Monday, January 26, 2009

Do You Speak PSL?

As near as I can tell, all specialties have their own lingo. Partly it helps—for aficionados, special terms come with precise meanings that provide shortcuts to clarity—and partly it confuses (widening the gulf between veterans and novices). In some cases there's even the suspicion that those with less secure egos rely on arcane argot with intent to make their specialty less accessible (and thereby, it is hoped, keep the competition suppressed).

My field, cooperative group dynamics, is no less guilty of this kind of shenanigans. As both a teacher and a practitioner, I regularly use terms like:
• Around the curve
• Beauty contest
• Contact statement
• Cross-town bus
• Dogpile
• Ghost
• Groping
• Hair ball
• Land
• Off-roading
• Poisoned fruit
• Queen
• Shepherd
• Sniper
• Stack
• Strike
• Unpack
• Threshing
• Train wreck
• Weaving

(And that doesn't count the acronyms or abbreviations!)

While it may be amusing to contemplate how many people off the street could suss out the meanings of the above terms in a conversation about group dynamics, I actually want to focus this blog on the meta level. Beyond vocabulary, Process itself is a language. I used to tell people that English was the only language that I was fluent in, but now I have a different answer.

As a language, Process is a way of discussing what's happening in human interactions. What's more, it's my view that understanding this and nurturing it are keys to developing healthy communities.

My community, Sandhill Farm, will be celebrating its 35th birthday in May. Over the years we've become better and better at evaluating prospective members—to the point where we're rarely surpised these days by what happens after someone joins. Because how we do things tends to be as important as what we do, one of the important tests for us is how well the new person speaks PSL, or Process as a Second Language. Solid group members tend to be fluent in it.

Here is a basic set of questions we might pose when assessing a prospective for competency in PSL (I'm not saying we use a check list; I'm just tryng to give you a feel of what we'd like to know about the new person):
o How well can you articulate what you're thinking?
o How well can you articulate what is happening to you emotionally?
o How comfortable are you sharing emotionally with others?
o How do you respond in the presence of emotional upset and conflict?
o How completely and accurately do you hear what others say?
o How easily can you shift perspectives to see issues from other viewpoints?
o How easily can you see ways to bridge different positions?
o Are you able to show others that you "get" them?
o How well can you read non-verbal cues?
o Can you readily distinguish between Process comments and Content comments?
o In a meeting, how easily can you track where we are in the conversation?
o How adept are you at approaching people in ways that put them at ease?
o How well do you understand the distribution of power in cooperative groups?
o Do you have a healthy model of leadership in a cooperative group?
o How open are you to receiving critical feedback?
o Can you distinguish between projection and what's actually happening in the moment?
o How well do you understand your own blind spots and emotional triggers?
o Are you more intersted in understanding than being understood?
o How interested are you in getting better at the above?

Community living tends to change the way one looks at life (in such a way that it's often easier to have certain kinds of meaningful conversations within minutes of meeting a complete stranger than it will ever be with your family of origin, if the stranger also lives in community and your family does not). In learning to speak PSL, a person necessarily starts to think in terms of "we" instead of "I," and that makes all the difference.

Process is a language aimed at strengthening connections and regularly evlauativing the impact that words and actions might have on one's relationships. While Process virtuosity doesn't guarantee successful relationships (after all, it takes two to tango and your feet are the only ones you can hope to control), it does enhance your chances.

• • •
I started putting myself forward as a teacher of group dynamcis more than two decades ago, and now I regularly attend conferences and offer workshops on a variety of topics related to group dynamics. Nowadays I aspire to pioneer one or two new workshops each year that I can add to my workshop menu—which stood at a dozen topics New Year's Day. This year I propose to reach a baker's dozen by debuting Do You Speak PSL?

Now all I have to do is sell this idea to some conference program director.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post made me smile in rememberance of a lot of good times facilitating at Shadowlake Village. It also reminds me that I tend to attribute this language to Grad school but this post reminds me they mostly came from living in community.

If you end up teaching this workshop in the Dayton OH area I for one would be interested.