A potentially powerful contemplation exercise for your practice

In an On-being podcast[1] between Krista Tippet and James Martin, James described Ignation contemplation. Ignation contemplation is using your imagination to place yourself within the scripture and learning form this. I wondered if one can use the idea of this sort of contemplation (sans scripture) in business. After some experimentation I think that contemplation can play an important role in professional practice by helping us become aware of, for example, triggers to unwanted habits.

My experimental objective was to step outside the advocacy position during case debriefings. You may want to imagine yourself publishing a new policy or improving your morning interaction during meetings. Although intent is a powerful component of change, I found myself defaulting to an advocacy position as the debriefing played out. Something new was therefore needed in my approach. I decided to put my approach through various action cycles and found that contemplation exercises of 10 minutes were effective in altering my approach. The first struggle was to find 10 minutes in my day to give to the exercise. Once that was achieved, the results were very pleasing.

The approach that worked best for me was to combine writing and contemplation. I started by writing what I wanted from the exercise and then wrote a short description of the scene. Once this is done I sit in a quiet place and imagine myself in a debriefing. I take the time to notice what is going on around me and imagine the conversation unfolding. I also try to notice what is going on for me at that specific moment and what draws my attention; why am I drawn to that? I try to identify if I am doing or seeing something that would derail my objective and focus on that. I then imagine a possible solution to try during the next actual debrief.

As soon as I open my eyes I write down what I noticed and experienced. I found it helpful to write down the following headings and leaving enough space under each heading to write in.

  • What is my objective and what is the scenario?

Objective: avoid assuming an advocacy role during debriefings. Scenario: We are seated around a table soon after an unsettling case. We are trying to ascertain 1) if we are OK, 2) if what we did was OK and 3) do we need to change anything. I am facilitating the debrief.

  • What is going on around me?

Everyone is greeting each other. We are slow to start the process because we seem to be getting comfortable. I make an introduction and slowly state why we are here and what we would like to achieve. Emphasis is placed on the fact that this is not a fault-finding exercise but a learning exercise.

  • What is going on for me now?

I find myself relaxing and stepping into the role of co-inquirer. I notice that I am becoming uncomfortable when I look at the faces around me because I can see the fear in each face. I notice myself shifting in my seat. 

  • What am I giving attention and why?

My attention is drawn to details of the event and what I think happened. I think that this is seeking my attention because if appears to be fuzzy for the other participants. It feels like the participants are avoiding the issue at hand. 

  • What is derailing my objective and what can I try to stop this?

I notice a small level of frustration at the direction that we are taking. The ‘answer’ feels so close and I have a possible solution! Stop. This is threatening to turn into advocacy. [trigger identified] Solution: Breathe. Let it unfold when they are ready. Remember that we can continue the debrief later and that if does not have to be hurried. Remember: They are scared of backlash and possibly traumatised by the scenario.

Thinking about the future or the past can stop us from interacting in the present. It is therefore important to remember that this is an to look inward. During each exercise I found myself identifying potential limitations in my approach or thinking. Knowledge of these were helpful during actual events because I was able to catch myself before I actually went into (i.e.) an advocacy role.

I think that contemplation can be a powerful exercise in business by helping us become aware of, for example, triggers of unwanted habits.


[1] Podcast can be found here: http://bit.ly/1J9shus


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By Niel Stander

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