05.03.19 / A Chat With Cuca Righini: How To Create Empathic Connections With Peers

We are alive at a particularly fascinating time of history, where information travels fast and the internet created a platform for anyone to express themselves in all types of ways. With many voices trying to be heard at the same time, it seems that – sometimes – dialogue is getting lost amongst all the background noise.

Ours is also the age of big opinions, intolerance, rigid views and intellectual isolation. Paradoxically, while we reject opinions that don’t match ours and settle in our bubbles, we are also quite aware that no one can survive alone – our most significant evolutive trait is our ability to work in a team, our capacity to collaborate with others.

Facilitation is a mechanism that can be used to help people lower their guard when it comes to creating meaningful connections with others, helping collaboration and teamwork to take place.

Cuca Righini – Echo’s Coordinator for Facilitation courses – sat down with us to speak about why Facilitation is so important.

ECHOS – Can you tell us about your background and how you ended up becoming a specialist in Facilitation?
CR – I believe this is the result of a combination of things. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture; I’ve always been interested in cities, communities, human interactions, the way collective living works. On top of that, I have always soul searched within myself – which I exercised through yoga and acting. When I started teaching, I started to deeply understand how learning takes place, and how people learn. It was then that I realised how impactful communication could be in people’s quality of life; I started to realise that communicating had a lot more to do with understanding cultural codes than it did with lexicon or grammar. Communication goes beyond listening and speaking. It is a must to want to connect with other people – which, in our culture, involves developing a different mental paradigm and creating a new approach to how one would speak and communicate with others. It’s based on this understanding that I have been developing my work; coupling Design Thinking with tools from non-violent communication to create profound conversations and connections that will systemically impact organisations.

ECHOS – What is Facilitation?
CR – Facilitation starts to exist from the moment someone realises it is imperative to co-create; it starts when people realise that their point of view is one point of view and, therefore, insufficient to deal with the complexity of a challenge. This is challenging because, in our culture, dominance is predominant, which means that if I want to generate collective knowledge and amp up collective intelligence, I will need to use a different communicational paradigm: mediation. Because of this “dominance of knowledge” heritage we all carry, inclusion can’t happen without mediation. A good example of this is the idea of a teacher holding all the knowledge no one else possesses. For me to work with what each person has best to offer and use this richness, I have to try and break the mould in which only one person has the right to speak.

ECHOS – Why is it important for people to work together and collaborate?
CR – Humberto Mariotti – who is a psychotherapist and a Complexity Management professor at Sao Paulo Business School – talks about “global communalities” – such as AIDS, drugs, climate change, social segregation – and how they cannot be solved limited by national borders because they demand an approach that is human-centred and based on systemic thinking. There is also Otto Scharmer – Senior Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Thousand Talents Program Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and co-founder of the Presencing Institute – that call these communalities “disconnection points”. He believes that they are the result of ruptures that happened in our culture’s operational system: our disconnect with nature, our disconnect with one another, and our disconnect with ourselves. He points out that, at some point, humans understood that resources were finite and it is this realisation that creates the disconnects – if resources are limited, it is crucial that we compete in order to control what is left, and this created a dominance-based culture. However, humanity has reached knowledge and technology that have allowed us to do grand things, such as going to the moon; this means that we also have sufficient intelligence to tackle diseases and hunger. The problem is that in our patriarchal, western culture, we see others as enemies, as the one who will get in the way of my accomplishments. We need a systemic view; we need to understand that we are part of nature as this is one of our biggest blind spots. Ironically, in the 21st-century technology brought us levels of connection through the internet and fastly-spread information, and made us see the impact of our blind spots. Technology gifted us with a never before experienced level of connectivity, and now we need to help people add value that machines can’t add. Facilitation does that.

ECHOS – Don’t you think technology is responsible for creating polarity and individualism in society?
CR – What really matters in the intention, technology is just the medium. We use technology to isolate ourselves because our ability to create connections with others is flawed – and this has to do with culture, not with technology. If you didn’t have a phone, would you be promoting meaningful gatherings and creating community spaces in your suburb or city? What’s missing for us is “social technology”, which is the ability to create conversational environments for quality discussions and collective work made out of collaboration. Theodore Zeldin – English Oxford scholar and thinker – has urban intervention projects in which human connections are elevated by the creation of conversational environments built in unexpected places, such as supermarkets, buses and carparks, which is genius!

ECHOS – Could we use these principles to deal with challenging conversations?
CR – “Social technology” requires socio-emotional abilities from the person who is executing the facilitation – I can be the facilitator of a conversation being part of it or not. Challenging conversations happen because people tend to only empathise with thoughts and feelings that are similar to their own. In many cases, we feel so confronted by a conversation, that we are unable to take a step back and feel empathy for the other person. It is perfectly possible for us to come out of a conflict with something valuable, but we need to develop socio-emotional abilities first. Humberto Maturana – a Chilean biologist and philosopher – argues that although we like to classify ourselves as rational beings, we are indeed emotional beings; he thinks we rationalise our emotions in order to exist be part of this world. Rationality has nothing to do with suppressing emotions; being rational is admitting to emotion but understanding that you are not that emotion so that you can step away from it and see someone else’s point of view. If you are sad, for example, you need to be able to understand that everyone else around you are feeling different things.

ECHOS – How do you think we can get the best out of opposing feelings and opinions?
CR – This is where Design and Innovation come to play. Design doesn’t work with answers; it creates hypothesis and possibilities instead of searching for a quick fix. Bringing this mentality to communication creates a possibility for group action that is not exclusive of anything; it allows for transforming problems into preferred outcomes, not suppressing anything but, instead, bringing things up to the surface. Resolving problems is not the goal here: if I’m happy and you’re sad, how can we make something emerge from these two things? The “not knowing” should be held on to until something comes out of it.

ECHOS – What about feedback? Is there a “best practice” when it comes to giving someone feedback?
CR – If you’re sharing an experience with someone where you are co-creating it is fundamental that we never think of ourselves as superior to anyone else. The way you speak to someone makes a world of difference. We should communicate things in this way: “Here from where I’m standing, I see this. How do you see it from where you stand?”. Make it clear that your opinion is part of your point of view. It’s like when birds are flying together, and they are constantly in sync with each other, communicating where to go next. There is no superiority or inferiority, just the ability of connection and movement.

Interested in becoming a Facilitator? Click here for more information.

*Original interview by Natália de Almeida Figueiredo. The article has been adapted, translated and edited by Rani Ghazzaoui.

Source: schoolofdesignthinking.echos.cc

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