Cleaning up the field – an anecdote

January 1, 2015 Featured

What makes Deep Democracy different from other forms of facilitation you have seen? This is one of my most telling stories in response to that question.

A few years ago, I was assisting Myrna facilitate an advanced Deep Democracy course. Just before the end of the first day of the course, one of the participants got quite upset and left the session. Obviously this was awkward and I found myself wanting to find out what had happened and what we could possibly do about it.

When I huddled with Myrna at the end of the day I thought we would be analyzing the group interactions, trying to figure out what might have offended that one participant, and discuss a strategy to make her feel better and come back. Instead, Myrna started by telling me how upset she was with me for something I had done in the morning, totally unrelated to the participant who had left! She insisted that we had to do something between us to “clean up the field”. I may not have understood her at first, but soon it became clear to me that she was suggesting we would forget about the participant and the dynamics of the group, and instead focus on the dynamics that had emerged between us as the facilitation team. Because we had been part of the same field for the whole day, Myrna expected we had a fractal pattern of what was going on within the group that we could work on. Was she insane?

I agreed reluctantly and on the condition that we get some dinner first, which turned out to be good minority wisdom. Sure enough, as we began to explore what was between us we found a rich soup of roles, similar to the drama of the session: I had been holding back during the morning, Myrna had been upset with me for not being more open, then I had been upset with her for pushing me to take a more active role, then I had physically left to have a side conversation in the lobby at a time when she felt it was obvious that my help was needed in the meeting room, which had made her more upset etc etc etc… Because this was ourdynamics we had access to a lot of other information: the reasons for me “leaving” (first metaphorically then physically), the reasons for her “demanding”,  the nature of each of our irritation and its connection with our history, our relationships and our psychological patterns. Working with this material, we had a long argument and we resolved the conflicts between us. It took us three hours to do (!), but by the time we went to bed just before midnight, there was no tension between us and we had each got new insights for how to act in the session the next day.

The next morning the participant who had left came back and there was no complications around her participation. She stayed, got what she needed out of the session, and reportedly left happy.

We won’t know the details of her story or what changed for her over night or in the second day. Perhaps her change of heart was related to whatever work she did overnight. Perhaps it was directly related to the work that Myrna and I did within our own fractal pattern and how that impacted how we facilitated the group on the second day. We don’t know the exact mechanism (the cause and effect) and we don’t much worry about it because we are dealing with a complex system. But the view from Deep Democracy is that we had to do the work we did the previous night in the hope that it made a difference to the group’s field (which I suspect it did).

Have you ever heard of any other facilitators staying up until midnight, “cleaning up the field”?! Do you have similar experiences or parallels between the dynamics of facilitators and group participants? I would love to hear your stories.