, and we don’t.
Unlike the traditional approach of professional expert helpers who provide directions to organizations on how to move forward, we provide a process, a path of sequence of states for the people of the organization to co-create their solutions gradually and move into the future together.
Through inquiry, dialogue, and feedback in each stage we enable a thorough exploration and shared understanding of a situation. We create a respectful space for the people involved to contribute with ideas and solutions, to stimulate collective reflection and reach consensus on how to move forward collectively.
We believe that human systems are circular and operate in a circular way, dependent on their unique internal structure, the properties of their individual parts, and the relationships between them (Maturana). Therefore, specific instructions do not predetermine certain results. In other words, we cannot direct or push a system in a certain direction; we can only influence it (Campbell).
Assuming that it is not possible to work with a system from the position of an external observer and intervener, it becomes essential to be able to move towards the position of a useful agent who is integrated in the system, and accepting the fact that in order to create the opportunity to influence others, we need to be open to be influenced too.
We always focus to engage those “involved, connected and affected” (Peter Lang) in a given situation and our goal is to uncover connections, interdependences, and collective aspirations.
We trust that the people that we work with are experts in their respective fields and in their organization and we value their views and perspectives – regardless of their variety and diversity – as the sources for any future possibility to move forward.
We believe that the more well-informed and self-motivated people are, the more powerful and effective they become when it comes to implementing change. When we get the chance to contribute to the future that we wish to live with other people, it enhances our drive and willingness to take responsibility and action.
Nurturing Relationships of Resect and Acceptance
As relational beings, we believe that the quality of any relationship is the catalyst to achieving extraordinary results. Therefore, when we meet with clients at the beginning of a project, our primary focus is on building a respectful relationship rather than on the task at hand.
We listen to understand the diverse views, experiences and wishes that the people bring into our dialogue, which is crucial for the foundation of a fruitful collaboration.
It is important that we accept who they are and how they do what they do as a legitimate way of being in our interaction, thus nurturing a relationship of trust and acceptance.
We express a genuine interest to connect with their situation, and we are curious to listen without prejudices and empathize with how they feel about their challenges and dreams, which is of paramount importance in any stage of a project.
Our emphasis on harmonizing with them in an effort to create relational attunement is vital. It helps us to develop the warmth and security that is required for people to feel safe and comfortable in order to liberate their collaborative and creative potential.
The Language that Connects
We pay close attention to the kind of language that they use when they share their experiences and aspirations and we try to make them feel heard and understood, thereby enriching our togetherness and collaborative capacity.
For us, the language that they use is a key illustration of their culture. It reflects how they have learned to co-create meaning in their effort to deal with their collective challenges, maintain what is valuable to them, and fulfil their dreams. Through their language we connect with the moral order that underlies their being and doings.
In order for us to be useful as professional helpers, our role is to appreciate the uniqueness of the system without judging its peculiarities and habits, even if they appear to be conflicting with our own way of being and perceiving the world around us.
We use careful questioning in order to avoid entering into conversations with our occupational jargon and terminology, which can be foreign to the people that we work with and consequently compromise our connectedness.
We enter as guests into their culture by gently flowing with them during our conversation, respectfully adopting the language that they are using whenever we see it relevant and useful to create a shared ground of sense making.
Focusing on Collective Strengths and Common Dreams
For us, problems are frustrated dreams (Lang, McAdam), therefore, we reframe problems into what the people of the organization aspire to create together in the future.
Stories of the past, that the people share about their lives in the organization, are used mainly as the vehicle to uncover accomplishments and reveal collective strengths to enable them reconnect with their moments of excellence and pride. We do not just try to boost their optimism and morale, but to give them noble nudges to spark their belief that the desired chance is achievable, within the pallet of their collective capabilities.
Imaginative stories about a desired future are encouraged and nurtured to steer attention to possibilities and unseen ways to move forward together. Our approach remains constantly future orientated in order to bypass divisive differences and blame game of the present, and swiftly move to action taking to create a desired future that unites.
Taking time so as to save time
Usually the clients ask for quick answers to their challenges, trying to move fast to the implementation of a project, without spending enough time to connect or appreciate the complexity of any given situation and reflect on their ideas and expectations.
We encourage spending more time at the beginning of a project to explore these areas more thoroughly as a way to increase our shared awareness of a situation and limit the risk of misunderstandings and complications in the following steps.
When we achieve that, it means that the planning and implementing of the project become products of a co-creative process that secures alignment and ownership in relation to achieving the desired outcome.
Creating the Aesthetic Grounding
We focus on the aesthetic sphere of our interaction by explicitly acknowledging and appreciating what is present and available and cherishing it in the course of our collaboration.
We remain attentive to spotting connections between diverse views, perspectives, aspirations and expectations, exploring possibilities to broaden the scope until it becomes the context where diverse stakeholders can create common meaning.
We call this effort at every stage of a project, “the aesthetic grounding” of our collaboration; the activity of entering into a relationship with a child-like innocence and ignorance; in a “loving” manner that validates the diversity of cultures, experiences, and perspectives without judgement, pursuing the beauty in whatever we create together.
Welcoming and Including All Kinds of Voices
In the course of our collaboration, we sometimes come across people who express discomfort or worry about the progress of our project together. We embrace these utterances as valuable voices that should be heard and appreciated as invitations for deeper reflection and improvement of our work together.
By perceiving these voices as valuable input to our understanding and connection with the system and the task at hand, we allow space for them to exist in our dialogue. Together we explore them and find ways to accommodate and use them as an opportunity to create a deeper understanding of the situation, the organization and its uniqueness.
We trust that our paying attention to this kind of concerns and addressing them in the course of our collaboration is also an invitation to be creative, since concerns are often transformed into unseen possibilities to enrich the project at hand and achieve the desired outcome.
These utterances usually express a variety of alarming concerns; ranging from what is seen as threat to the stability of the system to a sense of urgency for change and immediate action. Regardless of their type, we perceive them as expressions of care for the progress and sustainability of the organization as a whole.
We assume that people in organizations share a common desire for their system to prosper as a whole, change for the better, and overcome its challenges. Collective accomplishment is the source of individual fulfillment and vise versa. Personal and collective wellbeing are interdependent. Promoting unity is our ultimate objective and our main drive to be useful as professional helpers.
By Kostis Tsounakis
Edited by Hanne Buhl