Using the Patterns to Build Situations


Communication is always complex.  Any situation you get into will have variables of time and place and participants that can be used to make your communication in that situation more responsive.  You can use these 50 partterns as buidling blocks in thinking of how to communicate more responsively.

First you should use a paper-and-pencil approach.  Pick a situation that you will soon be involved in.  Pick the first pattern that comes to mind.  That will be the most obvious one.  Write it down at the top of a sheet of paper.  Then go to the cross-references at the end of that pattern.  List all the patterns you find there.

Now go through each of those patterns and read the text and recommendation for each one.  Think through your situation and decide which of these patterns actually apply and how you can build as many of them into the situation as possible.

Now go back and write on the same sheet of paper the cross-references for each of the second level of patterns.  Read those.  Re-think your situation.  You should now have a clear idea of which patterns you will want to emphasize to be most responsive in the situation you are entering.

For example, you are a manager in a medium-sized company.  You have a meeting coming up that you think is going to be another disguised omplaint about your own work.  You feel that too much is coming at you at once for you to be able to deal with and that is why your employees are beginning to complain that you're not listening to them.  You recognize the need to get out from under your workload and find out what is going on in the company around you in order to be more effective in responding to them.

The first couple of patterns that might occur to you could be:

Distribute tasks (8)
Creative wandering (44)
Slow down (34)

And slow down is exactly what you would like to be able to do if only you could get away with it!

Write those patterns down on a piece of paper.  Then look them up and find the cross-references given with each pattern.  You'll find these patterns:

Distribute tasks (8)
Situational ecology (1)
Distribute ownership (7)
Chain and network, not hub and wheel (9)
Optimize goals (18)
Asynchrony over synchrony (21)
Flextime (22)

Write those down too.  Go back and read those patterns and their recommendations.

Now go to the next one of your original notes and write down the cross references.  This is what you'll find:

Creative wandering (44)
Situational ecology (1)
Learn by going (3)
Lateral messages (4)
Move around (10)
Cultivate your own humanity (49)
Enjoy the humanity of others (50)

Write those down and re-read the discussion and recommendations.

Finally go back to the third pattern and write down the cross-references as follows:

Slow down (34)
Asynchrony over synchrony (21)
Speak last (31)
Pause (32)
Wait (33)

Write those down and read the discussion and recommendations.

Now if you just keep on going cross-referencing you'll end up with all 50 patterns, so just work with those for now.  First, pay attention any patterns that have been repeated.  In this case:

Situational ecology (1)
Asynchrony over synchrony (21)

have come up twice.  Read those over and think about how you can alter your situation using those patterns.

For example, the idea of 'situational ecology' is that you should analyze your situation and just forget about anything that is outside your control.  You feel harried but the best bet is that you're feeling harried about things that there is nnothing you can do anything about anyway.  Just let them go.  Concentrate on what you do have some control over.

The look at the next one.  You may feel swamped by things that really require no response at all.  The idea of 'asynchrony' is that for many things you can and should be out of sync.  Try to find ways of delaying your response to anything that doesn't absolutely require an immediate reaction.  But remember don't carry it around in your mind!  Just schedule a time to come back to it and put it out of your mind until then.

Next look at some of the other things on your list.  There may be ways in which you can distribute tasks and ownership.  Your sense of being overloaded may well be because you are trying to do everything yourself.  Distribute things where you ca.

Your sense of being overloaded can also come from trying to make all communications go through you.  Try to use chain and network communications, not hub and wheel (9).  Get out of your position at the center by wandering 'creatively' (44) around your organization and see what you can learn from other points of view.

Finally, in the meeting itself you will want to pay a lot of attention to the small details of communication by speaking last (31), pausing (32), and waiting to be sure others have had a chance to speak (33).

This should give you enough suggestions to get you started working on improvements in your situation.

Here is another example of how you can use Responsive Communication in dealing with a particular situation:

Let's say you are a personnel officer in a medium-sized company.  One of your division directors has come to you because his personnel and complaining about crowded office conditions and long hours spent commuting to work.  They aren't getting as muuch work done as they could be.  The director thinks if they spent more time in the office they'd get more done.

There seems to be something missing in your understanding of the situation so you decide to start by writing down

Situational ecology (1)

You find in studying the whole situation that the personnel in question spend a lot of time working in their home offices, equipped with microcomputers.  They work most effectively early in the morning or late at night and like to go skiing or hunting during the day.  They feel they are getting a lot done, though it is not visible to their director.  The director, who has his own computer in the office but not at home, is terrified of the new wave of high technology.

Then you look at the cross references.  This is what you find:

Situational ecology (1)
Start locally (2)
Learn by going (3)
Chain and network, not hub and wheel (9)
Optimize goals (18)
Be cranky (42)
Creative wandering (44)

You get your local start by listening to what's said by and about the persons involved.  You encourage the division director to listen to what his personnel are saying.

The idea of 'learning by going' is that you can try out the idea of working some hours at home yourself.  You go for a walk to think through a problem and are approached by a major client of your corporation who compliments you and what your personnel are doing.

The third pattern suggests that you try reorganizing your communications structures by talking more frequently to different employees and sending out fewer memos.

You may have been trying to maximize certain goals which always leads to minimizing others.  There may be ways in which you can optimize goals for greater productivity.  You try to help everyone get some of what they want.  You try to find out what people expect to happen at the office and encourage them to get together to work it out.  You encourage people to find tasks that they can best do out of the office and take time to do them at times that work out optimally for everyone.  You refuse to take sides or support any one person.

It is also pssible that all of you are trying to protect others when they are perfectly willing to change.  Be sure to express your opinion, even where you expect it will not be popular.

All of this may be easier to bring off if you wander creatively inside and outside of the ofice and encourage the manager to go along.  Listen to what people are saying.

To take a different situation, let's say you are a teacher who needs to talk to the mother of a junior high school student.  You know there is a problem but you aren't sure if it is an academic problem, a discipline problem, or something that is going on in the family.  You know it is a ticklish situation in which you have to be able to be a very good listener to avoid any possible hostility.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the school might be a very threatening place for both the student and the motehr.  That suggests to you the pattern

Neutral turf (30)

And so you pick a place such as a coffee shop, community center, park, or shopping center that you can all feel at ease in but which none of you feels is your 'own' territory.

Other patterns that will emerge as important will be

Speak last (31)

This tells you that when you meet, you'll need to be on your guard to be sure the mother and the student have a chance to bring up what is on their minds.

You'll also want to

Watch your diet (48)

so that you don't verbally dominate the situation.  Remember that you should probably NOT have a cup of coffee and a pastry, even if you meet in a coffee shop, because of the effect that will have on speeding up your conversation.

Even though you want to become as warm as possible with the mother and student, 

Start cold, warm up (19)

tells you to be sure to begin formally and maintain respect.  You can warm up as the situation allows, probably through establishing

Human identity (39)

by finding things outside of the school situation that you have in common as human beings.  Be sure to avoid a string of direct questions.

Use a statement (13)

not a direct question, and

Give information (14)

about what you see as the problem so that they can respond on a basis of knowledge.

You can use Responsive Communication as we have shown in these examples, or any other way that seems suitable to you.  The point is to use these patterns as ways of thinking about building situations so that you will be a better listener.  After you've worked out several situations on paper you'll find that you are starting to think more naturally about situations using these patterns.  By then you may only need to use the book itself as a reference point from time to time.

The patterns




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50 patterns for making sense

using the patterns

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