By Tim McLean
YPO Certified Forum Facilitator and certified facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie
It only takes one person to resolve a conflict – you! After all, you are the one who is experiencing the stress around the issue. So, just like they tell us on an airplane, we must put our oxygen masks on first and clear our own heads before attending to others. For me, the oxygen that leads to peace of mind and clarity is the practice of inquiry.
A simple and amazingly powerful process for inquiry that I use in my personal life and in my work facilitating leadership and team development is called The Work of Byron Katie, or simply, The Work. Byron Katie, the founder of this method, describes The Work as “a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that are the cause of all stress and suffering.”
The Work consists of four simple questions and what Katie calls a “turnaround” – a way of experiencing the opposite of what you are thinking and believing. The Work works for anyone with a pen and paper, an open mind and a willingness to discover.
One CEO’s transformation
One of my clients, a CEO, was experiencing paralyzing conflict with his executive management team. Frustrated and angry, his stressful belief about them was, “They’re not open to my new ideas”. Believing this thought without inquiry, his mind faithfully showed him all the proof of how they were not open: “They refuse to try anything new.” “They don’t understand these new markets.” “Resting on past success is going to ruin us.” “They need a good kick in the…!”
Behind our emotional reactions to seemingly difficult people or situations are stressful beliefs and often old defensive judgments. Through The Work, our emotional reactions become a valuable “wake-up call” to identify our stressful thoughts so that we can meet them with understanding. When we do, our life “turns around” in amazing ways! Katie calls this, “Loving What Is.”
Try out this methodology
So let’s do The Work. I invite you to remember a person and a specific stressful situation, past or present when you also had the thought: “They’re not open to my ideas.”
The Work is meditation. It’s about awareness; it’s not about trying to change your mind. We let the mind ask the questions, then contemplate. Take your time, go inside and wait for the deeper answers to surface.
Picture your situation with that person and inquire.
“They’re not open to my ideas.”
- Is it true? (answer only yes or no, if no go to #3) Is it true that they are not open to anything new? Be still. Wait for the heart’s response.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (yes or no) Can you absolutely know that they have no openness at all? Can you absolutely know how they or anyone truly feels inside?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? “They’re not open to me!” Do you experience anger, stress or disappointment? How do you treat them? How do these reactions feel? How do you treat yourself? Does this thought bring stress or peace into your life? Be still, notice how you react when you think this.
- Who would you be without the thought? Close your eyes. Take a slow deep breath. Picture yourself in their presence, in that situation. Now imagine looking at them, just for a moment, without the thought, “They’re not open to me.” What do you see? What would your work/life look like without that thought?
The Turnarounds: When we are attached to a stressful thought and believe it without question, our mind becomes polarized and we see the world from only one side. It’s an all-or-nothing, one-sided perspective and the result is stress and suffering. Answering the four questions shows us that believing the thought, we suffer, and without it our minds are freed from suffering. The turnaround further unravels the stressful thought and widens our perspective. Byron Katie calls it “checkmate” for the ego’s dualistic game.
So let’s turn the thought around and explore it from different angles. Let yourself fully experience each turnaround of your original statement. In this case, “They’re not open to me.” Find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in the same context/situation. This is not about blaming yourself or feeling guilty. It’s about discovering alternatives that can bring you peace, clarity and creative action.
The statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. Here’s the outcome of my client’s exploration of the turnarounds:
Original statement: “They’re not open to me”
I’m not open to myself. (to the self) My client realized that he had been working so hard to push his agenda, he had not been open himself, to exploring and re-evaluating his own approach. He also had not been open to how exhausted and isolated he felt. And he saw that he resisted asking for help, when he really needed it. These were all deeply healing realizations for him.
I’m not open to them. (to the other) He saw how he did not listen to them or really try to understand them. He saw how he put down or dismissed his team’s ideas. And he also recognized that many of their ideas made sense and he had just not been open to them.
They are open to my ideas. (to the opposite) He realized that they were more open than he was! He remembered that they had actually implemented a number of his ideas already. And most importantly, he felt deeply grateful that they had hung in there with him through tough times, even though he was often irritated and critical of them. And he saw that they were all united in wanting this new project to succeed.
In this one session, my client’s approach to leadership radically changed from thinking he had to have “vision” and that it was his job to “lead”, to an attitude of gratitude that fostered openness, creativity and collaboration. We also did The Work with his team as a group, in pairs, and in individual coaching sessions. Inquiry with The Work was a huge positive turning point for my client, for his team and ultimately for his company.
The Work has helped millions of people around the world find peace of mind and fearless creative action in their lives; from board rooms to refugee camps, therapeutic settings to executive coaching. All materials and resourcesare freely available at www.thework.com.