"You can't build a relationship as a role -- only as a person. You
can't build a relationship without first really showing up yourself."
So, Ole goes to Confession for the first time and he's kind of nervous
about telling the Priest his sins. So Ole starts, "Bless me Father
for I have sinned, I stole a little plywood." Father asks, "What
did you do with the plywood?" Ole replies, "I built a birdhouse."
"That's not too bad," Father says, "For Penance, pray three Hail Mary's
and three Our Fathers."
Ole goes on, "Well, Father, with the plywood that was left over from
the bird house I built a dog house." "Oh, Ole, that's more serious."
Father says. "In that case, for your Penance I want you to pray three
"Well, Father," Ole says, "that isn't the whole of it. With the
plywood that was leftover from the doghouse, I built a garage." "Ole,
that's much more serious!" Father says, "For your Penance I want you to
do three Novenas." "Well Father," Ole says, "you got the plans? I
got the plywood."
For me, letting people get to know me feels a lot like going to Confession.
There is this period of terror before beginning the confession, then the
slow process of disclosing who I am -- little by little until I've found
out that it's really safe, really okay for me to disclose who I am, for
me to go ahead and be me. It is difficult to even begin the disclosure.
I usually start out trying to hide in silence or else hide out in 'role'
based on what I think others think I am supposed to be. I eventually
get up enough nerve to reveal a little bit of myself -- after all, I'm
not sure what the penalty will be when they find out who I really am.
Layer by layer I let people see more of me. First I reveal the birdhouse,
then the doghouse, then the garage, and, finally, the rest of the warehouse
filled with plywood.
I've gotten much better at disclosing who I am -- mostly I can just
show up right away and let people see who I am. However, I was reminded
how it feels last week as I caught myself in an uncomfortable situation
and as I watched people learning how to build community with the three-part
David and I role-played the three-part conversation to demonstrate how
it is supposed to be done. I astounded myself as I disappeared into
the role in front of the class, trying to be the perfect instructor. Even
though I knew the 'supposed tos' of conducting the conversation, wham,
I found myself back in my old salesperson role. There I was, pitching
and shoving my point of view. The more I pitched, the more distant
I was from the conversation. Being in front of the class amplified
my discomfort -- I knew that what I was demonstrating was NOT the 'right'
way to do a three-part conversation. When we stopped, I confessed
how terribly uncomfortable I was. Participants quickly chimed in
and told me how obvious my discomfort was. My non-verbals had betrayed
me -- and I thought I was being so clever, wrapped up in role.
As I watched the class participants engage in their own three-part conversations,
they caught themselves in similar spots. They were role playing pitch
men -- trying to get what they wanted from the other person -- usually
in terms of "I want you to do task A, B, and C." They found themselves
leaving out their vision. They were leaving out their real selves,
and in the process, over looking the other person too.
Building community, really is all about building a series of relationships.
That's what the three-part conversation tries to teach. However,
you can perfect the techniques of a three-part conversation without ever
really forming a relationship. You can't build a relationship as
a role -- only as a person. You can't build a relationship without
first really showing up yourself.
For me, that means spending enough time with the other person to disclose
who I am at my own pace -- and to give the other person enough time to
get comfortable with me. After all, I suspect it is as uncomfortable
for the other person to figure out if it's okay to disclose who they are
as it is for me. I need time enough to be able to peel away the layers,
to disclose the warehouse of plywood, plank at a time. I need to
step out from behind the role play, and disclose how uncomfortable I am
with the interaction. I need to confess my own vulnerability to get
beyond the discomfort and to find out what type of penance I might be meted
out for disclosing who I am. If it is 'safe', (and it almost always
is safer than I had imagined) then I can go the next step. Almost
always, this creates a situation where the other person can disclose their
vulnerabilities. In the process we discover that we are both human,
both have wants, needs and vulnerabilities, and that we just might be able
to discover or invent ways to help one another.
Time is one key ingredient for me in building relationships. I
can find lots of excuses for not having enough time -- I've heard it isn't
efficient to spend my time that way. What I've discovered is that
when I go out in role and try to sell my wares, I am indeed spending my
time -- and usually not very wisely. When I'm building relationships,
it is time invested, time that most often yields abundant, and often unexpected
returns. I invest the time up front, I invest myself up front and
build a relationship, and the tasks and to dos seem to take care of themselves.
With a friend, the to do discussion is over in the last few minutes of
conversation. With a stranger, I can spend more time than I have
hammering out the most minor detail as we posture defensively over every
Just like Ole, it feels like going to confession. Disclosing what
I've got to see what we might be able to build together. Full disclosure
is what it takes to find out that, indeed "you've got the plans, and I've
got the plywood!"