In our popular Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) 1 Workshop, we play a game in which participants identify the values of various culture types. One value that tends to find an interesting home is Relaxed Climate.
In the culture game, participants pair value cards with a corresponding Culture they believe cultivates that value. Our CAL 1 workshop participants often place the Relaxed Climate card under Collaboration (or Family) culture. When this occurs, I ask, “how many of you find your extended family gatherings relaxing?” Many laugh uncomfortably as they think if their own family experiences.
We can’t choose our families
“You can choose your friends, but not your family.”
Gathering with our (unchosen) extended family creates some uncomfortable moments, from where you sit, to what to watch on TV, to what you eat, to what you choose to talk about (and what topics to avoid like the plague) – it is like a first (or blind) date, over and over again each holiday.
Often, this tension with many of our extended family members arises due to their divergent political views, different ages, backgrounds, experiences, cultures, religions, etc. Don’t we all have one of those “Strange Uncles”? Like I said, I didn’t choose them.
In a brief introduction to the recent London Scrum Gathering, the Chief Product Owner of the Scrum Alliance, Howard Sublet, acutely pointed out that many of us in the agile community are the “Strange Uncle” at our family gatherings since no one quite knows or understands what we do. Lest we forget, we are odd too 🙂
We can’t choose our reactions…
Neuroscience has shown that a lack of familiarity with the people around us creates a threat condition in our brain (To learn more, you can read David Rock’s SCARF Neuroscience Model and other writings). All people, including myself, will become defensive in these uncomfortable situations, naturally going into a flight or flight reaction. This reaction in our brain is an evolved chemical stimulus which will occur without our consent or even conscious awareness. I cannot choose or control my reaction.
We can choose our response…
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
While I often attribute this quote to Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits Author), its source is from Victor Frankl, a mid-twentieth century neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. I believe it captures the difference between our reactions and potential response perfectly.
The catalyst mindset we teach in our Agile Leadership courses illustrates keys to dealing with complexity and uncertainty at work. But, during in the holiday season, it can also help out in moments with family as we have discussed in this article. This mindset includes patience, curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, understanding and more.
Holiday Catalyst Conversations
If you find yourself in a conversation with a “Strange Uncle” this holiday season, remind yourself about the catalyst mindset you use in the office setting and utilize it over eggnog. And, remember that you might be the “Strange Uncle” in the situation, so the catalyst mindset is not only for your benefit!
Choosing to hold a catalyst conversation with a “Strange Uncle”.
- Start by noticing something about them or something they spoke about recently.
- Ask them a few questions about their experience, their feelings about it, and what they learned.
- Reflect and summarize what you heard them say, and explore further if desired.
- Share a perspective or experience you have on the subject.
- Ask them what they wish to happen next or where they plan to go with it next.
Catalyst conversations are helpful conversations whether you are talking to relatives about a Caribbean cruise or a recent death in the family. They can be light and fun as well as deep and serious. Catalyst conversations help you remember to seek to understand before sharing your own perspective. Catalyst conversations increase the likelihood of others feeling rewarded over feeling threatened, increase the likelihood of improving your relationship with your “Strange Uncle,” and decrease the likelihood of being one!
Happy Holidays & Enjoy Your Family!
From our home in Boulder, CO to yours wherever you call home, I wish you a wonderful end to your 2018 and ringing in 2019!