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BEING GREAT: An acronym for learning leadership

September 18th, 2015

By Nancy Hardaway

Listening 2 Leaders

How do you teach people how to manage (or become better at managing, depending on their experience) in 20 minutes? That was my challenge last spring when I gave a talk to a group of young professionals.

Research has found that over 70% of people in corporate America name their boss as their biggest stressor in their lives and that anywhere from 40-70% of managers fail. Obviously, people need help! In order to make the concepts easier to digest and remember in just 20 minutes I organized them with an acronym : BEING GREAT

Typically it’s not the content of the work or the tasks that cause problems for managers. It’s the people interactions. Every interaction between people is “co-created;” you are half of the equation so managing or leading others requires managing yourself. The first word of the acronym, BEING, represents ways to manage yourself:

B: Boundaries

E: Emotions

I: Intent and Impact

N: Nature

G: Goals

BOUNDARIES: Managers need to set and understand their boundaries. They have to find the appropriate place for themselves between the company and their boss, and their allegiance to their staff. They have to be careful about friendships past and present, and where the boundary is in what they disclose to whom. Promotions from within cause colleagues to become staff overnight, necessitating careful and explicit renegotiation of boundaries. Then there’s that tricky balance between work and home. Those boundaries blur too easily and you find yourself answering emails while playing with your kids – not successful or satisfying for either activity.

EMOTIONS: Emotions impact perspective, decisions, and affect interactions with colleagues or staff. It takes awareness to recognize your emotions in the workplace and skills to manage them successfully. Neuroscience research tells us that some of the most successful ways to manage emotions are labeling (putting a word to the feeling shifts the brain from feeling to thinking mode), reframing (looking at it in another way, or in Gestalt terms, looking for the multiple realities), and refocusing (turning your attention elsewhere).

INTENT AND IMPACT: How often does it happen that someone takes your message (words, body language, action) the wrong way? We need to know the difference between what we intend to convey and the impact we actually have. It requires knowing our intention. It requires paying careful intention to the way our message is being received and interpreted. And we need to check and verify – just plain ask.

NATURE: Managers and leaders need to understand how they are different from others: What are your biases and filters based on your experience, wealth, gender, family of origin, age, culture, occupation, etc.? What’s your work style? How are you motivated?

GOALS: Understanding your goals, your priorities, and your values is key to managing your time appropriately and knowing whether you are succeeding. You have to know your organizational goals (the big picture) and the goals of your role, which shift your focus from to-do lists to prioritization toward the bigger picture. And you’ll only know whether you are succeeding if you have some sense of your goals in life.

You can’t lead without followers – you would be a parade of one. So the second word of the acronym, GREAT, is about managing others.

G: Goals

R: Reviews

E: Events

A: Accountability

T: Teams

GOALS: Goal are so important, they show up twice. In this case it’s about knowing your organization or boss’s goals (make sure to ask and clarify) and then setting the goals for your team as a whole and for each individual. Express the “why” and express the “how” and express the “when.” The why is what inspires so make sure to spend time with it. The how and when create the basis for success and holding people accountable. Provide enough detail for clarity and enough space for innovation and independence.

REVIEWS: Massive research demonstrates that only 30% of performance feedback has a positive impact. Our Gestalt training enables more successful results. Build on the positive. Provide feedback on a daily and weekly basis rather than waiting for the annual review. Provide specific data – evidence and examples of what you mean. Provide support for new behaviors – assume if they could have done what you wanted before and knew you wanted it, they would have. Follow up to feedback (71% of managers never follow up on reviews – how unfortunate!).

EVENTS: I chose the word events (which typically involve a lot of planning) to cover meetings, important conversations, retreats – planned interactions where you want to accomplish something. Know why, who, what, when, and how for every meeting. Plan how much time will be needed for what you want to accomplish and know what a successful outcome would look like. Plan for good beginnings, middles, and endings – don’t skimp on those endings or overbook your agenda so you run out of time. Closure is important for effective results.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Start with clear expectations, and maintain communication. Be specific about what and by when, and the consequences to all for missed targets. Don’t wait – quick and frequent check-ins are better than big blow ups after the deadline passes. Be direct – too often new managers confuse directness with being mean, often because they wait until they are angry at failed performance to act.

TEAMS: It takes intentional leadership to create teams, even though our brains are wired for collaboration. But we want to collaborate with “friends,” not “foes.” Here’s where the Gestalt concept of intimate (relational) and strategic (work accomplishment) is so helpful – it takes a balance of both for good work to occur.

BEING GREAT takes work, important work. Being a great manager or leader is an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of those who work for and with you rather than becoming the biggest stressor in their lives.

Closing Counts: What we can learn from Jon Stewart

September 14th, 2015

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Jon Stewart got it right: closing counts. For over fifteen years, fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – the popular comedic news show on cable TV – have tuned in for a potent blend of fun and facts, myself included. During the past year, the final weeks, and Stewart’s last episode as host of The Daily Show, we were not only treated to his edgy brand of humor with heart, we were shown how to create a good ending.

In these final days of summer, as we look to the fall and year-end, how are you attending to the endings in your life, small or large? It may be the end of a summer vacation or the end of the third quarter with only one quarter left to meet the 2015 goals you set for yourself back in January.

What can we learn from Jon Stewart about creating good endings? A lot.

Here’s what I saw in the final episodes that speaks to the Gestalt practices we teach at GISC.

Stewart didn’t go cold turkey; he practiced leaving. Over a year ago, he took a leave of absence for several weeks. Whatever the reasons, it gave him experience letting go of a job, a role, and a routine that he’d held for over 15 years. During his leave, he tried something new by directing a theater production – more practice letting go of The Daily Show.

Not all of us can take a long leave and land a short-term gig in a dream role like Jon Stewart. But we can practice letting go of our work identity, role and routine in small ways. For instance, on your next vacation, what would it be like to truly leave behind all responsibility for work? What does that mean? Well, it could be as small as committing to: “on my vacation (or on the weekend, or after 5pm . . .), I will not check my emails from work.” The point is that to end well you need to start small and practice. Design a small test run of a bigger goal.

Get Support
I’m willing to bet a week’s pay that Jon Stewart didn’t cook up this plan on his own – he had help. Maybe it was his wife, colleagues, friends or a trusted advisor, but at some point there was probably a professional advisor – a coach or a therapist to support the meaning-making that leads to a good ending. How do I know this? I didn’t count, but in the final weeks of his tenure as host of The Daily Show, Stewart repeatedly said, “I had to come to terms with it,” that is, leaving and letting go.

As you and I plan and practice our own endings in the coming weeks, with whom will we meet and talk as we create endings for the year, the vacation, or even the weekend? It can be as small as a conversation with family about why the weekend, vacation or year mattered. Or we could hire a coach or reach out to work with one of GISC’s coaches-in-training who start their coach certification program in late October.

Endings matter and even the smallest degree of attention can support the experience of closure and our internal transition.

Take an Appreciative Stance
In his final episode, Jon Stewart ran long. The 30-minute show lasted 60 minutes. The way I see it, Stewart took his time. And he needed the time to both acknowledge his colleagues and, I would argue, to take in the acknowledgements and appreciation expressed to him by others.

As he said so often, “I had to come to terms with it.” If we can do that for ourselves by adopting an appreciative stance and perspective for what has been and what is, then we free ourselves to be available for the actual ending – the good-bye.

And it is in the smallest of gestures or practices that all our preparation and work on “coming to terms” with closure shows up. For me, Jon Stewart’s good-bye from The Daily Show is captured in the handshakes of thanks he took the time to make with each individual member of Springsteen’s band at the very end of the show.

Jon Stewart showed us how to create a good ending and that’s what we all need in order to make a good beginning. So I wonder, what’s next? For Stewart, for you and for me?


Gwynne Guzzeau, MS, JD, is the Executive Director of GISC. She teaches The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions.


Reflections from the Gathering: Turning ideas into action

August 27th, 2015

By Stacey Shipman

“How does over-thinking serve you in a positive way?” my group member asked.

We had gathered into groups of three, tasked with identifying a trait or skill we don’t like about ourselves and turn it into a positive. A concept, I learned as a first-timer, GISC refers to as Well Developed/Less Developed.

I didn’t answer the question right away because I’d never thought about my ability to over-think in a positive way.

I love big ideas and solving problems. As a result I spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes my brain feels so full I imagine smoke billowing from my ears right before my head explodes.

Yet with the support of this peer group, they helped me see that over-thinking allows me to analyze problems from all angles and come up with solutions others might miss.

In that moment I became an expert at analyzing problems from all angles.

My area for development and challenge for the weekend: Turn some of that thinking into action.

Especially if the thought or idea isn’t fully formed.


I could feel my insides stir.

I accepted the challenge. What good is attending a development weekend if you’re not willing to do the work?

I committed to share my ideas more during group interactions and social conversations. Each time my stomach turned…less and less.

Thanks to my experience at the Gathering, I walked away with two big lessons and one reminder:

First, I am not broken. When stuck in a cycle of over-thinking I often feel broken and in need of fixing. Not to mention mentally exhausted! I learned I don’t need to stop thinking. Instead I need to press pause on thinking and turn an idea into action.

Second, thoughts and ideas don’t need to be fully formed to put them into the world. One group member suggested that by sharing my thought when not fully formed I provide a starting point for others to brainstorm and contribute. I had never considered that as a potential benefit.

Finally, I was reminded that community and relationships are everything. Having the right support systems to question our assumptions, in a respectful, encouraging way, can make life and work challenges feel manageable.

Nearly two months after the Community Gathering I’m still committed to the challenge of thinking less and acting more both in my personal and professional life.

Take this blog post for example. At the Gathering I told Laurie I’d love to write a reflection piece for the GISC blog. And every day since I’ve thought about what angle to take, what a-ha moment to share, and whether my voice would be a good fit.

And then my head felt like it might explode.


Stacey Shipman believes everyone has a message that can make someone’s life better. She is the founder of Move.Breathe.Explore. (, author of Turn Speaking Stress into Success and speaks and blogs about using your voice to make a difference at



Out of sight but not out of mind: best practices for managing virtual work

August 3rd, 2015

by Donna Dennis

Virtual teams have become the team framework of the digital age, giving a company the means to combine the best talents and perspectives from anywhere in the organization. It’s hard to overstate the critical role that virtual teams play in the business world today.

In a major study conducted by Business Research Consortium (BRC) in association with American Management Association, 90 percent of the more than 1,500 surveyed said they had virtual teams in their organization and more than half attended seven or more virtual meetings in the past month. However, while common, working in virtual settings is more difficult than working where everyone shares the same physical space.

Virtual leaders and team members must be ready to meet the challenges associated with differing time zones, diverse nationalities and cultures of team members, and technology which frequently presents malfunctions and other distractions. Research shows that when managed effectively, virtual teams increase productivity, help meet organizational goals and improve the quality of work.

Moving from in-person to virtual work demands that participants learn to do all the things important to relationships and leadership in new ways. By utilizing Gestalt theory and practice, which is well grounded in helping people be effective in face-to-face interactions, practitioners can leverage key concepts and behaviors they already understand and use.

Here are some suggestions to improve efficiency and effectiveness of virtual teams that focus on the communications skills, trust building and protocols for success:

  • Demonstrate presence-It is essential to establish trust early through common goals, strategies and shared purpose. Make sure to establish expectations so that all team members understand their role and responsibility to the team. The best virtual leaders build “swift” trust.
  • Up the game on communication-What is true for in-person leaders is doubly true for virtual leaders. Communicate clearly and often.
  • Utilize an optimistic stance-While disagreements and conflicts will occur, it is important that leaders proactively manage different perspectives to avoid conflicts that affect the progress of the team.
  • Build awareness and a robust process-Lay the groundwork with a clear set of checkpoints and milestones for success.
  • Adjust to the medium-Research shows that team member engagement is strongly influenced by the degree of visual feedback members receive. Without visual elements, participants must pick up on subtle voice cues, silences, and cross-culture cues. In a virtual setting, it is essential that the leader ask more questions to gain common understanding. Establish rules for response times, deadlines and technology use, and eliminate distractions by setting agreements on multitasking during virtual meetings.
  • Share organizational knowledge-To keep everyone at the “virtual table,” try ideas like a quick round robin “check-in” at the start of a meeting to update the team on each member’s status.
  • Manage the team size-An optimal size for a virtual team is 4-9 members according to a Wharton study by Evan Wittenberg. Larger teams reduce engagement and make it harder to communicate.

Working virtually does not mean that we give up deeply held values and beliefs about building relationships or getting work results. Rather, it simply means creatively finding ways through technology to demonstrate concepts and behaviors we hold as important. As one participant to a GISC virtual leadership course stated,

“Activities in virtual and collocated teams are often the same but leaders have to work harder on the protocols and expectations. Virtual leadership requires a much more disciplined approach because nothing can be left to chance with the details and planning associated with work or relationship building. Leaders must reach out and check in more frequently in a virtual environment; these personal connections build trust and relationships but they do not just happen. They are designed, planned for and very intentional.”

Virtual teams have a bottom-line impact on the organization, so every interaction can bring beneficial results. Good talent management combined with harnessing complex technologies and associated training can lead to increased productivity in the virtual world.


Donna Dennis, PhD, PCC, President of Leadership Solutions Consulting, is an executive coach and leadership development professional. She has practiced as a consultant internally and externally, taught at major universities such as the Wharton Business School, and conducted leadership research. Donna designed and teaches GISC’s Leading Virtual Teams program. 

My growing-edge experiment: reflections on the Community Gathering

June 24th, 2015

By Jane Honeck

This year’s Community Gathering was another resounding success. I’m waking up inspired and committed as a Professional Associate to get the ball rolling on contributing some blog posts. At the same time, I was reflecting on a particularly meaningful exercise we did over the weekend that helped illustrate one of GISC’s core concepts—Well Developed©.

With the help of two colleagues, I identified where I was an expert (a well-developed behavior that I tend to overuse to the detriment of another less developed behavior). I can now proudly say I am an expert at “being open to all possibilities.” And as I contemplated what my perfect blog post would be, this well-developed behavior got busy. Should it be a scientific treatise on some psychological theory? Scary thought for a CPA embedded with psychotherapists. Or, maybe a few choice, but clever, words on how money truly has a place in the world of Gestalt. Wouldn’t that prove my worth to the group and the world? I ran endless scenarios through my mind, analyzing which would appeal to the broadest group, conjecturing what the community really wanted while making sure I was covering all the possible angles.

And then I remembered my new valuable tool for moving beyond this Well Developed© behavior. I could expand my range for making decisions and move forward through this stuck place. We had also identified a simple experiment for working with my Less Developed© behavior—I could BLURT. That’s right, blurt—I wouldn’t consider everything or work hard to find that one perfect thing—I would go with the first thing that entered my mind—the good, the bad and the ugly. And here it is—my first official blog blurt.

So I encourage my fellow PAs to use our beloved Cape Cod Model and their new growing edge experiments to keep the ball rolling and contribute to the GISC Blog. This blog may not be my finest but it’s finished in under an hour and I’m building a muscle that’ll serve me well. Thanks everyone and see you next year!


Jane Honeck, CPA is a GISC Certified Coach. She helps individuals, couples and systems create confidence in their decision–making process by teaching, challenging, discovering and communicating about money in new ways. Her vision is to Change the way the world thinks about money.



Twenty-Minute Chunks: Neuroscience and How We Best Learn

October 17th, 2014

By Mark Koenigsberg

My enthusiasm for neuroscience and its practical applications for my professional work as coach and consultant were inspired by two books, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee’s Resonant Leadership, and David Rock’s Your Brain at Work. Subsequent readings have kept me firmly on this path and have profoundly shaped my practice. The science in neuroscience is congruent with Gestalt teachings; the research and the ensuing data put teeth and bones into what, as Gestalt practitioners, we have intuitively known for years. It makes the soft stuff hard.

A recent document, “The Science of Making Learning Stick,”* highlights the findings of five PhD researchers, teachers and leaders, challenging long-held assumptions about how we best learn.

The following is a compilation of the article strictly for the non-scientists among us.

The Findings:

  • 20 minute chunks, then refresh. Most of us can only give full and undivided attention for twenty minutes, then attention and the ability to retain what is learned drops. Learning is not akin to running a marathon, less is effectively more.
  • We cannot force people’s brains to pay attention to us or to take in new material when that brain needs a break. We need to pay attention to attention.
  • Spacing, as in time between team or learning sessions, increases long-term retention. Consider three 20-minute content rich learning or team sessions spaced out during a work week (e.g. Mon/Wed/Friday mornings).
  • Spacing allows for sleep, which does wonders for long-term learning. Sleep provides optimal conditions for converting newly encoded memories into long-term storage.
  • Visual and auditory learning engage different areas of the brain. Showing a PowerPoint slide while simultaneously talking to your audience asks our brains to do auditory and visual learning simultaneously, hence neither function optimally. It is neither an effective, nor an efficient learning or teaching strategy. Show your slide, pause, don’t speak, ask for people’s attention, then talk to them.
  • Multitasking is the enemy of learning. Let’s repeat this. Multitasking is the enemy of learning. It does not work and those who think and report that they are great at it regularly score the worst when tested for retention. Multi-tasking distracts our brains from concentration and focus.
  • Positive emotion. When we feel good we are more creative.  We have greater insight – more “aha” moments, and our perception expands.
  • Retention and idea generation increase when we think about learning in the context of others, meaning how we will apply what we have learned in the context of our social (family, workplace, client-based) environment.
  • Conclude a team session by asking, “Who will you share this information with?” or, “How will you use this information with others?” Doing so leverages the power of social learning to make lessons stick, sticking in our brains!


*NeuroLeadership Journal, Volume 5/August 2014 – Josh Davis, Maite Balda, David Rock, Paul McGinness, Lita Davachi



Pathways to growth

September 3rd, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, GISC Executive Director

Walking into GISC on a late summer morning, the summer growth is evident in the grasses, plants and shrubs that meet my gaze and stretch even higher. The fullness of green crowds out the paths on our grounds, disguising the access and the invitation to sitting areas where small groups gather for their own growth – professional and personal. So as we ready for the fall season of programs the question of access emerges: What are the pathways to GISC that people or organizations take? And how does GISC find its way out to you and the world beyond?

There are, of course, the familiar routes of referrals from friends, colleagues, coaches or therapists. The annual catalog of programs which we are busy finalizing for the coming year. The website where this blog post will live. The Gestalt Review which captures current thinking, most recently on coaching, parenting and creativity. The LinkedIn community conversations that pop-up from across the globe. Or, the new Facebook community for graduates of our coaching program.

These paths in and out of GISC are clear. And, yes, each can use and will continue to receive tending.

Yet, what interests me most on this quiet grey morning, our grounds overgrown and damp from the nighttime thunderstorm is you: What are the new paths you’d like to discover here at GISC? Not simply the promise of paths remembered from prior visits or times before the Meetinghouse was even built. What are the paths that the fullness of green is inviting us to create and explore, together?

Here at GISC, we are poised for growth, on our own developmental edge. So, as the leader, I need to know where it is that you long to go and how it is that you’d like to get there. Your ideas, images and thoughts are the true ground from which GISC’s future will emerge.

Please join the conversation and share your comments below.


Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Power and Hierarchy

July 11th, 2014


Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Sonia:  Let’s talk about power and hierarchy.

Joe:  The higher we are in the hierarchy, the more power we have. Power allows me to make my own decisions. I don’t have to wait. I get to decide what we have to do and you don’t.

Sonia:  This is true in families and organizations.  That’s why I don’t like talking about hierarchy without also talking about power.

Joe:  Of course with families, the relational hierarchy is always shifting in response to the development stages of the children. It shifts in organizations too as a function of changing situations, tasks, and working relationships.

Sonia:  I saw two women yesterday whose mothers made their life miserable. So many women don’t know how to raise children. They don’t know how to manage the hierarchy. Parents sometimes give it up, they give away the power—the power to decide and influence. And sometimes parents do the opposite; they become rigidly hierarchical.

Joe:  It’s hard to talk about hierarchy and power without focusing on the culture and goals of the organization. Often in non-profits or volunteer organizations, the hierarchical relationship and the ability to influence is fuzzy. In military organizations or surgical units hierarchy and power tend to be clearer and more fixed.

Sonia:  A place where we get into trouble stems from the fact that many of our beliefs about power and hierarchy are shaped in our childhood.

Joe:  Yes, when I teach this module with one of our colleagues we talk about the differences in our growing up. She grew up Catholic with nuns for aunts and became a nurse. She was taught to respect positional power and hierarchy. As a student nurse she was taught to exit the elevator if it was full and a physician was waiting to get in.

My upbringing was very different. My father was anarchistic; a union man with a chip on his shoulder—and a hater of fixed hierarchy.  I remember the controversy I stirred within the faculty when, as a young assistant professor, I insisted that graduate students call me by my first name. Now my granddaughter, age eight, goes to a private school where the children call their teachers and administrators by their first names.

Sonia:  I grew up with no hierarchy. My father disappeared when my mother died and I was sent to live with a series of families as an outsider. Because I was “temporary,” I didn’t have to conform or rebel.

Joe:   My parents had a disrespect for hierarchy so I didn’t have to rebel against them. But when I see a hierarchy that is rigid, my belly tightens up and my adolescent self reemerges.

Sonia:  I just ignore it.

Joe:  I remember when we invited the leadership group of a police department to spend a day with us as clients so our students could practice our model1.  The chief walked in with his flip chart and markers. With barely a hello, he ignored you and our students and began organizing the day.

Sonia:  Yes, I remember. He said nothing to me. He jumped right over me and started taking over the class. I went up to him and explained that we were similar. That outside he is the chief and people need to follow him. But in here I am in charge and he needs to follow me. I went higher than him for the moment. I had to take my power. I needed to be higher than him for us all, including the police and students to have a good experience. Otherwise no one would listen to me. Luckily he smiled, handed me the marker, giving me permission to be the leader.

Joe:  You took your power and he allowed you to take it and to lead. Sometimes you have to take a risk.

Sonia:  Normally, as a consultant coach or therapist, one of the first tasks is to be the leader. Usually I speak to the leader off line, prior to the first meeting,  in order to create enough trust for him to let me lead. But this wasn’t true in this case.  We were all strangers to each other. If it is done well, you are aligned with the top of the hierarchy, and if you don’t shame them, they will support your work.

Joe:  Yes, and it isn’t just the leader who you need to get to follow you. I remember working with a group of litigators once and one of the lawyers opened up a newspaper and started reading it just as I began to talk.  I was first startled. I then began walking around the room continuing to talk. When I got to him I firmly took the newspaper, folded it up and placed it next to him. I didn’t want to fight with him or humiliate him.  I said nothing, and neither did anyone else. We were all fine after that.

Sonia:  Yes, there is often a “magic moment” when the hierarchy and power relationship shifts. It is often non-verbal.

Joe:  Yes. With families that are physically abusive, it might involve a child just standing tall and looking the parent in the eye while being hit.

1 In our Center we offer a one-week practicum applying the Cape Cod Model in organizations. We invite leadership teams of organizations to receive a free day of consultation from our students.

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The questions of spring

April 10th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Walking in today, the crocus were cheering.  They started last week, but then we had a blizzard and 4+ inches of snow.  Even yesterday, we had snow in the morning.  But today, sunshine and sprouts of purple call out from the earth.  As I look closer, I notice my urge to pull away the old growth, the sticks, pine needles and dead leaves.  But the contrast of new and old is part of the beauty in this picture. 

And I wonder, how will I know what to leave in place or what to clear away?

These are the questions of spring.

The questions of new beginnings.

What will we let go of in our lives and in our organizations?  What will we hold onto? 

There are small and routine ways in which we hold on and let go every day.  As I arrive at GISC, I am letting go of the morning school bus routine with my son and preparing to begin new conversations in my role as ED.  Stepping out of my car and walking along the path are moments of transition and an invitation to notice whether I’m present or distracted, ready to arrive or holding on to a morning problem that has come and gone but still stirs within.

I wonder about you and how you know when to let go or hold on.  The ground of spring is fertile for these questions and our course, Next Phase, is an opportunity to reflect, discuss and experience new ways of holding on and letting go.   Perhaps you’ll join us for this conversation.

In the meantime, please let me know what works best for you when letting go. 

Let’s create a collective wisdom to share with each other, whatever the paths we are on at the moment, in life and in leadership.

Conversations with Sonia and Joe: Messing Up

March 11th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Messing Up

Even the best of us messes up often. To turn against ourselves after we mess up is rarely useful. A competent person knows that these things are ordinary and that the next day will bring new mess ups, but, every once in a while, we have a perfect day.

Joe:  I remember years ago you saying that it doesn’t do me any good to feel bad once I’ve messed up. If I wished to feel bad, I should have felt bad before I messed up, not after.

Sonia:  Yes, people turn on themselves rather than saying, “You know I was a jerk that time; I don’t know why I didn’t do that.” Anything that helps put it out, spit it out in an easy way. Knowing that it is a part of life—neither good nor bad.

Joe:  Yes, I can look at almost anything I’ve done and find a hundred ways that I could have done it better.

Sonia:  Yes, me too.

Joe:  We don’t appreciate the ordinariness of messing up.

Sonia:  I think that’s the right language. It’s a waste to put yourself down for almost any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there are exceptions and extremes, but most people are talking about simple ordinary things. They forgot to do something, they were told not to do something and they are doing it anyway. Or they didn’t invite somebody to a party. We are full of that stuff all the time.

Joe:  Yes. I forgot their name and I feel so badly, or everyone is dressed a certain way and I’m not, or your zipper is open.

Sonia:  Or you fart. There’s always something.

Joe:  We learn to feel bad early. Maybe it’s a need to be perfect. To be more than who I am.

Sonia:  If there are any medals to be given, they should go to people who say, “Whoops, I’m sorry.”

Joe:  I remember when we were kids and we would say, “so sue me, or shoot me.” Kids have ways to brush it off because they mess up so often.

Sonia:  It is important to teach kids to learn to not feel too bad. It’s amazing how people can be humiliated over simple things—like mispronouncing my name.

Joe:  People will often collapse.

Sonia:  I allow my kids to feel bad over mistakes, like saying, “no, you did something wrong.” I think the goal is to not put it on ourselves or on others; to just put it out without judgment. The only way to get rid of it is to put it out in the air—not to take it in and not to blame others. We have to teach people that there is nobody walking around who’s perfect. There’s always someone better. That doesn’t make you bad.

Joe:  I remember working with a couple and I told her she was entitled to feel this bad [spreads his hands 6 inches], but not this bad [spreads his hands two feet]. She looked stunned. It’s as if she didn’t know that she had a choice. She had a choice of how bad to feel. I’ve sometimes asked people, “How long do you want to feel bad for?”

Sonia:  You can feel badly and hold it in or you can put it out. The other thing you can do is to apologize so you can join with someone.

Sonia:  I like that because it is a matter of acknowledging that most of life is still not this [spreads hands wide]. Many people feel terrible even though they have not done a terrible thing.

Joe:  But suppose there is not another person. l suppose I could apologize to myself.

Sonia:  I often laugh at myself.

Joe:  I remember what they do in a lot of parent-training courses. They tell you to tell your kid, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your behavior—that you stole the milk.” I doubt kids believe that. I know two parents who, when their young kids misbehave, have them put their doll into “doll jail” for a time out.

Sonia:  The opposite is also true. We work with people who don’t feel bad when they should. They blame the others and, of course, these are the most difficult.

Joe:  Yes, these are the ones for whom life never changes. We have to learn to own our mistakes, but learn to carry them lightly.

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Gestalt International Study Center
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