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This workshop is best described in the words of participants:
Of Fishes and Birds
I preach a lot in my day-to-day consulting work. One view that I preach is that professional training should not be limited to learning the syntax of the newest computer language or tool, nor to the latest methodology or business concepts, but also to the broader training of soft skill, values and meaning.
I like to practice what I preach, so I had already taken the Change Shop in Santa Fe in March. When several friends from Consultant’s Camp spoke highly of Satir training, I decided to take the second plunge in November &endash; the Personal Development Workshop, put on by the Satir Institute of the Southeast in Nag’s Head, North Carolina.
I had read Virginia Satir’s New Peoplemaking and the workshop flyer, but nothing could have described the actual experience. Eighteen trainees and four professional therapists, we explored the techniques of Virginia Satir by example rather than theory, with each one of us examining a part of ourselves where he or she felt there was an opportunity for growth.
No one was disappointed. And because so many of life’s issues are universal, each of us took away a valuable lesson from the work of others, either as a participant in role-playing or family sculpting or just as an observer.
Jean McLendon and Hugh Gratz led the exercises while Sheri Hanshaw and Bill Davis provided assistance. Early in the program, Hugh presented a theory that divided the spectrum of human communication into five levels:
1. Cliches or chit-chat. “Hello, good morning, how-do-you-do?”
2. Information. “The temperature is 72 degrees.”
3. Opinions. “We should spend more on elementary education and head start programs.”
4. Feelings. “I am angry that you stood me up.”
5. Full humanness.
I regret that I cannot give a one-sentence example of what it is like to communicate at level five. I know that I have been in communication at this level many times before, but never before have I felt communication sustained at this level for days on end.
I worked most closely with Jean, and I came away with the strangest feeling that reminded me of some research I had read about a few years earlier. Scientists studying a particular kind of fish in the Amazon found that the fish swam together in well-defined schools, even though the water was so muddy that they could not possibly see each other. After extensive experimentation, they determined that the fish were able to detect each other’s subtle electrical impulses as a guide to staying in schools. I was not aware of my own ability to detect such signals.
I was likewise amazed to learn that scientists studying migratory birds had determined that some migratory birds are able to detect the earth’s geomagnetic force and use it to orient themselves with it. I was not aware of my own ability to sense this force.
In the Personal Development Workshop, I saw Jean working closely with a trainee, many times over and myself included, able to pick up the one critical phrase in a long narrative, sieze upon it, and very gently ask permission to explore that area. Permission granted, she was able to move to the source, never leading but merely creating the space, for breakthrough after breakthrough of exhilirating and liberating self-awareness.
Jean’s sensitivity was as awesome and unfathomable to me as that of the greatest schooling fish or migrating bird. It made me wonder if I, too, might have that ability somewhere within me.
On the Experience of Becoming Human
I attended the Change Shop in January 1993. It was a wonderful learning experience for me, both personally and professionally. It was especially useful as I searched for ways to lead rather than shove in my role as the corporate expert on productivity and quality measurement.
But despite the progress, by the summer of 1994 I was looking for something more. I wanted something to help me deal with the more serious emotional issues I was facing in my job on a regular basis. I was still backing away rather than engaging my co-workers when nervousness moved to fear, and things got teary.
In September, I learned about the Satir System Training workshop sponsored by the Satir Institute of the Southeast. It was just what I was looking for, and I signed up on the spot.
The first session was an intense five days. There was a lot of material, and several difficult emotional encounters. I was forced to right-brain methods with metaphors and sculpting, and often felt embarrassingly awkward and clumsy. I spent many solitary moments to give my introverted self enough space to pull things back together. I also spent many hours enjoying the company of people I quickly came to care about and trust.
Yesterday, I was talking with Marion, a co-worker. “I had my performance review yesterday,” she said. “My boss asked me what value I added to the company. I told him I created an environment where people could be productive. He asked for some proof of the productivity improvement, but I don’t have any. I’m not a technical- type; I’m a people-person. I don’t think the company values what I do, anymore.”
She was staring at the table. I was searching frantically through my imaginary self-esteem tool kit. There’s the courage stick, the wisdom box, the detective hat… Where’s the heart?! There it is. Breathe, remember to breathe.
“I think you bring something very important to this place,” I told her. “We need managers like you who care about the people who work here. Maybe we can find a way to use the metrics program to show your boss how much of a difference you make.”
“That would be great,” Marion said. She laughed, and I thought to myself, be patient with me, Marion; I’m just a beginner with only five days of training and ten more to go…