Putting the BE in Boston

Our team at Dialogue Partners started a new practice a few months ago that has really helped me to connect in a different way with the work that we do. At our weekly team meeting we share our intentions for the week. Instead of jumping right into our to-do lists and looming deadlines we talk about how we intend to BE for the week. We’ve shared things like, “I want to feel connected to people,” “I’d like to enjoy time in the office since I’m not traveling this week” and “I want to take time to reflect on a recent training experience.” Writing down intentions and revisiting them through the week reminds me of how I want to BE and how I want to interact with colleagues and clients.

I was really lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Boston a few weeks ago. Dialogue Partners was hired to design and facilitate a roundtable session for a department of the Canadian federal government. My schedule was open and the prospect of visiting Boston was exciting! This was a project where I’d have support from our team in design and client liaison, but in the room it would be only me. Just me. After talking through the design and receiving client approval, I had a conversation with my co-worker who asked this brilliant question:

How will this conversation be better served with having you there as the facilitator?

Think. Pause. Hmmm. I was at a loss. The question was reframed.

How do you want to BE in the room?

More thinking. More pausing.

I wanted to be professional and confident. I wanted to know enough about the background material that I didn’t feel lost or out of place. I wanted there to be really meaningful conversation. I wanted participants to feel comfortable to share their perspectives. I wanted to create a space for high emotion.

Those thoughts came spilling out of me randomly. But I wrote them down and the more I thought about them the more I felt that yes, this is how I want to BE in the room. I could bring my whole self to this conversation and in turn serve the people who had taken the time to come and share impacts, priorities and challenges on a very important topic.

The last piece of advice from my colleague struck a chord and stayed with me through the entire session. She said, “Be all of those things you just mentioned to me. But don’t forget to be YOU in the process. Be your regular, friendly, smiling self.” This doesn’t seem earth shattering but that really helped me to connect the dots on all of my random thoughts and bring my whole and best self to the conversation.

I always take time to prepare before a session. Whether it’s training, facilitating or being on site for a project. I know the agenda. I know the material. I have all the supplies (just ask my co-workers – Erin, do you have scissors? Yes. Erin, did you bring extra nametags? Yes. Erin, do you have speakers? Yes). I have checked all the boxes on my supply and to do list. What I experienced in Boston was something different. I had the agenda, supplies and I knew the background material. I was prepared. But this time, I took the time to prepare myself. I reflected on my intentions. I gave myself a little pep talk. I took time for myself before walking in the room. And I was ready. Ready in a way I don’t think I’ve ever been before.

There were about 75 people total in the session. Twenty five people around the table (including the Minister and Deputy Minister and other high ranking technical experts) and another fifty people observing. We worked through the agenda and in the abbreviated 2 hours had a really powerful, meaningful conversation. There was high emotion, trepidation and questions. There was respectful dialogue. The government officials listened actively to participants and heard multiple perspectives. And what do you know, that was one of the main objectives of the session and I believe it was achieved.

I left Boston on a high. I had just witnessed a room full of people who, in front of a captive government, spoke passionately about their lives, the organizations they represented and a topic that connects so deeply to peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Next time you have a project or challenge you’re facing at work, I urge you to think through your intentions and how you want to BE. Focus on what you have to DO but don’t forget to reflect on how you want to BE. The results and the conversation will be better for it.


Erin Pote