Archive for relationships

Romance in Business

Last month I attended a conference called The Business Romantic.

There was a buzz of anticipation as a couple of hundred people filed into the darkened cavernous space of the old Meat Market in Melbourne –  space hung with fairy lights, with chairs and beanbags arranged in haphazard groupings facing the stage set up for a band and dominated by a grand piano. The focus of the event on the radical humanisation of the workplace.

Now let’s shift back two hundred years, to the Romantic movement of the 19th century, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement which emphasised emotion and individualism in response to the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature.

While the Age of Enlightenment has passed, and with it the Romantic movement, the world is confronted by the reality that many aspects of life and business are being increasingly driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and it is into this space that the Business Romantics of the 21st century find themselves looking at new ways of focusing on what is human in the workplace.

AI is slipping, almost unseen, into many areas of life – from Siri and Cortana to characters in video games, from smart cars to fraud detection and purchase prediction, from security surveillance to smart home devices and drones delivering pizza – and with it comes the likelihood of significant reductions in many workplace sectors as machines do more and more of the work that was once the realm of humanity.

In the face of this change, business is looking at what human beings bring to the workplace which AI cannot. Although AI can be taught many things it cannot be taught how to feel, and it is this capacity to feel, to experience emotions, that makes human beings what they are.

We often think that it’s our ability to make choices, to be rational, that sets us apart from inanimate objects, but really it is the ability to feel, to be connected – not only with other human beings but with ourselves.

As I reflected on that in terms of the work that I do with people and their backstories I realised that as we move into a time in which AI is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, it will be our ability to stay connected to each other, to be connected with ourselves, that will ensure people do not become redundant to life and business.

I’m not referring to some sort of fluffy, in-touch-with-our-emotions kind of thing, but rather to the ability to draw on emotions and use them to bring insight and clarity to situations and decision making. This ensures that we are not driven by unconscious factors in our lives but are aware of these drivers and can use them as power to move forward.

Business Romantics understand that especially in a time in which it may appear that we are losing our place as human beings it will be those things that make us distinctly human that set us apart and give us an edge.

The Dance of Withdrawal

Just recently, I experienced someone withdrawing from relationship with me.

This was a significant relationship. It had been a close relationship. The reason for the withdrawal was one I understood and respected, and was not permanent.

But it still hurt.

Not only did it hurt in the moment, and the days of moments which followed, but it tapped into past experiences of withdrawal. It tapped into the pattern of relating in a long-term relationship where withdrawal was a tactic used to keep me and my concerns at arm’s length – so that valid issues did not need to be addressed. It tapped into another relationship in which a friend would withdraw until they sorted things out – and only then, if I was lucky, would I find out what some of the concerns might have been.

We’ve all experienced withdrawal, and it always hurts. We felt it in childhood when a good friend wouldn’t ‘play with us anymore’. We experienced it in adolescence when young love is not reciprocated or our boy/girlfriend ‘drops’ us for another. We sense it in intimate relationships when our partner is not ‘with us’ even though they may be physically present.

And the reason withdrawal hurts so much is that feelings of rejection usually come along for the ride. We question ourselves, our worth, and our ability to love and be loved. Everything about us is called into question – because there must be something wrong with us or why else did the other person withdraw? Right?

I didn’t quite go there, because I know I’m OK – not perfect but quite OK. But what I really wanted to do was withdraw myself, harden my heart, and distance myself from the situation.

But I had a new path to take.

I have started reading some of the writings of Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr. He wrote, “Our experiences of ordinary life will transform us if we are willing to experience them fully.” He went on to say that “We see this ‘ordinariness’ in the…sin and war, adultery and affairs, kings and killings, intrigues and deceit, and the ordinary, wonderful and sad events of human life.”

Rohr concluded his reflection by noting that it was into this ordinariness that God stepped in the person of Jesus – the implication, for me, was blinding.

I was not to withdraw from the ordinary messiness of the situation I was in. I certainly had to allow my friend the space they needed but, even though I was hurt, I was not to withdraw – I was to stay engaged.

Withdrawal is part of my backstory. Those experiences of withdrawal had the potential to keep me in a pattern of behaviour – you withdraw, I withdraw. But now, I had the chance to turn my backstory of withdrawal into a superpower of engagement.

That decision to stay emotionally engaged did not take away the pain, but gave me purpose. It shaped how I responded to the next few weeks. It shaped my attitudes and my actions.

What had the potential to keep me stuck, and anchored to past ways of behaving, became a sail to catch the wind so that I could move into the future of this relationship freely and lightly.