Beyond just a bunch of talking heads: Incorporating the body into conversations that matter

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter

Columbus, Ohio May 15-17

About five years ago I encountered the Art of Hosting and it shifted the way I approach and facilitate collaborative leadership. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a unique Art of Hosting training, hosted by Confluence Unlimited in Columbus, Ohio, which was the first of its kind to integrate the embodied practice of Social Presencing Theatre into the art of hosting conversations. As a dancer, theatre artist and InterPlay Leader, who has been experimenting with integrating embodied and conversational processes into participatory leadership for the past decade, I was very curious to see what this was all about.

What is Art of Hosting?

The leadership approach Art of Hosting (AoH) activates the collective intelligence in a group to find new solutions to the increasing challenges of the world of work today.   It is a response to a world that is becoming increasingly complex and fragmented, where true solutions and innovations lie not in one leader or one viewpoint, but in the bigger picture of our collective intelligence.[1]

Art of Hosting, Columbus, Ohio
Art of Hosting, Columbus, Ohio, 2015

AoH is an emergent group of methodologies for facilitating conversations in groups of all sizes, supported by principles that help maximize collective intelligence, integrate and utilize diversity and minimize/transform conflict. Processes facilitated in this way tend to result in collective clarity and wise action – sustainable, workable solutions to the most complex problems. The approach ensures that stakeholders buy into the process (because they participate in the design and the process is by defininition transparent) and make ongoing feedback, learning and course correction a natural and efficient part of life.[2]

Social Presencing Theatre (SPT), as described by Arawana Hayashi is

“A practice that uses embodiment and the intelligence of the body as a basis for expanding awareness. By increasing awareness and letting go of preconceptions, we tap into our wiser self and into the greatest potential of the situation. Awareness gives birth to insight, innovation and skillful action” – Awarana Hayashi

Facilitated by SPT practitioner and clown Heidi Madsen, the embodied component of the training, invited us into simple practices that helped strengthen the quality of our conversations. It reminded us to take a moment to connect to our breathe, before and during conversation, to check in with our inner state and to speak with intention.

Image Theatre Toronto YES! Jam, 2014
Image Theatre Toronto YES! Jam, 2014

Social Presencing Theatre is rooted in Otto Schwarmer’s Theory U, a practice of leadership that invites us to lead from the highest future possibility by being aware of the “blind spot of leadership” – the inner place from which we operate. For Schwarmer, the quality of leadership is directly related to the inner state of the leader. Social Presencing Theatre as a practice was developed to support leaders to be more aware of their inner state, and their relationship with others. It is a practice of bringing oneself into the present moment, truly open to all the possibilities available and from that state of connection and awareness, making what Hayashi calls a true move.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. For most of us, the invitation to step into our bodies through embodiment exercises, is terrifying. We each have our own body deals, maybe we have been told that we can’t dance, or we are so used to operating from our heads that it feels almost foreign to think with the body. As is to be expected with any experiment, all of these challenges presented themselves at this retreat. It gave us the opportunity to reflect together on how we integrate embodied and conversational practices in a meaningful and accessible way. Not just as an add on.

Some learnings that came:

  • Incrementality is key: people can go deeper in baby steps.
  • Warm-Up: we all need time to move out of head to body
  • Breathe is a powerful and accessible embodiment practice that can be introduced before every conversation as the thread to connect the body throughout a day of conversations
  • We need more time to be in the body in order to tap into its wisdom
  • There are many embodiment practices to support having conversations that matter and we need to continue experimenting and exploring

I am grateful to be apprenticing with the Art of Hosting team in Oaxaca, Mexico in leading El Arte del Liderazgo Participativo August 19-23, 2015 and look forward to continue experimenting with integrating body-based practices into this work.

[1] The Art of Hosting. Confluence Unlimited Workbook. 2015.

[2] The Art of Hosting. Confluence Unlimited Workbook. 2015.


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