Last Thursday was supposed to be an ordinary day. I woke up, drank some cofee, had some fruit and sat at my desk. However, I felt overwhelmingly bored and I couldn’t focus. I tried various approaches…
- staying with the discomfort
- working slowly & patiently to concentrate properly
- acknowleding the diffculty
- being resilient and vulnerable at the same time
- persevering to create interest in the labour
These tips helped me and others over a number of years. Since nothing worked now, I thought again. Maybe there is something behind this. I felt a slightly tingling and itchy sensation in my feet. When I explored it a little more, it became clear that my body somehow demanded a hike so decided to take a day trip. I packed my bag and made my way to the “bus stop” that was in front of the church. I got at the back of a pick-up truck and sat on a wooden bench that just oscillated from left to right in response to every uneven bit of the road. The sun was shining, people were getting on and off, baskets were exchanged from village to village as we drove along the shore of Lake Atitlan on a steep and bumpy road.
I finally arrived at picturesque San Antonio Palopo and started to explore the town. It was an ordinary day. The screams of school kids playing football interfered with the sleepy ambiance of a hot Latin American afternoon. I decided to hike up the edge of the village to get a glance of the area. I felt a bit apprehensive having heard some stories of random robberies and what not. Luckily everyone around was helpful and showed me where I could eventually hail a tuk-tuk. I reached yet another dreamy settlement called Godinez, just in time for lunch. Then it started. I saw a street vendor offering ceviche and gravitated towards the food stand. I sat amongst some rowdy Guatemalan men who wore strikingly similar, possibly work related, shirts. I felt intrigued.
I am sitting with seven electricians at the little street table. Their job is to maintain high voltage lines around the department of Solola. We are slowly starting a conversation… I am getting offered a beer to go with my ceviche. I ask these guys “Your boss doesn’t mind you getting a beer the middle of your working day?” They just burst out laughing as one unassuming man says “I’m the boss” We carry on talking and they tell me about the risks associated with their work. ‘One bad mistake and you’re dead’, is a major principle. They say that when they work, they work, when they party, they party. Wow, I’m thinking, this is exactly one major issue in coaching – the ability to differentiate roles and to see them as separate. They have pretty good boundaries.
We also ponder the different attitudes to work in Europe and Latin America. Efficiency isn’t at the top of their list. It’s about relationships. They are aware that such a highly stressful job requires social capital. I joke “Well, when we get a blackout, does that mean you guys are cracking a beer open…?” We laugh… and then they say “No, first things first! We make sure everything is done before we can take it easy” They know that their demanding profession requires some down time. It’s not about the beer really. This is about being together. That’s how they resource themselves. They announce
“All of us are brothers but of different mothers!”
Their solidarity sounds appealing. I do notice their machist attitude, though. Why would we not say BROTHERS & SISTERS? Never mind, I’m not here to be evangelical about my views. I’m here to learn about diversity and to experience the richness of another culture.
Two ideas emerge for me from this random chain of events.
Firstly, the importance of listening to slight sensations that we may otherwise overlook. Arny Mindell, the founder of Process Oriented Psychology, talks about following ‘flirts’. He says that reality is constantly ‘flirting’ with us, that some objects, events, people, ideas or bodily feelings ‘demand’ our attention. These are very fleeting sensations that we tend to ignore and marginalise. We normally focus on the logical, linear, A to B trajectory. And yet there are those little disruptions, like my tingling feet, that open up new possibilities. If we pay careful attention, we put ourselves on a path of self-discovery. This road less travelled requires awareness and discipline, it’s scary, sometimes counterintuitive and definitely unpredictable. A bit like the forces of nature.
Secondly, building social capital is essential to innovation and productivity in organisations. Margaret Heffernan, a business consultant, points out that
“What happens between people really counts, because in groups that are highly attuned to each other ideas can flow.”
She insists that people need to get to know each other and invest time and attention to bond. We need to forge genuine relationships whilst hanging around the proverbial water cooler. Reliance and interdependence together build trust in organisations. Communities with higher social capital prove to be the most resilient. I suppose a stark example is the group of these seven electricians that have survived getting electrocuted quite a few times.
I would like you to consider the following questions:
- What subtle sensations do you tend to ignore?
- If these ‘flirts’ were to unfold, where would they take you?
- How can you genuinely create social capital at work?
- What is your greatest personal contribution to every group you belong to?
I believe that both ‘flirting’ and creating social capital require time and awareness. We can approach our daily challenges guided by instinct… or ignore it and then wonder why we cannot finish a project or finalise a deal. See what demands your attention…