He popped up on Skype at 11:00 p.m.
He popped up on Skype at 11:00 p.m. “Hi,” he said briefly. “I need some advice because I got here in a jam”. Usually, such a start means that the person actually has problems. And he needs no advice, but help. Often, expressed in an exact amount of money. And it wouldn’t have been anything; I really believe Poul, I just didn’t have much money at the moment. But in this case, for a difference, Poul really needed advice.
Poul was actually a real sturt-up runner. Not the kind of person who tries to do something on a computer and then runs and proves to everyone that “it’s good”. No, he kicked off the usual, conceived delicious things. For example, he did super-perfectly useful kefir, which is now sold in every small Russian town, not to mention two capitals. But, according to my observations, as soon as a business gets on its feet, Poul has carefully pushed away from the fat pie. And he starts all over again.
In this case, the situation was exactly the same. Poul found in some Middleofnowhere an owner of several factories producing local… well, say… kvass. He decided to bring this product to the capital market. He made an agreement with a producer from that bloody Middleofnowhere about the investments, hired sales representatives, rented a warehouse, and delivered goods. For a couple of months, Poul got stable cash flow, several times exceeding all the planned indicators … and faced an utterly incomprehensible behaviour of his partner.
The partner just interrupted all communications: telephone, written, any. Investments have stopped, and Poul had a simple question – what to do? Just quit it all? But it was necessary to pay off people. There is such a thing as an exit barrier. Start to look for new investors? Investors are not mushrooms; you wouldn’t find them in the forest.
Ok, as a coach I don’t like advice. I believe in NLP presumptions, which say that at the moment of choosing our wise subconscious chooses the best of what it sees for us. Therefore, the best help I could give from a distance on Skype was to try Poul to sketch out as many options as possible. But half-hour attempts failed. Poul couldn’t make a single new opportunity. He still had seen only “quit everything” or “find money and finish everything”. That times, many years ago, I was not yet able to bring a person into a high-performance state via Skype. And I couldn’t put him in a comfortable trance to communicate with his subconscious.
I did everything I could, but after 30-40 minutes I realised that the process got stuck. Ok, let’s try something else. “Take four sheets of paper, one for yourself, one for the investor, one for the project and one for the local CFO who didn’t love you so much”. Another thirty minutes passed in the walking across sheets of paper with the utterance of the situation. It was a mixture of a three-position model and a constellation. The main problem is that system modelling is not very good for creative activity. Modelling can show the causes of the problem and can show “what happens if”. But these very “ifs” have to be invented by ourselves. Again, we confronted with the lack of options. And then Poul said: “Do you have your constellations tomorrow? I will come”.
He got here on time. I had planned two constellations that day and had time for the third one. The building of any model of the system begins with a system interview. The interview is an interesting thing, and it has many purposes. Many years ago, I used to think that the most important thing was to understand the problem and what was bothering the client. Then I used to believe that the main thing was to create an image of a “good solution”, to understand what would be right for the client, what he needed. Then I began to understand what might be most important. It is to understand what is not mentioned here. What the client just doesn’t want to look at. One of the very memorable phrases of one of the clients, pretty woman, was: “I didn’t have a father at all. It’s a family pattern; I didn’t have a father, my mom didn’t have a father and my grandmother didn’t either”. As I understand, even Jesus Christ had a father, even though he was conceived immaculately. Everyone has a father, just like a mother, even if one has never seen them before. Or maybe the most important thing is to keep in touch with the client, these few moments of silence when you suddenly feel that the system is beginning to open up to you. And also, most constellators know that the first hypothesis that appears in mind is not correct. And the second one too. And in general, when the model starts to line up, everything will go at all not how you expect.
Poul began to speak at once. I think it is important. Immediately the client spoke or waited. Suspended or vice versa. Some of the consultants use it and draw some conclusions for themselves. I’m just listening, I’m just noticing strange things for myself, like “absent father”. Or some members of the system that are definitely present, but no one speaks a word about them. Some of the owners of the organisation who left or died. Or the last CEO. Some of the relatives. And it is impossible to guess in advance what it can be.
All this is undoubtedly important. Osho was once asked about the usefulness of some practice. “It’s useful,” he replied. “It can be useful. Everything can be useful”. It all is important and useful. Still, I’m just waiting for some sort of silent system resolution, some admission, to come in. If we have it, everything becomes meaningful. What the client thinks is a good solution. What they don’t talk about. And if it does not exist, it only remains to wait for this permission with all due respect. It is impossible to “break-in” into the system against the system’s will. It’s something like when you’re on a top mountain. The first time I’ve been on the top of a mountain was when I was seven. And since then, I have been on top of summits almost every year. I guess I’ve never thought of it as “conquering the top” or “making a mountain” or anything else. There, in the mountains, you clearly understand your lowliness. And you only ask the mountain to allow you to rise. And to allow to come down.
Poul started to talk at once, and I realised that he had no new ideas about what he could do to change the situation. I asked questions, noted the intonations, turned, and asked what would be a good solution. “Suppose we did everything and we succeeded. How will it look? You came home, went to bed, woke up – and everything is not like that. How is it now”? I asked questions, heard answers and waited. I just waited. Apparently, I could move on; the system became ready to open up to me. But I had nothing to go. Poul wanted only to “see why it happens”. It was not enough. This request was undoubtedly a gift for consultants who love money. Nothing to do, just show. And this request was a trap for a constellator who wanted to do something for the client. Because immediately made him a “lifeguard”, who was engaged in rescuing the client against his will. The easiest and shortest way to professional burnout.
We’ve been talking for a long time. Too long. Unacceptable. We were Chatty Cathy talking something, and I couldn’t understand what. I tried a circular interview; it’s a different and powerful way of therapy. But I’m not a therapist; I’m just a coach. I use it to clarify the request, and now it worked. “Well” – Poul said. “It would be nice if communication could be restored.” “And how will you know about it”? – I automatically asked a pretty stupid question, but Poul explained that that means they would finally be able to talk on the phone and sort things out.
“Ok,” I said. “Who do we need to see here? “The project,” Poul said confidently. “And the warehouse and the investor and… and the CFO and…”. “Ok” – I repeated. “And you?” “Well, of course, me”, Poul said confidently. It is interesting why he hadn’t started with himself.
Our room was big enough; there was plenty of space. System modelling is a kind of group work. How can we build the system model? The client chooses from members of the group, those who will represent the important elements of his or her system. People. Objects. Events.
I don’t like to put many figures in the constellation at once. As Gunthard Weber told us, you can always add, but it’s problematic to remove it. The more objects, the more complex the picture is and the easier it is to miss something. For both of us, for the client and me. That’s why I suggested Poul start with two figures, the representer of Poul and representer of the investor. When you are working with a family system, it is sometimes essential to note the gender marker. Whether the role of a man is played by a man or is represented by a woman? But that moment I didn’t have this indicator; the whole group was female. Poul representer was a thin girl, and the representer of the investor was quite a magnificent lady. Poul put them in front of each other, about two steps away. Nothing happened with a minute or two. And then something changed in the posture of both.
I always ask the representers not to do anything on their own until I ask for it. And then move as slowly as possible. All my notices usually do not help much, especially when something out of the ordinary happens. But that day, I had two experienced assistants in my model; it was not the first time they were with me. Poul representer position became provocative, and her fists tensed. Maybe it didn’t mean anything at all. Or perhaps she was angry. I asked. She answered that she was not mad, but the hands were getting even tenser. The position of the representer of the investor was very confident. And I said: “Please if you want to move, do it. Only do it slowly, please”. The investor went back a little bit, looked indulgently. I asked what was it about, and he answered that he “does not see this kid”. And “in general, all this is not interesting to him”. It seemed that we were talking about anything but business. Everything became very static; everyone stopped.
We had to continue, and I asked to add to the model a representer for the project. Poul tried to use as a representer her girlfriend, with whom he had come. I noted that the number of “personal” became more and more, and I asked to take someone else. With the appearance of the representer for the project, the situation changed dramatically. Poul representer gots up, covering the project, in the position of a stubborn duelist. The hand with an imaginary sword was stretched out towards the investor. “I’m defending her” she explained, pointing to the representer for the project. It was definitely not about business or the project. Luckily, it was easy to check. The arsenal of system phenomenology has an absolutely standard method called “context separation”. I took a blanket, followed them on the back of the project representer, transferring everything that was not related to business to it. Then I put it nearby. The tension dropped, the position of the duelist disappeared, but the representer of the investor suddenly activated. “And that’s all for me,” she says, “it’s interesting. I would take this”, she pointed to the project. “Come here, come here”. However, the project felt more comfortable next to the representer of Poul.
I asked Poul how he was feeling. He was not sure; he couldn’t talk for a few minutes and said that he “doesn’t feel it”. I nodded with a light smile.
“Well,” I said out loud. “It still too personal, but we’ll put it aside for now”. “And it’s still there”, said the representer of the investor and pointed to the blanket on the floor. “Ok,” I said, “and I’m putting the blanket away”. The situation was still defusing.
“Well,” I asked again. “What has changed? Did it get better, worse, or different?” “You ok?” – I turned to the representer of Poul. Her posture was a little depressed. She answered that “she is interested in the investor, that she has something to learn from the investor and she waits a lot”. The representer of the investor was very interested in the representer of the project, literally focused on her. But she still didn’t pay attention to representer of Poul. “It is clear that she has to do something,” I noted it in my mind. I added the representer of the investor’s factories to the constellation.
It’s a good thing we had a big room, plenty of space. Now the model in the hall had: the representer of Poul, the representer of the investor, the representer of the project, the representer of the investor’s factories and lonely blanket, far from the central place of the action. The picture changed again. The representer of the factories approached to the representer of the investor. The representer of the investor leaned on her, looked for the eyes of the stool, moved towards it, without letting go the representer of the factories, and got up on the stool. She looked extremely well. She utterly dominated the whole picture. She was still interested in the representer of the project and was not interested in the representer of Poul. For her, Poul was a “boy”, “lad”, “not serious”, “jumps here”. The representer of Poul looked frankly lost, she was still looking to the representer of the investor with hope, waiting for some approval or at least attention. It looked like how kids usually look at their fathers when they want to earn some acceptance. Something unrelated to business was still presented, despite the separation of the contexts.
Ok, we had a steady model, and we could test the options. One of the amazing things about the model is that we can see how the connections change when we make interventions. I asked Poul himself to voice the solution, took the representer of this solution, added her into the model and saw what has changed. We checked the variant by variant, added a representer of the CFO who hadn’t liked Poul so much, but they all demonstrated the same thing. The representer of the investor was interested in the representer of the project. She was not interested in the representer of Poul. Unexpectedly, the representer of the project, either tired or losing his strength after our interventions, tried to sit on the floor. Poul himself took off, picked up a blanket lying at a distance, on which I, as an anchor, had placed everything personal that had been in the project, and carefully placed it on the representer of the project. The circle was closed.
And then I did one thing. I picked up the representer of the project, put the blanket aside, picked up one of the spectators, and put her into the model. I put my hands on her shoulders and said, “I want to check one thing. I’m putting you in the constellation. I know what you are, but I won’t tell you yet”. The representer of Poul doubtfully turned to the new figure, raised her hands with tense, cramped fingers in front of him at the throat level and slowly, with some blind expression of her eyes, came to the new figure with a clear intention to strangle her.
Her tensed fingers almost lied on the throat of the new figure. Systems, in general, are very sensitive to someone noticing what is happening, if you do it with respect and without interpretation. I kept all my ideas to myself, including the idea that I could easily lose one of my good assistants, but I showed that I saw everything.
“Ok,” I said. “Thank you, I see you. I see what you want to do. You don’t have to show it so much, I see”. The system calmed down a little; the level of emotion dropped. I knew what I’d put there. I’ve put “someone or something from Poul’s parents’ family”. Something personal about what had been on the blanket. I even had ideas about what it might be… but it was not my turn in this game.
And I was turning to the system, hoping it would come out. “Hmm”. – I said. “Does this mean anything to you, Poul? What could it be?” Poul had a strange look on his face. Distant recognition and immediate block, immediate disengagement. It was as if he had looked into a gulf, seen something and recoiled. Or maybe I’d made it all up to myself. One way or another, the system finally had started to open up in the place it had been leading when the representer had been a duelist.
Some of the representers falling out: “It’s Dad. “Exactly!”, said the new figure. “I’m Dad”. “Dad” – confirmed the representer of Poul.
It spoke from inside. And then I remembered that I once had talked to Poul, and he’d said something about his father. I couldn’t remember what, but I did remember that it had sounded wrong.
The system opened up, I could move on… but I couldn’t. That’s where the legitimacy of my work ended. I hadn’t been asked to do that. And I’d been trying for a long time not to “do good”. I was not a lifeguard; I worked here. Just one step and I would start saving the system. And the “lifeguard” phase, in Karpman’s triangle, is followed by the aggressor. And then the victim. This is an excellent way to Hell. I had happily never fallen under the projection of Poul’s parents or grandfathers or great-grandfathers, or whoever in his family had made decisions for others, in the beginning, I wouldn’t get there now.
“Poul,” I said, looking him in the eye. “It seems worth looking at the relationship with Dad. You and I can see what’s out there. You might be able to understand something. Maybe you can do something about it. Some part of the reason for your problem, I don’t know, big or small, is there. I can accompany you there. But you will have to ask me to do it. Are we going?”
Poul looked at me for a few seconds and said, “No. It’s not like that. It’s not right. I know my relationship with my father. It’s all irrelevant”.
Well, then it was time to finish. And I tried one last little intervention. I added, as a figure of decision, the figure “Poul has sorted out his relationship with his father”. The miracle, as it should be, happened. The representer of Poul straightened up; she was no longer a child. The investor said, “That’s great, Poul is interesting for me now, and the project is interesting for me too”. She tried to lure the project to her place, but the representer of the project said she’s only ready to go with Poul. A little more and we would get a happy end. Beautiful and utterly useless. I took the figure “Poul has sorted out his relationship with his father” and took her out of the constellation. “It could have been,” I said. “But that hasn’t happened yet”. Interrupting the constellation on time is also an essential part of the work. “Can we end it”? Poul nodded uncertainly. “Thank you, everyone” – I said the usual phrase. “Poul, please take off the roles”.
So it was not the time yet. Poul had to go his part of the way himself.
Poul had promised me dinner, and I got it. We sat at the table eating very decent steaks. “I have forgiven my father for a long time,” Poul said. “Forgiven for a long time. So there’s nothing to sort out”. I looked at him with sadness and wondered what I should do about it, and whether I should do something about it. The child could not “forgive” his father. Because the one who forgives, thereby rises a step above the one who is forgiven. It is he who generously decides whether or not to forgive. They forgive only from top to bottom. And standing above your father is not the best way to see him. How could I explain Poul that no man in his life has ever done more for him than his father? Even if his father had turned around and left forever after his conceiving. Because he gave life. No one has ever given him such a gift except his father. And did I had to explain it to him? Until Poul was not in the right place, in the position of the little boy near Dad, he wouldn’t see his Dad. And he would look for his father’s love, warmth, recognition in every new business partner. Who, despite all desire, couldn’t give a father’s confession, just because he never been Poul’s father. I didn’t say anything. Not yet.
I called him three weeks later. I rarely ask myself how my client is doing. But Poul was not just a client. “I wrote a letter to the investor,” Poul said. “Based on what I’ve seen at the constellation”. “Interesting”, I thought. “What was there to write about?” But I only said, “Well… I hope you know what you’re doing”. “Yes, everything is fine,” Poul answered.” He called me later, we talked very warmly, and the funding started again”.
It happens that for something to change, it is enough to see. Even if the client consciously resists, his wise subconscious can see something. But usually, I have the feeling that something has happened. It is difficult to explain, but impossible to confuse.
A month later, I called him again. “Everything’s up again,” he said with disappointment. Tomorrow I’m going to Midleofnowhere.