THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules
Continuing the series about how to create an artist support group, my column today for Fine Art Views: The Four Questions #4: The Roles
The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN to her!
(7 minute read)
You’ve picked some peeps, you’ve set a time and date for your first meeting. You introduce yourselves. You’ve checked in: What’s been going on, what’s working with your art biz, what’s not. Everybody has brought a notebook that is for them and them only. (More on that in The Scribe section below.) Oooh! Pens!
Let’s talk about the roles each of you will take on during this process.
THE SPEAKER: We used to jokingly call this “the hot seat.” It’s the person who will be “interviewed”, the person who will answer the questions given.
It can feel uncomfortable, if you’re not used to being listened to, if you’re not used to talking uninterrupted until you’ve said all you want to say.
For some people who are quieter, or shy, or not sure of the company, it may never get “easy”. But in time, you may eagerly look forward to this role!
It’s a chance to really let your heart speak, a chance to think things through for YOURSELF. Without anyone offering well-meant but badly-placed advice, or anyone telling you your own reality.
Just speak your truth until you are finished. (Although sometimes it’s necessary to put a time limit on this, say 10-12 minutes. But you’ll be surprised how long that is to talk without interruption!)
It’s not necessary to do your homework first. But for these first few sessions, it can help to have some idea of what you want to “envision”. Once we hit the actual Questions in the weeks ahead, you’ll see what I mean.
In later sessions, you can take advantage of what you’ve already covered, and what you already know, and start from there.
For now, just give yourself permission to “go big” with your answer, even if it feels too big. It may be hard to even imagine right now that you have a choice about what’s in your (artistic) life. Maybe it’s not physically possible to achieve, them, but it’s important to know what they are. And it’s important to know it’s okay to want them!
And what’s really wonderful! You can not only learn to “think big”, you can get used to it!
THE LISTENER(S): Anyone who isn’t asking the questions, responding to the questions, or taking notes, you have one job…
Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (This is really important! More on the rules next week….
Don’t tell the speaker their reality. Don’t tell them what you think they should do. Don’t tell them what YOU would do. Don’t tell them what someone else did.
Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that.
You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.
But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay? Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)
THE SCRIBE: Your job is to record as much as possible: The actual questions asked, and the response from the speaker. If the questioner asks for elaboration or clarity, make note of that, too.
Simply capture as much as you can, as fast as you can, as accurately as you can.
Most important, try not to put your “riff” on anything. No comments, no judgments, no opinions.
You will write in the Speaker’s notebook. This notebook is for their eyes only.
They may not have time to take in what you’ve recorded. Maybe at the next meeting, when you all check in again, questions may arise and be discussed.
The Speaker may become overwhelmed with what bubbles up for them. They may become angry during the questions that pushes them (a little.) They may cry when they realize the lizard brain voice that’s hounded them all these years, can be ignored, set aside, or gently tolerated. They may become overwhelmed with joy at what they learn about themselves, and how well they are supported.
This means it may be extremely difficult for them to recall what they actually said. They may not remember their own truth, or the truths others will share with them. It can happen with all of us. And it’s more common than you’d think.
Your notes may be the only record they have about all that transpires.
It’s important to get it right.
THE QUESTIONER: Start with the person who is the most familiar with how this works. Hint: This first time, it will be YOU, since you’ve gotten a head start with all these articles!
You will set the tone and establish the rules. You will maintain the rules. (The rules are pretty straightforward (next week’s article!) and I’m guessing you can already guess some of them now.
You can ask more questions, outside of the Four Questions, to help frame the question itself. Because we are often unfamiliar with the idea of talking, with no interruption, until we’re done, the responder may stop speaking very soon into the process. You may have to “break it down” into smaller “bites” for them. You may have to ask them for clarification: “Can you give me an example of what that looks like?” “Can you describe that for me?” “What else do you see?” etc.
When someone gets distracted by the unlikelihood of getting what they want (“I know there’s no way that could happen…”), you will get them back on track. “Just give your biggest vision for what you want. Don’t try to figure out HOW it’s going to happen, just imagine it for now.”
When someone gets negative or self-judgmental “I know I’ll never be good enough…”, gently lead them back. “In a perfect world, what would that look like?” “If you knew you could not fail, what would you strive for?”
And when it gets hard, you will hold their feet to the fire, until you know they are speaking their truth. (More on how you’ll know, later.)
Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! I’ve done it many times, and I always feel like I suck at it. And just when I think I’m doing it wrong (I get a lot of push-back, even anger), that’s when the breakthrough happens.
Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening, someone cares what we want, knowing others want us to have what we want, is all we need to keep moving forward.
Also, these aren’t permanent “roles”. In fact, in a perfect-sized group, you will all have a turn at them, at every meeting!
Everyone should have the opportunity to speak, at every meeting. (You can get a “bye” occasionally, for certain reasons. More later.)
Everyone should have the opportunity to question, and to scribe. Even if you feel you aren’t great at asking the questions, you can learn. Practice, right?
If the group feels you have skills as a questioner or scribe, and you’re up for it, it’s okay to do it more often. I LOVE taking notes for people, so if nobody else is keen on it, I volunteer.
But I also recognize that someone else may hear something differently than I do. That’s important!
Next week, we’ll go over the rules that ensure the safety and privacy of what is shared during these group sessions.
Until then, your home is to practice listening. At your next conversational opportunity, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying. I can be really bad at that. I’m all there with the, “Me, too!” and the “That happened to me once!” Sit on the impulse to “fix it”.
In fact, simply focus on sitting. And listening. Maybe asking for more information or clarity. Or simply nodding, and saying, “And then what happened?” and “How did you feel about that?” and “What are you going to do about that?”
You may be surprised at what you’ll hear. (I accidentally typed “heart” instead of “hear”! Hmmmm……!!
Your homework today:
Have you ever been listened to, deeply?
What was it like?
Today’s column from my lastest series on creating your own artist support group.
Enjoy! (Click here if you’d like to see this at the Fine Art Views website and read the comments: THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations )
(N.B. I’ve been blogging about the business and spiritual side of art since 2003. Unfortunately, when I switched my website to another host, all the links to those articles (almost 500) were “lost”, invisible to internet search.
It’s been a slow, painstaking journey to reset those urls. And so today, I’m republishing on of the most important ones I’ve ever written: THE HARDEST QUESTION
I promise to find and republish that process, because it MUST be done with love, support, and respect.)
This post was originally published on July 31, 2006.
A reader’s comments on yesterday’s blog, on the process of getting to the “why” of our work, got me thinking.
Here’s a tip I’ve learned from doing active listening exercises I don’t think I’ve shared in my blog.
When a question makes you angry, go there.
I don’t mean the offensive or hurtful questions that come from people who are out to get you. I mean the questions someone asks you out of innocence, out of interest, out of caring or out of any positive place.
If those questions make you uneasy, or irritable, or downright angry, take a step back–and ask yourself, “Why?”
Because that anger, or anxiousness, means we’re getting close to something important.
Let me backtrack and explain.
I occasionally do active listening exercises with people I think would really appreciate and USE the experience. I learned the technique from one of my mentors, fiber artist and workshop leader Deborah Kruger. You can see Deborah’s work here, though as of today, it’s in the process of being revised: http://www.deborahkruger.com/
Deborah trains artists how to find and create support groups for each other. The formal structure of the support is offered through four questions that each person gets asked, one by one:
What is the greatest vision for your art?
What is your next step?
Where does it get hard?
What support do you need?
They seem like simple little questions. But I watch people struggle mightily with them. Sometimes one of the questions brings them to tears. Other times, one will make them angry.
I’ve learned, as a listener, to follow the tears AND the anger. Because sadness and anger are often what we use to protect our core. And often, the very answers we need are at our core.
Now you see why I only offer to do this with people I care about! It’s hard for me to deal with other people’s anger or defensiveness. I have to feel the process is going to be worth the crummy part.
I’m going to do a bait-and-switch today. I realize each of these four questions is an entire column’s thoughts. So I’m going back to the question I talked about yesterday:
Why do you make this work?
Why do you do it the way you do?
Why do you use THESE tools, THIS technique?
Why is it important to you???
When I am really interested or really care about someone or their work, I want to know the “why” of it. And if I don’t get that answer, if I’m determined enough, or care enough, I will keep asking it til I do.
And often people get angry. But if they are people who “get it”, I find they’re usually amazed and grateful later.
Because “WHY?” gets at the heart, the core, of everything we’re about as artists.
That can be a scary, uncharted place to go. Especially if we’ve never dared go there before.
But go there we must, if we are to create the strong emotional connection between our artwork and our audience. Articulating OUR connection facilitates our AUDIENCE’s connection.
Look, a jillion people on this planet have the technical skill and wherewithal to do whatever we artists and craftspeople do. The massive manufacturing industry in China churning out cheap replicas of our work proves that. There’s a thriving market for this stuff, too, and almost all of us are guilty of supporting it. We all love a bargain, especially for something that’s “good enough”.
But when your work speaks deeply to someone, when it is so beautiful or profound or meaningful or wonderful they just HAVE TO HAVE IT, that’s when price is almost no object. (Hint: It often helps to offer layaway!)
If you don’t have the foundation for that connection—if you don’t really know yourself WHY it has the effect it does—then you may be missing opportunities to create that connection.
I know many people might disagree with this. We can love a song without knowing anything about its creator, we can enjoy a meal without knowing how it was prepared, we can buy artwork without understanding anything about the artist.
But when you learn that Beethoven created some of his most powerful work even when he could not hear it, you may pay attention a little more to his music.
When you learn that Renoir’s final paintings were made with brushes strapped to his hands, because he was so crippled with arthritis he could no hold a brush, the soft blurry edges of his later nudes take on new poignancy.
When an artist tells you the story that generates their “ethereal, abstract” work, and that story is about the loneliness of a child who finds solace and control in during airplane flights–where all the confusion fades away and only serene landscapes and cloudscapes are left–the work now speaks to you in thundering whispers.
Because the “why” informs us more than the “how” ever will. An intellectual exercise is just that–from the head. An emotional leap into the abyss is from the heart.
The “why” is not an easy place to get to. And yes, it will morph and change as we let go of one “why” and pick up another. And it will change as life picks US up and drops us in another place.
But our job as artists goes far, far beyond achieving technical skill and mastery of our processes.
Our job is to look at the “why’s” in our life, to bring the questions—and—the answers—into visible or audible form. So that others can see it and feel it and connect with it in ways that enrich THEIR lives.
So get a trusted friend or supporter to play the “why” game with you. They start asking you the “why” questions. They have your permission to be persistent. They have your permission not to accept facile answers or technical jargon. If they feel you are deflecting, they have permission to persevere.
If it gets too heavy, or you get angry, that’s okay. Step back and take a break.
If you find yourself wondering WHY it got heavy, or WHY you got angry, well, now you’re getting somewhere.
Remember, you will know you’ve found your “why” when you feel the tears. Because whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.
P.S. Again: If you believe this would be of service for you, or a friend, please act with love, kindness, and respect. ASK FOR PERMISSION to do this exercise, do it with others who have the same supportive mindset. Remember that we all have our deep inner truth we want others to respect, and accept. LISTEN to THEIR deep inner truth. It’s not for us to tell. It’s for THEM to discover.)