I have been fascinated with the effects on a culture of the stories that get told over time. People want to work and live in a life nurturing culture, and yet their own frequently told stories add to the life-depleting culture…just what they say that they don’t want.
When friends get together, they don’t talk about all that is going well at work. They share stories of what they are annoyed about…people that they find annoying, processes that upset them, and above all they talk about ways that the ‘boss’ is not leading well. I hear this in coffee shops, at supper tables, and when I am out and about.
When people come to me for mentoring, one of the first topics we discuss is boundaries…and to learn the simple phrase to use in such situations of negative talk “I am not available for this”. It is such an easy phrase to learn and takes courage to start using it. The courage comes if the desire for change is big enough. Now, picture the person who starts using this phrase with consistency whenever the talk, the stories told, are repeated stories of what is wrong. The person sits down to a discussion, discovers that yet again it is about the problems, and doesn’t judge what is happening as good or bad…and simply says “I am not available for this”, continuing to sit there and sip the cup of coffee.
Using this phrase, the person is sorting out for him or herself what stories s/he wants to participate with, and what stories s/he wants to strengthen. The retelling of stories becomes a pattern, even an addiction of the group. The use of this phrase to set a boundary for personal participation is an act of getting out of a life-depleting pattern and breaking one’s role in that pattern.
In effect, this simple phrase is an offer, an invitation, to those who are gathered to change the stories that they are telling. The offer may be accepted and whenever the person does this the stories shift away from the life-depleting ones. This shifts the culture of the group, be it a family group, a team, a congregation, a community. More and more people may copy this behavior of “I am not available for this”.
A key to carrying out this boundary setting behavior of personal boundary is consistency. Another is the willingness to get up and to move on to a different cluster of people if the stories being told don’t shift.
Do this phrase and behavior always have the desired effect? No, it does not in relation to changing the negative focus of the group. However, for the individual, it presents the opportunity to enact the personal leadership that it takes to work towards a more life-nurturing experience for oneself even if it means leaving the team, the congregation, the company, the community and on occasion distancing oneself from active engagement with the family.
In times gone by, someone would have said to me “Birgitt, you are talking about tough love”. Maybe so. I personally am more focused on the power of story, and a way to carry out my own role in the stories I participate in as part of my deep personal quest for life nurturing cultures and the vibrancy that is supported in them…for the individuals and for the group.
Working with Life Nurturing Stories
While this technique of “I am not available for this” can shift behavior for an individual, shifting behavior in a group or organization is possible too. Join Rachel Bolton and me this Friday, May 18 to learn more about working with story. This online workshop offers techniques for working inside organizations to shift away from the life-depleting stories that are often told and into more life-nurturing stories that help to build the organization, improve the culture, and build employee engagement around real and important business issues.
A recording will be available for self-study for those who cannot make it to the program in real-time.