Touchstones that Bring out the Best

By Beth Matthias-Loghry
empathy map
Empathy map it to understand it: one person, an unmet condition for success, and all that person’s potential.

Touchstone [tuhch-stohn]
noun: A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing

“Sometimes you feel like you are in a battle with reality and reality is always winning”
–Pema Chodron

Some people are made for conversation. Not me. I am a “social hermit,” who exhibits frustrating behaviors. I’m moody, I go off on tangents, and I’m hard to understand.

In Hildy Gottlieb’s Catalytic Thinking 101 course, I learned that if I want improve my work with people and people related tasks, I should practice.  With practice, even social hermits like me, can change the conversation and bring out the best in people and situations.

In his book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance, Rick Maurer describes Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly in the comedy Duck Soup. Firefly goes from self-doubt to self-sabotage, managing to instigate a war in seconds, all by himself. Marx Brother’s films are not reality, Maurer says and he adds, “How often have you been swept away by fear? Instead of engaging with others in a constructive manner we have allowed our worst fears to take over…as we are ruled by that fear, we use default tactics to attempt to get past it, or destroy it quickly.”

Maurer is talking about default tactics like self-doubt, criticism, limited responsibility, silence, sabotage, and denial as fear responses to change.  He offers five touchstones — strategies “that pass the test” to engage successfully with people who are facing that fear. Maurer’s focus is organizational change, and he says the touchstones can apply to individuals.  

As I reflect on bringing out the best in people, for libraries in changing times, I adapted Maurer’s touchstones using catalytic thinking. Here are five catalytic thinking touchstones to help a social hermit like me bring out the best in people and situations, whether I’m in the fear zone or in the Zen zone.

1. Focus on potential. 

Hildy Gottlieb says, “we are changing all the time and we are all ready for something, as long as it’s aimed at our potential.” Focus the lens on the other person’s reality, with a concentration on their potential.

2. Get ready for things you might not want to hear. 

Challenges are about the other person’s reality, not yours. Your role is not to do the work for them, applaud them for not doing something, or “zing them,” as Maurer says. You are there to give them a voice and learn from them.

3. Face the frustration.

Acknowledge their reality; think of the frustration as an unmet condition for their success. Don’t say what you think they should do, instead listen for what they are thinking about, what they have tried, what others have suggested to them, and what they think about those options.

4. Respect what that person values to power up the potential.

Reverse that person’s conflict by stating it as a value: “it sounds like what is important to you is…” Take what that value is and make it into a condition for their success. Let them decide or visualize what would take to create something better. Answer the question “what would good look like and what would that take?”

5. Join in with “yes and…”

Once you have helped them find their own way to move forward, it’s the right time to add your experience to theirs by saying “yes and …”. Ask them what they need. They might need dedicated time to reflect, to articulate, or to digest. Be prepared to follow through on what they need, and then say: yes and…recommend an article, or see in writing words that cement their solution – a goal or an outcome.

There is power in making a space, one person at a time, to address a change. By allowing a person to choose the next step they want to take, you might move from counterproductive “default tactics” to productive practices.   

Beth Matthias-Loghry is Services Manager, Programs and Partners Office, Pima County Public Library.

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