Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Conflict in Planning

Over the last few years I've been involved in work thinking about the conflicts that sometimes occur during person centred thinking and planning.

It's no secret that human beings, even when they're motivated by their highest purposes will often come into conflict with each other. It's fundamental to who we are. It's neccessary. Trying to avoid conflict is like trying to avoid gravity.

When we're engaged in the work of personalisation and person-centred change, conflict is even more likely. Introducing change that shifts power in the direction of the person and the people closest to the person requires change to easy habits, it requires change to complacent thinking, it requires change in structures, customs and practices. It requires people in positions of power to examine the impact that the exercise of that power has on individuals. It creates discomfort, stirs up the millpond, challenges assumptions, opens up closed cultures to scrutiny by people who use services and their allies.
Image from http://isathreadsoflife.wordpress.com/
“Fire drives us out of ourselves,
 it touches the spark within us that leads us
 to create new worlds in the face of
the years gone to ashes before us”
There's a saying that when everyone is thinking the same thing, it's a sign that no real thinking is occuring. If person centred work is not creating conflicts, then we're probably not doing it right.

Add to this mix the impact of a rising number of people requiring social care, coupled with increasingly limited resources being allocated to meet this need. This forces us to fight over slices of a cake that's getting smaller, when maybe we should be thinking about how we take over the bakery.

However we live in a culture where we see conflict as something to be feared. We don't develop conflict skills. We therefore respond to everyday conflict in one of two ways. We either avoid it, meaning that issues fester and grow, or we lash out fearfully, engaging in conflict in a way that is damaging to ourselves and others. I think it's therefore worthwhile thinking more about conflict and ways of engaging in it that keep ourselves and others as safe as possible.

I deliver a conflict training. People keep calling it 'conflict resolution'. I keep telling them that it's not a conflict resolution training because I believe that it’s not always possible, necessary or even desirable to resolve every conflict and disagreement that occurs during person centred planning and thinking.

What is sometimes possible is to use the energy that the conflict generates as a means of motivating people to think harder, take action and learn, whether or not the conflict is ever ultimately resolved.

The impossible desire to ‘resolve’ every conflict emerges from the myths of professional infallibility and service perfection. The reality of everyday life is working with people while agreeing to disagree on many issues, if we can use the exploration of those disagreements to generate positive change, and prevent them descending into negative and destructive forms of conflict, then we are moving in the right direction.

When we're facilitating person centred thinking, we’re not aiming to get everyone to agree, we’re aiming to help the person move toward a life that makes sense for them, and to make our services responsive enough to enable this for many people – some disagreements can hold this back, others help us think better and motivate us to act. We’re simply aiming to have more of the latter kind of disagreement! We therefore need to consider what conditions, what questions and methods help us manage conflict more productively.

I'll be blogging much more on this topic in future weeks: I intend to discuss how we can help people understand that conflict can sometimes be positive, about ways of turning negative conflict into positive conflict, about how we ensure that all points of view are heard and recorded during conflict, how we can use mindfulness in conflict, and how appreciation can enable people who disagree to honestly recognise and honour each others' gifts and heartfelt motivations.

Let's see conflict in a similar way to how we see fire: something to be dealt with carefully, treated with respect, something that is notoriously dangerous when out of control, yet is essential to our lives and potentially a massively productive and creative force.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

What Does it Take To Train People in Person Centred Thinking?

If you’re going to take that step of standing up and teaching person centred approaches to others, then It's obvious that you need to know and understand how to use the person centred skills and tools you wish to teach.

To me it's also obvious that you must have a deep commitment to the values the underpin person centred approaches, you must also be hungry to learn more, and be eager to share what you learn with others, so that more people can be supported better to build better lives, with valued social roles in their community.

Background knowledge of the social model of disability, of Social Role Valorisation theory, of the five accomplishments, of capacity thinking will give a trainer good grounding. Your thirst for further knowledge will help you learn these things if you don't know them already.

Without doubt, you'll need good mentorship from an experienced trainer, and be able to use every opportunity you can to explore the art of planning and training with others who belong to the community of person centred practitioners, a warm, welcoming community that will appreciate what you bring to it.

But when it comes to standing in front of a group of learners, it's much less a matter of what you know, than about how you help others dig out what they ALREADY know. You must almost forget what you know, and instead work on creating conditions where people lead their own learning, where deeper learning can happen.

Because you're stood up at the front, people will wish to see you as the expert, but person centred thinking is trying to demolish the view that some people are ‘experts’, and that everything must go through the experts in order to be valid. We are trying to build instead the view that everyone has knowledge that is based on their own experience and their own lives, and has the capacity to learn more. The right questions asked in the right way can help bring this knowledge to the surface, and help focus people’s attention onto what they still need to learn for themselves.

This is the trainers’ job: to help people and groups rediscover the knowledge they already have, and stimulate the curiosity to learn more. This is also what person centred thinking aims for. Person Centred Thinking tools are really tools that help people and groups rediscover what they already know, or open them up to seeking for what they don’t yet know.

Therefore in order to train person centred thinking, it’s necessary to train in a person centred way. More important than how you speak and what you say is what happens in the gaps in between: How you LISTEN, how you give people time to THINK, the RESPECT that you show to learners, the gifts they bring with them and the feelings that training evokes.

Poor trainers stand in front of a powerpoint and talk and talk, and talk, and talk...

Good trainers ask questions that stimulate discussion, use techniques that give everyone a chance to think and speak and open themselves up to listen well to everything that the group is saying, with their words and with their whole selves. People learn far more when they voice what they’re learning, and listen to and help each other. Good trainers don't talk for the sake of filling up silences. They don't fear silence. They use silences as a tool, a space where people can think and be together, a space for learners to fill with their own learning.

People learn person centred approaches by immersing themselves in person centred work, not by watching a powerpoint: Conducting an experiential exercise, then discussing the learning from it is the beginning of this, as people use themselves as their own ‘focus person’. Time should be balanced so that 20% is explanation, 80% exploration.
Your learners will know far more than you do about their own work situations and about themselves. Respect this, bring it out. Your job is to ask the questions that will help people allow this deeply stored knowledge to spout upward from their own internal wells, so that it can be pooled and swum in. If you’re doing this right, you will learn just as much as your learners do from a training session. With such deep wells already there, there’s no need for you to be the fountain of all knowledge, learners are not empty vessels, they are full to the brim.

Finn McCool and the Salmon of Knowledge

It was said that Fintann the bradán feasa or Salmon of wisdom, had swum in the well of knowledge, and eaten nine hazel nuts that fell into the well from the nine hazel trees that grew around it, and that therefore this salmon contained all the wisdom in the world. Moreover, it was said that whoever could catch and eat this salmon would in turn, know all there was to be known.
When Finn McCool was a young man, he was sent to learn with the poet and teacher Finegas. Finegas spent 7 years with Finn, and did most of his teaching while they fished together for Fintann, the salmon of knowledge.
Finally Finegas hooked the magic and immortal fish. He was keen to consume it's flesh, know everything, and thus become the greatest teacher there had ever been.
"Start a fire and cook this fish Finn!, but whatever you do, don't eat it, it's mine!" said Finegas.
Finn loyally did as he was told, but when the fish got really hot, fat started spitting out of it, and a sizzling hot drop landed on his thumb. Without thinking, Finn put his thumb into his mouth to sooth it. All the precious knowledge in the salmon was focussed into that little drop of fat, and wham! now it was inside Finn.
When Finegas got back he could see Finn had changed, his eyes were sparkling with experience and wisdom. Finn explained what had happened.
"Finish eating the salmon" said Finegas "It's you who is destined to know, not me".
After that, Finn became the wisest of all leaders. Whenever he was presented with a problem, he would simply suck his thumb, and know exactly what to do.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Book Review: Conversations On Citizenship and Person Centred Work

“The more deeply this whole group can listen, the more strongly they believe in the person, the more vividly they can imagine possibilities, the more widely they are connected, the more creatively they can see ways to move forward, the more courageously they can enter into agreements that engage their integrity, the more likely cycles of planning and action will generate good changes.” O'Brien p22

"Conversations on Citizenship" is a collection of brilliant threads, tied together by editors John O’Brien and Carol Blessing around the issues of the citizenship of people with disabilities and of overcoming the barriers that are still preventing full access to society.

In her introduction, Blessing asks why, despite all the great thinking, theorising and training that’s been carried out over the last decades, often only language has changed, with human service delivery systems and ‘experts’ still acting as the commonly accepted gatekeepers to community.

In an attempt to redress this disconnection between people and their communities, the book draws together ideas from some of the most inspirational thinkers from a variety of areas, the person centred planning and thinking of people like Beth Mount, Jack Pearpoint and Michael Smull, the positive potential of appreciative inquiry summed up by Diana Whitney, the value of developing communities based on their assets, recounted by Mike Green, and work enabling people to achieve their potential through employment explored by Denise Bissonnette and Connie Ferrell.

Each of these writers puts forward their ideas, experiences and values in response to a set of incisive questions. This question and answer format is a natural way of simplifying and opening up thinking that goes back to Socrates and Plato, making it much easier to find something to whet the appetite to consume further bitesize morsels of the writers detailed arguments and alternative world views.

Overall the book is like a delightful meal, each thinker bringing their own unique dish to the table, but running through each succulent dish are the common flavours of humanity, community, potential, courage and capacity, meaning that while the book was written to support people on a particular leadership course, the short introductions to appreciative inquiry, asset based community development, person centred thinking and supported employment are both a useful introduction to these areas to the uninitiated, and an inspirational resource to provoke thinking and action in those who are already familiar with these ideas.

The deepest theme of all is that the changes required to genuinely include and value people with disabilities in our society will be accomplished by individual people in their own lives, supported by the people who love and care about them. O’Brien argues that these people will benefit from using person-centred planning as “a means to guide the personal creativity and organisational innovation necessary for people with disabilities to act in valued social roles as contributing citizens” but adds a pinch of salt to the dish with a warning about the limits of Person Centred Planning: he explains that this cannot be treated as “mindless word magic disconnected from a context where people can act resourcefully on what the planning discloses as meaningful”, calling for commitment to building the social contexts where real change can be possible,  to supporting the person to convene people who can actively support them to offer their contribution to the community, and to supporting the communities of practice that nurture the applied and relational skills of the people who feel called to support such purposeful convening.

In the UK, the book is available via Inclusion Distribution. http://www.inclusiononline.co.uk/

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Five Ways of Thinking

Five methods of thinking.

Are you always running up against the same problem?

Maybe thinking about it in a different way might help. Maybe we get trapped in one or two particular methods of thinking that have been productive for us in the past, but which now seem to have run dry.

The world's greatest thinkers recognise that trap. Einstein said "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them".

One of the skills of facilitating is to help a group raise it's thinking, exploring zones of mindfulness, stimulating and challenging the imagination, and enabling people to plan together with intention.

Thinking together in different ways stretches us and helps us grow. It makes us more ready to meet the challenges that the world throws at us, leaves us feeling energised and enthused.
Which approaches harvest the bounty of our common sense?
What approaches help us gather the evidence we need to make rational decisions?
What practices help us develop mindfulness and deep awareness of ourselves and our situations?
What questions tease us and provoke our imaginations?
What sustains us to think together, plan and live with intention?

"Finger-ends, five twigs,
Trees, true-divining trees,
Discover all your poet asks
Drumming on his brow. "

Robert Graves

Monday, 5 December 2011

Learning From Achievements

One of the most crucial and fundamental elements of Person Centred Thinking is a deep listening for a person's capacities and potential. One tool that can tell us so much about our capacities, and what we can achieve when we are at our best is the achievement tool, a tool that combines ideas taken from appreciative inquiry (AI), from person centred thinking, and from capacity thinking.

The achievement tool has a few purposes.

The first is simply to make a record of something that we're very proud to have accomplished.
The second is to celebrate that accomplishment.

Our achievements tell us so much about ourselves.
To find out more about the Achievement Tool, pleas click on
the picture.

The third is to draw out learning from what we have achieved: learning about what it is that helps us achieve.

 I've used this tool many times over the last few years since I first designed it in a burst of creativity stimulated by Gill Bailey and Helen Sanderson's training, and by my own research into AI.

I realised how powerful this tool was the very first time I used it with a group. Several members of the group were shedding tears as they told their achievement stories. The whole group felt we were entering important and fertile territory for inquiry, and were able to express so much appreciation for each person after they had told their story. As each story unfolded, the energy in the room grew increasingly hopeful and postive, people left feeling genuine connection with each other and a sense of personal empowerment.

Talking about our achievements is not always easy for people from the English culture. We don't like to 'blow our own trumpets'. But when we do, we go very deep into who we are, what drives us, some of our very deepest feelings.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on the idea that what we inquire into expands. If we inquire into a person's faults and deficits, we will continue to find more and more, until the picture we have painted of them becomes positively debilitating. If we inquire into a person's achievements, we learn more and more about what helps that person achieve, and potentially enable that person to achieve more and more.

The Achievement Tool links directly to other person centred thinking tools.
For example, the question 'What made me do it?' links directly to what is most important to us.
Sometimes people use the tool to tell stories of how they have overcome adversity such as leaving a long term partner, or overcoming a situation that has been thrust upon them. Sometimes it is an achievement of something that they have chosen to attempt. In either case it can help us understand our own key priorities.

'People who helped me' helps us learn more about our real circle of support: the people who are around when we are achieving things, rather than the people who somehow hold us back.

'How people helped me' and 'What helped it go so well?' give us clues about what makes good support for us. If we can recreate the conditions that existed last time we achieved something great, perhaps we can go on to achieve more!

'What this achievement says about me' explores the capacities that the achievement reveals within us. I like to call it like and admire, but with an evidence base.

There's a number of ways to use the tool. It can be used with individuals, teams and even with whole organisations. Even if the only achievement your team can think of is that they organised a really good leaving do for a colleague, the learning from that can give clues about talents and skills within the team that could be applied to the core work of the organisation.

I tend to start by asking everyone in a group to think of something they have achieved. It could be big or small, and I point out that this is not an 'achievement competition'. We can often learn just as much useful information from a small achievement like baking a cake as we do from a major life-changing achievement.

When everyone has mentioned what their achievement is, I ask for volunteers to explore their achievement more deeply. It works to split people into groups of 3, one person to talk more about their achievement, one to ask them questions, and one to record the answers in a way that makes sense.

When people have recorded their achievement, they go back to the whole group and are helped to recount their achievement story. Each story ends with a round where everyone in the group tells the person what they appreciate about them and their achievement.

It's a great way to end a training session so that everyone feels on a high, ready to go out and achieve more!

A lot of organisations are finding it hard to talk to social care commissioners in the language of outcomes, rather than inputs. Using the achievement tool with people we support gives us a real picture of what people feel are the real achievements and outcomes in their own lives. People have used the tool to describe how they gave up smoking, how they recruited their own staff members, how they made new friends, how they used a train independently for the first time.

Teams have used the tool to celebrate winning new tenders, supporting a person to successfully lose weight, in a way that made sense to them, and helping a person whose previous support arrangements had repeatedly broken down to build a successful life in the community.

Here's what Amanda George thinks of the Achievement Tool.

What achievements do you feel proud of? Have you explored what motivated you, and helped you accomplish them? What else could you achieve if you really paid attention to what helps you be at your strongest and best?