I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about the power of inscaping in the context of my experience as a staff member at COCo. Over the past several years, we have shifted towards a more collaborative organizational structure. And although the conscious shifts that we’ve made have centred around things like roles, job descriptions, and lines of accountability, I have also felt a subtler but equally powerful shift in our ability to opening and honestly express how we are feeling in our work and with each other.
During the early days of re-structuring, I spent a lot of time doling out prescriptions for how I thought the organization should function, based on past experience and what I had read about successful collaborative structures. For example, I would say, “For COCo to be healthy, we really need to have more time to meet as a whole staff team”. Eventually, I felt myself and others grow tired of my prescriptions. My sense was that people were feeling like I was telling them how they should work, which was completely counter to my intention. I just felt passionate about creating a work environment that I myself would thrive in.
Things really began to shift for me, however, when I stopped trying so hard to frame my feelings from some falsely universal organizational perspective and began to speak from my own personal perspective: “For me to feel good working here, I really need more time to talk and think with you guys.” I felt a great weight begin to lift off of me. I suddenly felt that people were listening to me rather than reacting to me and that I was listening rather than reacting to them.
However, this shift didn’t come easily. I had to really re-train my brain. I made an effort to catch myself and even asked others to help me become more aware. Over time, it got easier and easier. I was also helped by the fact that other people were modeling this sort of inscaping really well.
It may seem like a subtle shift, but it made all the difference. Once I stopped prescribing, I found that many of the very things I was so desperate to see began to happen quite naturally. My guess is that other people (even those with seemingly “competing” prescriptions) found the same thing. Perhaps we discovered that our perspectives weren’t actually contradictory but simply expressed aspects of a greater whole.
In his book Learning in Relationship, Ronald Short describes this kind of shift as moving from ‘outside-in’ language to ‘inside-out’ language. He says that ‘outside-in’ or ‘objective’ language places everything that happens ‘out there’ outside of you and totally independent of you. This makes you a passive spectator, even a non-entity, who is simply acted upon by the external environment. He gives the following examples:
“It is a beautiful day.” vs. “I feel energized and excited.”
“You’re a great artist.” vs. “I love this painting.”
“He’s incompetent.” vs. “I’m frustrated and need help.”
He goes on to note that outside language is arguable. We can fight until we are blue about whether or not it is a beautiful day, or this painter is a great artist, or this person is incompetent. Inside language is inarguable. I may be having a miserable day, and I may hate this weather, but I can’t tell you that you don’t feel energized and excited. Nor can I tell you that you don’t love this painting.
Like my own experiences, Short’s examples are seemingly mundane, but I think they represent a really powerful shift in how we relate to each other and the world. Inscaping seems to open up wholly different possibilities for organizing.
At COCo, I’ve been appreciating the wisdom that these inscaping moments bring to our work and our ability to create a structure that truly responds to our needs. Not only do we do it more often, but we do it more openly and with more candour. And I’ve found myself no longer dreading but welcoming experiences that seem to contradict my own. I actually look forward to hearing about them and can increasingly see and appreciate how much richer they make my own thinking.