Pause for Breath is five years old today! On Monday 4 July 2011, somewhat reluctantly, I held a launch party for this written manifestation of my dialogue-related work. I still find it hard to be visible in this way – to actively celebrate something I’ve produced. Yet I believe in the power of the practices in the book. I also believe that they, alongside similar approaches, are more necessary than ever before.
These convictions support me in the discomfort of putting my book back in the spotlight for a moment.
I’m also inspired by words from The Queen, at the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament. She said:
‘one hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed.’
Dialogue is a conversational ‘form’ that’s often described as ‘thinking together’ and, in my view, it represents a collective expression of the hallmark of leadership described by Her Majesty. Developing capacity for the ‘roomier’ conversations of dialogue is the theme of Pause for Breath.
It isn’t easy!
We all have favoured conversational habits. Through repetition, these acquire a strong ‘gravitational pull’. We often enact them without considering their impact, especially when we’re under pressure or overwhelmed by complexity and uncertainty. If, instead, we make room to pause, and collect ourselves, we may be of greater value to those around us.
Individual contributions to conversations are conditioned, to greater or lesser degree, by patterns woven collectively. To be steady and skilful within these powerful energies, it helps to have insight into them, and to understand how they affect us. With this appreciation, we may be more able to influence the shape and quality of our important conversations.
However, if cultivating new personal habits is hard, aspiring to induce change in collective habits is, potentially, a fool’s errand. So…consider me a fool!
While the emphasis of my work is to support individual leaders to increase their repertoire and versatility in conversations, my eye is on the bigger picture. If more leaders become familiar with the principles and practices of dialogue, conversational memes will change. Starting with one, we may influence many.
Changing personal practice in conversations is fundamentally about becoming more mindful of what we say, and how we listen. This involves seeing ourselves more clearly, and having the courage to examine the extent to which we:
• say what we really believe to be true; and
• genuinely listen to, and respect, the truth of others.
It also involves being candid about our motivation, which is often a complex fusion of self-interest, support for others and a desire to make a lasting difference.
This brings me to my reasons for writing this post. While The Queen’s words offer inspiration, and my book’s birthday focuses my effort, their convergence bestows an opportunity to raise awareness of my next Pause for Breath programme.
The programme embraces the principle that, with practice, we can increase our ‘ability to stay calm and collected’ (another quote from the monarch), and so be more considered in what we say and do. Together, a small group of leaders engage in a process that evokes the spirit of dialogue. We think together, and learn together. Gradually, we develop our capacity to hold roomier conversations, especially when it matters.
If this hallmark of leadership inspires you, please join me in Edinburgh on Tuesday, 13th September, when I’ll be hosting a free exploratory session for Pause for Breath Practices.