Conflict happens. When different cultures and worldviews are involved, conflict can arise more frequently and, sometimes, more powerfully. It can also be more difficult to resolve or transform.
At the SIETAR USA Congress in Portland last October, Michelle LeBaron conducted a couple of exercises that I believe could be useful to some of our readers as we seek to create cross-cultural understanding, respect, and collaboration. The exercises very viscerally demonstrated how our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes affect the way we hold and move our bodies, and that something so slight as a shift in our gaze can shift our perspective, opening us up to new experiences.
I have had the privilege of knowing Michelle for about twenty years, as we both teach on the faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. She is a specialist in cross-cultural conflict resolution who teaches at the University of British Columbia, and I greatly respect and enjoy her work.
Michelle’s recent research focuses on how the arts can foster belonging and social cohesion across cultural and worldview differences. She is one of three authors of a new book, The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience, that investigates how dance, movement and kinesthetic awareness can enhance people’s capacities to transform conflict.
Instructions for Michelle’s activities follow.
Setting up the Activities
- When we are out of step, off center, or in resonance, our bodies get our attention.
- Our bodies help us heal splits, they connect our thoughts and feelings.
- Our bodies help us connect with others via touch and closeness, depending on our cultural common sense.
- We have habits and patterns that can be helpful or destructive; our bodies can help us re-pattern our habits and keep our brains plastic.
- Our bodies shift us personally and interpersonally—”let me step towards you,” “I could breathe more easily,” “a great weight was lifted,” “the knot in my shoulder released.”
- When we are “right,” we become stiffer, tighter, more brittle. We need suppleness, to be able to see gradations instead of just black and white.
- Movement helps us realize that small movements can make a big difference. The body can show us the value of incremental change vs. an epiphany, e.g., rarely do we resolve conflict by saying, “He was right!” “Win-win” outcomes are rare; “mostly ok-mostly ok” outcomes are much more common.
- Have a group of participants stand and move around the room freely. Instruct them to hold up their arms like a bird, bringing their hands forward just far enough so they can see both their hands. Have them drop their hands but keep that level of peripheral vision and walk around. After doing this for a few minutes, conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.
- After doing this for a minute or two, instruct participants to (nonverbally) find a tiger and a horse from among the other participants, and to move around so that they keep the horse between themselves and the tiger. After doing this for a few minutes, instruct participants to derole, and conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.
- As a third step, instruct the participants to (again nonverbally) find a new tiger and a lamb from among the other participants, and move around so that you keep yourself between the tiger and the lamb. After doing this for a few minutes, instruct participants to derole, and conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.
Michelle has an article, available online, called Bodies at Work: Moving Towards Alchemy, that might be of interest. In it she says, “The single most neglected truism in mediation, whether virtual or in person, is that it does not happen without bodies. We mobilize to engage and reach toward understanding while literally standing our ground.”
The concepts and activities that Michelle presents combine very well with the activities in Cultural Detective Online. I trust you’ll put them to good use building intercultural respect, understanding and collaboration!
As I’ve been integrating Improvisation Theater into my coaching, I can see Michelle’s work as an enriching extension. Our bodies reveal so much of what we can’t seem to articulate…
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Indeed, CamComCoaching! I will take her session at SIIC in a couple of weeks and am very much looking forward to it.
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Thanks for sharing Michelle’s activity for helping individuals get in better touch with their physiological selves. I’m wondering about the animals in the example. What’s the source for those? A psychometric tool? Secondly, I work almost exclusively with large businesses. Do you know if Michelle has used this activity with business leaders? Has she used it outside the context of conflict mediation, in training sessions for example?
Enjoy Michelle’s session. I enjoyed very much a session I took with her years ago at SIIC. She has such a wealth of experience in conflict resolution!
All excellent questions, Curtis, and I’d urge you to ask Michelle. To my knowledge she does work with large organizations, but she does work mostly in the conflict space. I have no idea about any psychometrics on which the animals are based, and seriously doubt that’s where this activity came from; it’s based in dance, not science, to my understanding as a session participant. Glad if the article is of us to you! Thanks for helping build intercultural competence!