Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

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What Are You Communicating?


I overhear a lot of conversations that become arguments, and I just want to smack my head because, as an outside observer, it's so clear to me why the two parties are having a difficult time communicating. Why, in fact, a pretty benign topic can become a full on argument. Often it really boils down to intention. What's your intention? What are you trying to communicate? What's your goal? What do you want to get out of this communication/interaction?

When one person is seeking one type of interaction, and another is seeking something else, this causes a conflict. 

Usually this is a type of unstated expectation, which is one of the biggest causes of conflicts that I see in relationships (romantic, friendship, or working relationships). Conflict can also be caused by a mismatch of learning modalities or other ways of apprehending the world. Extrovert and introvert, abstract vs. concrete, visual vs. auditory. 

When we dig under the assumptions we often carry into a communication, we can either prevent a conflict entirely, or work through it with more skill. 

What's Your Intention?

We often go into communicating with someone with an expectation of their response, or something else we might want from them. This one happens to me a lot: someone will say, "I got a promotion at work!" or, "I'm going to be at ___ festival," or, "I scheduled XYZ thing for my coworkers," and a particular response (excitement, accolade, enthusiasm) is expected. Some of this requires reading basic body language, but it isn't always that easy. Sometimes the tone of voice lets me know the expected response. Sometimes not.

My mom will show me her newly-painted toenails after going to get a pedicure and the expected response is, "Hey, those look great!" Except, I don't really care, because I'm not into painted nails or pedicures or a host of other similar things. So I can't really authentically generate much enthusiasm for toenail polish. So my mom will kind of frown and be sad because I wasn't excited about her toenails. From her perspective, my lack of enthusiasm translates to: I don't care about her. 

Yes, a fight over toenails sounds ridiculous, and yes, this type of thing causes conflict in relationships. 

I overheard one conversation like this. Person A told Person B about a thing she was planning for some of her colleagues. She was excited about it, but that didn't so much show up in her voice, so some of the body language cues weren't there that might have clued in Person B that the expected response was, "That's great!"

Instead, Person B thought he was being asked to make time for Person A to attend this particular social function so he pulled out his phone to look at his calendar and, in some frustration, pointed out that that was during his regular work schedule.

During the ensuing tense conversation, Person A clarified that they she wasn't looking for him to take off work to attend, and it became clearer that she was just excited about it and sharing her news and wanting him to be excited for her. 

You can see how a situation like this can devolve into a fight because assumptions were made on both parts. Person A could have more clearly stated what she was looking for. "I'm hosting XYZ event for my colleagues, I think it'll be a lot of fun. I know you're working so I'm not asking you to be there, I'm just thrilled and wanted to tell you!" Person B could have asked a clarifying question before assuming what was being asked of him. "That sounds really great. Are you looking for anything from me with that or just sharing your news?"


One of my struggles in an exchange like the above is if someone's looking for enthusiasm from me, and I'm not really enthused. I'm not a very dramatic person and I don't really heavily emote on an average day, so even if I am excited, I might just smile and nod my head and say, "That's cool." I find that people who are more emotional/emotive tend to misread me as not caring, even when I do. 

Heck, if I won the lottery, I'd probably just widen my eyes, say, "Wow," and then start planning. I wouldn't be losing it jumping up and down, that's just not how I roll.

There are times where I'm genuinely ambivalent about the news being shared, but I can see someone wants me to be excited about it. Then I have to sort of decide how much enthusiasm I can authentically show, and when it becomes a show I'm putting on to make someone else feel better. Quite frankly, anyone who knows me really well is going to have to have some pretty low expectations of how much emoting I'm going to do or how overtly excited I'm going to get. 

I also struggle with anxiety and depression, so it really does feel like dredging up energy I don't have, at times, to appear happy/excited about something. That's certainly not something everyone deals with, but it's something to consider.

Sometimes, because I care about the person involved, I might muster up some excitement that is more visible to them. It still feels a bit like faking it, but it's one of the struggles we all have with communication--we are not the same. And in fact, the "Golden Rule" is one of the worst pieces of advice out there because we don't all have the same expectations and assumptions. We don't emote the same ways. So assuming that someone isn't excited because they aren't shrieking is going to lead to some serious misreads.

Remember, the person you're talking to isn't you. They won't respond the way you might. The more you get to know them, the more you'll (hopefully) learn what their baseline is and you can better read their responses.

Sometimes, you just have to ask the person what they are feeling. Or what they expect. Sometimes, taking ten steps back and talking together about the expectations you're coming into a communication with is the only way, particularly if you keep ending up in conflicts like this.

Abstract and Concrete

Some of us tend to think really well in abstract terms. Others tend to want more concrete details before they can latch onto something. When an abstract person communicates in an overly vague way to a concrete person, there's going to be conflict. When a concrete person wants excessive details from an abstract person, there's going to be conflict. There is a workaround for both of these that might be uncomfortable, but that will lead to less unresolved tension. 

The first part is being aware of where you are. Are you abstract? Do you have an easy time visualizing or imagining things that don't yet exist? Are you often vague? Do you like leaving things open ended?

Are you concrete? Do you want lots of details? Do you nitpick details? Do you have a hard time following along when someone says something kind of vague?

Abstract folks tend to be better at brainstorming. Concrete folks tend to be better at taking things from a brainstorming session and figuring out how it will or won't work in the real world. In Pagan event planning, concrete folks get a bad rap for being nitpicky. They often begin sentences with, "Well that won't work because...."

Abstract folks get a bad rap for being really vague, or having a hard time communicating details. 

I witnessed one frustrating interaction between Abstract Person A and Concrete Person B. Person A said, "Oh, we'll just get that at __organization name.__" To Person A, that was a totally clear sentence. Concrete Person B was absolutely confused and said, "That makes no sense. What time do we need to leave to do that? Do we need to contact anyone first? What time are they open? Where are they located? How much time do we need to leave in as a buffer so we get to __Event XYZ_ in time?"

I tend to be abstract, with some ability to dive into concrete land on specific things. I was working with an event team where I was the abstract/idea person for the event. We were trying to brainstorm, and I swiftly realized the rest of the team was heavily concrete, and they didn't understand what I meant by the idea of having several tracks of workshops with workshops that built in intensity over the course of a day. I made a mockup spreadsheet of how the day might look. 

While I did communicate my concept, the challenge then was that they expected that the day would look exactly like that. Unfortunately, I made the concept too concrete too fast, and then that was how the concrete folks wanted it to go, and there weren't enough details nailed down for that. This leads to further problems because then when something has to shift, (and if you've planned events, you know that things shift all the time) then the concrete folks sometimes push back pretty hard.

On the other hand, I've organized events with folks who were really abstract and who just couldn't put their vision into a form others can see. They ended up being micromanaging control freaks and pushing everyone else out of the way who might have helped because nobody else could see the vision.

The workaround here is knowing your strengths and weaknesses here, and that of your team, and talking transparently about where you are as far as concrete/abstract. That way when someone's diving too fast into concrete land during a brainstorming you can say, "Whoah, let's back it up a bit, we need to stay in the abstract for a bit," and when someone's being too vague, you have the language to be able to say, "We need that to be a bit more concrete so we can catch what the idea is." 

Both ends of the spectrum bring something to the table, it's just managing the tension between them.

Auditory and Visual, Extrovert and Introvert

I have a friend that I have organized various Pagan events with. He apprehends information best when he hears it, but it goes beyond that. He's an extrovert, and he also learns best interpersonally, meaning, by the actual human interaction, not just through the data. I, on the other hand, learn best visually. And I'm an introvert. 

When he and I were planning an event, I'd prepare all these documents and spreadsheets and send it out to our planning team. And at the in person planning meeting, I'd still have to (in painstaking detail) talk through all the documents in detail. At first, my friend and I were frustrated. I just wanted him to read my emails and get back to me. He didn't get why I couldn't just pick up the phone and call him, or why we couldn't just work through it in person. 

It wasn't until we both realized that our learning modalities were different, and that this was the source of our conflict, that we were able to recognize what was causing us tension, and also come up with a strategy to negotiate that. 

Now, when we plan together, I prepare all my documents ahead of time, since that's part of my process. Then, we do a Skype call together. I dislike phone, but with video chat I've got at least a little visual to keep me going. He gets the interpersonal connection piece, and together we work through the stuff we're planning. The process works well since we both acknowledge our processes and how they potentially conflict, and that there will always be tension, but it's manageable tension. 


There are other tensions out there as far as communication goes, but this is a few of the ones that can cause the most conflicts when nothing "bad" actually happened, it's just a miscommunication or difficulty communicating. Feel free to share any other communication mishaps like this, or other things you've witnessed/experienced, in comments.

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An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


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