What I’ve learnt from 2018 (hint: a lot)

This has easily been the biggest and most challenging year of my professional life. I started working for myself just over a year ago, founded Reframe Aotearoa and tested out tons of ideas, worked with and for many different organisations doing conflict and facilitation work, applied for and was accepted into a PhD (starting part-time in Jan ‘19) at VUW, presented at several conferences, received significant funding to trial a project I dreamed up from scratch (I’ll share more about this in January)… it’s been a lot!

So, it’s no surprise to me that over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling a sense of urgency and need to give myself space to process the year – to properly close it up. I started that work today, and I’ve documented some of my process and reflections here.

In this post, I’ve shared:

  • my reflective process;
  • my most important takeaways and learnings from this year; and
  • what I’m planning to do next.

I hope this will be helpful for you as you go through your own reflective processes. Doing this kind of practice always has a huge impact on me. I do it because it helps me see where I’ve come from, how I’ve developed, and where there might be gaps in my knowledge and skills. I walk away understanding the foundations upon which I’ll continue to build and develop myself.

My reflective process

A few days ago, I committed to spending today (Xmas eve) writing and reflecting on the past year. I told a friend about it (to gently create some accountability for myself) and, late last night, I turned off my phone. I did this to give myself as much mental bandwidth as possible while I emptied out and reflected. I decided I would turn it back on when I’d finished my reflections.

I started today with intentions and structure (rather than checking my phone as I usually would). I decided on this reflective structure:

  • Mapping my work over the year
  • Checking how I did with the goals and ideas I had at the start of 2018
  • Successes and achievements
  • Points where I’d been recognised for my work
  • Challenges and how I overcame them
  • How I’ve developed over the year

I pretty much followed this plan for the day (with only a few side adventures / distractions). Basically, I spent most of today pulling memories and thoughts out of my head and other data banks, and processing them into a messy but thorough narrative.

Mapping

I started by pulling together data from Xero, Google Cal, reflective journals, and a few other sources, and processing this into a spreadsheet that showed exactly how much of each kind of work I’ve done. Throughout the day, as I remembered other pieces of work I’d completed, I added them to the spreadsheet.

Checking in with the start of 2018

Once the spreadsheet was pretty much full, I ran down to the garage (where all my work stuff is currently living in a bit of a messy pile) and found the plan of ideas and projects I created in Jan ‘18. I spread it out on the floor and spent a few minutes looking over it and thinking about how things had actually panned out in my year. The plan below was only intended to be for Jan to April 2018 – but ended up functioning as a bit of a roadmap for the whole year.

Plan from 2018

Everything else

After looking over the plan, I sat down to start writing reflections. I was really liberal with structure and form as I wrote responses to each of the topics – I just wanted to get it out as easily and naturally as possible. I created flow charts, bullet point lists, paragraphs of prose, maps of skills and identities, post-it note networks of my mentors and colleagues – whatever came to mind and felt right. I wrote about five pages of reflections, plus a big A2 covered in sticky notes, then stopped for a late lunch.

Finishing up – almost

I looked over what I’d written, and I felt pretty good about it – like I’d answered all the key points, and had done enough. I turned my phone back on and checked in with my friend – and she asked what my main takeaways and reflections were.

I realised I hadn’t done actually done that level of overall reflections, so I sat down and wrote another page of these as a final step. These are the points I’ve shared with you below.

My most important reflections and learnings from this year

In this section, I’ve summarised the reflections and learnings from this year that I feel are the most valuable. I see them as valuable for different reasons – for example, they might relate to a constructive or destructive pattern I’ve identified, or an insight I wish I had been aware of a year ago. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Values

  • The work I did at the start of this year to identify my core value set has been invaluable – I was able to focus on the change I want to see and create in the world, what I can do personally, what I must do with others, and where I should direct my energy
  • By telling people about my ideas, no matter how new or unformed, space has opened up for them to grow
  • People trust me when I’m clear on my values, I speak about them plainly and openly, and I demonstrate them in my actions

The importance of challenging work

  • Facilitation and mediation is hard work – and the work I’ve done this year has made me a stronger facilitator and mediator
  • I find working with complex situations to be deeply rewarding – in particular, my work as an FDR (family dispute resolution) provider, and the pressures of developing and pitching large projects
  • I’ve learnt something valuable from every work experience (even if it is simply that I don’t like or want to do that kind of work)
  • Hard work is accompanied by self-doubt – but I’ve always found ways through when I’ve stuck to purpose, and listened to people I trust

Facilitation/mediation skills

  • Teaching others has made me a much better practitioner
  • For me to truly empower people in any kind of process, I have to give them certainty and transparency – about why they’re there, who has the power, what the process is for, what they can really achieve in the space
  • I am confident in my own professional skills and ethics – and it’s deeply important for me to always be clear and transparent about any concerns I have about or improvements I can suggest to a process

Relationships

  • Partnerships are absolutely essential to success – but they must be delicately managed and built. I’ve learned to ask better questions when exploring and before confirming a professional relationship
  • When a working relationship hasn’t felt right, I stop and check in. Consent applies across all social contexts, including work
  • I find real depth in my working relationships when I hold human connections before work opportunities – taking time to stop and connect with their family, cares, interests and uniqueness
  • I seek out excellence and connect with the human behind it (I’m not intimidated anymore – I’m excited to learn)

Foundations

  • My professional supervisor, mentors and other colleagues, and my own self-care practices are the key pillars supporting my resilience
  • My foundational supports – friends, food, hugs, gardening, books, exercise, family – have got me through the hardest times
  • Reflective practice is the core foundation of my professional skill set – it shows me where I am, and keeps me safe and grounded

Growth

  • Gifting my time has opened up significant opportunities for me
  • I must always be open to learning in unexpected places
  • Reading widely and curiously has helped me expand the way I work across fields – just like reflective practice and peer relationships
  • I’m still learning how to talk both confidently and humbly about my work and skills – but I’m so lucky to have an amazing network of peers and colleagues to learn from

What I’m planning to do next

Straight away, I’m going to have a proper break – where I switch off and I spend time with people I care about. I’m flying down to the South Island just after Xmas to go camping near Arthur’s Pass. I can’t wait.

Next year, I’m going to start my year with a week where I just do ‘admin’ to get prepped for the year. This’ll include getting started on:

  • Reviewing my reflections from 2018
  • Setting intentions for the next year
  • Drafting and then testing out a few structures for my working week (I’m going to need structure to keep progressing with PhD!)
  • Reviewing and renewing my working relationships with different organisations
  • Booking in dates for pieces of work that I want to get moving (training workshops, talks, launch dates, etc)
  • Formalising the impact model, business structure and advisory board for Reframe Aotearoa
  • Sorting out a more permanent working space

I’m pretty sure I won’t get all of this done in a week, but I’ll have a good shot at it.

Has something I’ve shared sparked a thought or idea for you? Let me know.

Reflections on ‘Transforming Conflict 101’ (Newtown, 15 May 2018)

A few weeks ago,  I gave a free lecture at Newtown Community Centre called ‘Transforming Conflict 101’. The session was part of NCC’s ‘Lecture Series’ and benefited from the wonderful support and publicity skills of the team at NCC. I want to expressly thank Eryn Gribble and Renee Rushton (the NCC co-ordinators) for supporting me to put on the event.

In this post, I’ll share a few thoughts on how the workshop went:

  • what went well
  • what could’ve gone better, and
  • what I’ll do differently next time.

What went well?

There was a really great turnout – between 65 and 70 people attended – so I guess the marketing and partnership with Newtown Community and Cultural Centre worked well! Almost everyone stayed for the whole two-hour workshop, and there were some very engaged questions from the audience at the end of the workshop. My favourite piece of feedback was from the several people who said they enjoyed my stories (made up examples) of conflicts, found them to be useful learning tools, and would’ve liked to hear more.

Tim presenting to crowd. Around 65 people in audience.
Tim presenting to crowd. Around 65 people in audience.

I kept on schedule and made it through all the material I’d prepared. My presentation didn’t feel too rushed, and I could feel the audience’s engagement with the material. Several attendees said they found the different models helpful, in particular the ’17 Principles’ from Dana Caspersen, and Bush and Folger’s model of the conflict interaction. One person said they loved how I’d ‘effectively summarised an entire academic field in an hour and a half’.

The environment worked well – the auditorium is a great space. The food was delicious too!

What could’ve gone better?

Plenty of things! The main areas for improvement were a) too much information, b) the messaging around the content of the event, and c) not enough time for discussion.

I definitely could have simplified the presentation and made it easier to digest. For example, I had several contrasting definitions of conflict, and three different theoretical models – this was too much for some people. One person said they felt I could have taken out about 60% of the content! I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d say somewhere between a third and half of the content could have been more productively replaced with discussions.

A few attendees commented that they had expected the session to be more practical. Reading the description of the event, I can understand how it could’ve led them to have that expectation (particularly the use of the word ‘skills’). I effectively delivered a mostly academic lecture, whereas the audience appears to have been expecting (or hoping for) more of a practical workshop.

This also relates to the third takeaway – about not leaving enough time for discussion. Although I got through the content, I left only a few short gaps for discussion. I should’ve sacrificed some content for longer breaks. I also intentionally created safety boundaries for participants about how they should be considerate when discussing their own conflicts with others in the group.

An important structural thing to mention is around sound. The venue doesn’t have a PA system, and can be quite echoey. Several attendees commented that it was hard to hear me at times.

What I’ll do differently next time

On the whole, I’m really pleased with how the talk went. I’ve since had a few organisations and individuals contact me about training and presentations, and I’m holding a second talk in a few weeks (information at the start of the post). I’ve also been asked to present a similar talk to a team of scrum masters at a large organisation in a few months – very exciting!

Of course, there are lots of things I’ll improve before the next presentation. Some of these include:

  • Cutting down on the quotes and instead talking to the theory, including sharing more stories and examples of conflicts
  • Simplying the theoretical side of things, including taking out the multiple definitions of conflict, and instead focusing on the transformative perspective on conflict
  • Focusing on the difference between conflict resolution and conflict transformation
  • Allowing much more time for discussion and reflection
  • Using a PA system (or some kind of amplification) to ensure everyone could hear
  • Less content on the slides – more content in the hand-out

What does this bring up for you? Did you come to the talk, or have you attended similar talks? What ideas or thoughts have I not considered? I’d love to have your feedback. You can email me directly (tim@reframe.nz) or leave a comment.