The Learning Space Blog

The Learning Space Blog

«  blog main

What is the Help that really helps

Though I’m not generally one for writing end-of-year-letters, this year I’m feeling the urge to weigh in – not with the usual list of places traveled or things accomplished over the year, but with a few thoughts that have come to me along the way.

Thanks in part to my new young partner, Andrea Rubinfeld, who is asking probing, thought-provoking questions, I have been forced to examine more deeply than ever, what I do and why I do it. I have had to slow down, sit still, and tackle some hard questions. With BlackBerry locked away safely in the drawer, I have been able to take the time to deliberate on my work and consider, above all, this question:

What is the help that really helps in relating to one’s family and in family consulting?

The following four very simple (yet, oh so difficult) concepts apply to the professional arena as well as the personal one. They are the result of observation, knowledge gained from brain research, and interactions that took place with clients, other professionals, and with members of my own family.

1. What Do I Know ?
Figuring out what you really think or stand for is no easy feat. It is a process more demanding than we assume. The challenge, first and foremost, is to be still, to stop the peripheral noise (the email, the cell phone, the to-do list in your head)– and then sit quietly so answers can bubble up. It has been a lifelong effort, as well, to recognize when my thinking is thoughtful and when it is reactive. You know – those knee-jerk responses that are often fear based or the result of multigenerational imprinting. Is all this contemplation worth it? I think so. It can be a valuable process for me and my clients.

2. Expecting Increasing Discomfort
In a world that wants a quick fix for just about every problem, no one wants to hear that tolerating unpleasantness can be of value, that challenges require time and persistence. Call me stoic, but I have seen the value of sitting in discomfort. It’s a little like how I deal with winter. I venture out dreading the cold, never really prepared for it, a grimace on my face. Why am I surprised by the cold in winter? Likewise, why am I surprised when processes run amuck? Greeting difficulties (and the winter wind) with ready, relaxed shoulders helps me meet challenges unafraid, with confidence and resolve.

3. Staying Connected
Staying connected can be quite a feat when there are significant differences between people, whether real or perceived. How is it that differences can make such a difference? Why is it that we find them so emotionally and physically intolerable? Why do they make us want to run for the distant hills? I find it helpful to see differences (even as I suppress my own urge to run) in the bigger context of the human story. The question I then ask myself is, “Can I keep my bottom in the seat long enough just in case there’s something for me to learn. Then I ask,” what’s my part?”

4. Managing Oneself
Observing oneself (staying calm, neutral, and able to think) in the midst of swirling emotions is quite a challenge. And any progress you make is always much too slow; but the smallest effort can reap significant rewards. When emotions escalate, and my thinking gets hijacked, it is even harder for me to see my part in the play. Can you see yourself, your part in the interaction, and can you see it accurately? Can a leader in a family and in an organization make use of this knowledge? Again, I think so.

Because I know you are constantly observing and questioning what works and what doesn’t in family interaction, I thought you might be interested in hearing where my work has taken me. I would consider it a new year's gift to hear back from you with any thoughts.

I’d also like to mention the new research on how people integrate their differences and are able to think more creatively together.

Working Systems has been successfully experimenting with a process in families where differences exist. The idea is to have the family think together in a group, while asking the individuals to develop their own thoughts, individually without questions or interactions, just listening. We have experimented with it three times and have found that previously difficult polarizations found resolution in a simple, yet well-structured process of thinking in a group.

The results have made a difference both for the client families and for us as consultants in our work with our won teams.

Wishing you a healthy, happy and thinking new year,

All the best,



Be the First to Leave a Comment:

About the Learning Space

"The Learning Space is a creative, energetic thinking space for individuals striving to live optimally in all their most important relationships. The Learning Space provides a conceptual space—a place to consider and experience alternate ways of relating."
Read More »

Upcoming Events

view events »