One Rule to Rule Them All

It’s the Morning After, and we're sitting on the front stoop - I'm wearing their t-shirt and a pair of borrowed PJs as we cradle our coffee cups and watch the world go by. I take a contented sip and listen to them ask the age old question, asked a thousand times before.

"So, what are we doing here?"

I pause, because, innocuous and common as this question is, in my case the answer is a bit... complex.

I'm married. Happily, (now) legally, and still head-over-heels in love with my wife. We live together, share a bank account, and plan on adopting kids as soon as we can afford it. Full on nesting partner status here. And yes, she's cool with last night.

We're polyamorous.

Not everyone comes to a conscious definition of their relationship orientation in the same way (or ever). For me, I came to understand my polyamory the same way I found bisexuality. Being bisexual gave me a basic premise to question prescribed sexuality narratives; being polyamorous gave me a framework for questioning prescribed romantic narratives.

Which, eventually, led me to the One Rule to Rule Them All.

Hold on a sec, why are we talking about sex and relationships?

Whenever I teach my Exploring Sexualities class, I am inevitably asked to tell the story of how I found my relationship orientation, developed the One Rule, and set out to grow the skillsets needed to make it work, and work well.

One of the sneakiest reasons I talk about sex and relationships throughout my facilitation practice (aside from my personal mission of more high quality consensual intimacy for all!) is that the practices and frameworks being grown and used in the ‘non-default intimacy’ world are highly transferable to ALL other relationships (from the personal to the economic to the democratic).

After all, from one angle, intimate relationships are simply high-stakes, identity centered, resource sharing, consensual, long-term, multi-stakeholder negotiations – and folks who have to innovate on the daily practice of negotiating them (because the default ones don’t see or serve them) are likely to have lessons to share across contexts.


This is what we are here to discuss today: the power of Non-Default Relationship Frameworks to deconstruct received narratives, empower participants, cultivate self-reflection, and flex the communication muscles of any group, to the betterment of each and all.


From Many "Rules" to One Rule

"So, you're poly?"  "Yup"  "Huh... so, that means--" "Probably not what you think it does. Lemme break it down for you."

I take a deep breath, and launch into some context for why I follow my One Rule.

Now, we receive a whole heck of a lot of narratives - both overt and covert - from our world about how intimate relationships are "supposed to" work (I call these 'Defaults' as shorthand). These narratives are often cloaked in the language of "natural" "normal" "common sense" "god's path" and even "legal." Let’s get a little perspective by unpacking just a (very) few sources of narrative instruction on how “proper” intimate relationships function:

  • Love, Marriage, Baby Carriage – we begin receiving these narrative massages early in life. In fact, our society’s current ‘normal formula’ for Relationships are well laid out in that old rhyme about the love, marriage and reproduction which must inevitably follow from climbing a tree to make out with your kindergarten crush. Folks have named this narrative the relationship escalator, and it can be almost impossible to step off of.
  • Fairy Tales – even if we do manage to jump on the Escalator with The One, many of our childhood fairy tales warn us that that we’d better live ‘happily ever after.’ If we don’t, it must never have been ‘true love’ and the Real One For Me must still be somewhere out there, and all we have to do is wait for them to show up and sweep us off our feet.
  • Media & Politics – for many of us, TV shows, movies, and the almost-reality-TV-show that is American ‘politics’ make up the bulk of today’s explicitly received messages about ‘appropriate’ relationships – and gender roles – and how to navigate them. Which is a TERRIBLE thing because these forms of media thrive on presenting dramatic, attention-grabbing narratives. And in the absence of alternatives, these selected-for-drama stories (which rarely include accurate depictions of the mundane, awkward or tedious-but-necessary parts of relationships) become our cultural stories, the very context in which we form our own experiences of relationships.
  • "Sex Ed" – sometimes when facilitating I get to ask, “How many of you would say you were well served by the sex and relationship education you received in your K-12 schooling?” It always gets a loud-but-rueful laugh. All I can say in response to this sad and terrifying average experience of public school “sex ed” is this: if our society wanted to design a curriculum that prepares generations of children to become sexually unhealthy, disempowered victims with few intimate relationship skills, we're doing a great job!
  • Religion – in America’s ostensibly secular and pluralistic but oh so Christianity-dominated culture, a certain flavor of Religion has a lot to answer for in the shaping of normative relationships. The moral narratives that underpin any organized religion often explicitly prescribe the ‘righteous’ and ‘holy’ forms of relating to sex and relationships – and proscribe other forms.
  • Culture and Family of Origin – the oldest answer to the question of “How do we do this?” is "Just like mom and dad did it.” – or, by extension, "How all the folks in my culture do it." The context we grow up in, and the relationships we see modeled in our early and daily life are the most basic blueprints we are handed with which to build our world and the relationships it will contain (for better, or for worse). 
  • Intersecting Identities – likewise, all the intersecting aspects of our identity – our race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, etc. – are threads in the fabric of our lives that cause different folks to experience the same narratives in wildly divergent ways. The more ‘Otherness’ you embody, the more you are constrained, as each additional 'narrative transgression' will compound your vulnerability to social sanctioning and invisibility.
  • Legal Codes – the laws of the land are essentially the codification of the dominant moral codes held by the people of that land. And so, cultures have created – and then selectively and punitively enforced – legal codes to target and suppress groups of folks who dare to operate outside the realm described by these traditional narratives. Laws against homosexuality, sodomy, adultery, cross dressing, miscegenation, queer families, bigamy, and ‘immoral behavior’ have existed throughout our history – many still constrain us today.

This is a set of confusing, often conflicting instructions for how to build our intimate relationships. It’s laced through with systemic oppressions (heteronormative xenophobic patriarchy anyone?) and – given current marriage, divorce, and infidelity statistics, to say nothing of intimate-partner rape and domestic violence etc. – it’s obviously not a particularly robust system for teaching ourselves how to love well as a society. Like the narratives of any hegemonic system, they exclude and homogenize as a tactic for producing 'harmony' – and that’s just a tangled web we're weaving.

The One Rule (that Rules them All)

The One Rule is the sword I forged to slice this Gordian Knot. It sweeps all these confusing and conflicting instructions for building our relationships off the table, leaving a blank canvas – a tabula rasa on which we create ourselves.

So, what is it, I hear you cry?

Any relationship is only and whatever those in it and affected by it agree upon it to be.

That’s it. Sublimely simple, and yet (appropriately) complex – because, yeah, that sounds great, but what does that actually MEAN, in terms of the mechanics of relating? Let’s break it down a little further.

  • Any Relationship – yes, ANY. This includes your relationship with your housemates, co-workers, family members, partner, lover, spouse, gardener, babysitter! Why do we place the Romantic Love Relationship above all others, and put so much energy and emphasis on this one bond as special and ‘first’ in how we run our lives? This (often unconscious and automatic) pedestalizing of one relationship has ripple effects on the complex web of relationships which sustain us. Taking the Relationship down off its pedestal has a leveling effect, which helps us evaluate and engage with ALL the relationships in our web on their own merits and within the context of each other.
  • Is Only and Whatever – permission to radically self-define granted! Above we unpacked many of the Default modes that we are handed by our world – this rule says that the ultimate power to design your experience is Yours. The format and contents of your relationships are Only what y’all define it as – Whatever it may be or become – and Nothing Else.
  • Those in It and Affected by It – everyone who has a stake in the relationship should have a voice (or even a vote) in deciding how that relationship is shaped. This boundary – of those in it and those materially affected by it (like folks who are dependent on the participants, or sharing other relevant resources or commitments) – defines who needs to be included in the co-creation of the relationship, and who does not.
  • Agree upon It to Be – agreements are how we articulate the exact details of what this relationship looks like on the daily. Relationships following the One Rule frequently ask questions like: What are our agreements in X, Y, and Z situations? How do we know them, maintain them, and renegotiate them? How do we feel secure in our commitments while leaving space for innovation and exploration as we adapt to our ever-changing world?

The One Rule is, at its core, a formula for having the conversation of ‘So, what are we doing here?’ at a very deep and yet very practical level.

“Ok, so how do we actually use this fancy rule of yours to answer my question again?”

I grin. “Well, here, let’s run through it: I like you, and I’m available for an intimate, sexytime-inclusive relationship that is not co-habitating, co-parenting, or finances-sharing. I’m free about once a week, and would like to explore whatever excites you in that time. I will need to let my wife and consort know that we’ve connected, and they might want to have dinner and chat with us soon. I’d love to hear how that sounds, what excites you, and then let’s see where we overlap, try it for a while, and then check-in. Sound fun?”

It's their turn to grin. “Wow. Seriously? No guessing games? Well. Um, so, I like to kayak…”

Truly ALL Relationships

The process of having this conversation – with myself, with my partners, with my co-workers, etc – over and over again has many benefits, not only to me and mine, but to our democracy as a whole.

Think Beyond the Box

Stepping away from the Default and assembling your own blueprint for this most fundamental of human interactions – intimate relationships – requires a) that we see that there IS a Default which isn’t necessarily ‘normal’ ‘natural’ or ‘common sense’ and b) that we develop and hone a critical lens for unpacking this Default worldview so we actually step away from it (and don’t just reproduce it). These narrative deconstructing skills are what we flex when “thinking outside and beyond the box” – skills so important that you can’t pick up a book on business, parenting, art, or anything else without seeing whole chapters devoted to building them.

Embodied Empowerment

Claiming the power to co-create your relationships into any damn thing y’all please can be terrifying – it’s hard to open your mouth and ask for what you really want, without the safety net of a narrative to feed you your lines! But it is precisely that terror – and building the skills to face and overcome it – that leads to one of the most important benefits, empowerment. In relationships which follow the One Rule, you have (for better or worse) full agency over defining and building your relationships. It empowers you to creatively try to maximize the pleasure, benefit, and well-being of all; and to flounder, fail, and bravely try again, all under your own power. Experiencing this empowerment gives us an actual embodied sense of what it is like to be an equal citizen in the ‘state’ of our relationships – an experience which is crucial to growing the necessary empowered citizens to make our democracy thrive.

Personal Growth as a Byproduct of Loving Well

In order to negotiate for what you want, you first have to know what your heart's desire is (or isn’t). When you stop relying on narratives to hand you a script (or even a loose set of guidelines), it can take a while – and quite a lot of trial and error – to figure this out. But a strategic process of introspection, asking probing questions, thinking deeply about our past and future and our baggage and dreams is something many of us pay a whole lot of money for. By following the One Rule, you actively build critical self-reflection and personal growth skills as a byproduct of your intimate relationships. This efficiency spills over – into your piggy bank, your free time, and the extra energy you gain from living life authentically.

Communication Skills Bootcamp

The one complaint I get most frequently when describing the benefits of the One Rule is often something like, “Yeah, but doesn’t all that extra talking take waaaaay too much time and energy?” to which I reply – “What, you don’t have time to do it right, but you have time to do it over?” Communication is a learned skill and the up-front investment of learning to do it well is worth the life-long payoff (not to mention the benefits of avoiding the often-deferred-and-unnoticed-until-we-breakup costs of being in an inauthentic relationship). Communication skills for high-stakes situations are skills that we need everywhere in our lives – in our workplaces, our families, our bedrooms, and our voting booths. When we flex and stretch our communication skills in our intimate relationships – where that mighty motivator Love pushes us to really, really put in the effort, and reap the resulting rewards – we build those muscles for the benefit of our whole lives.

Imagine a World where the One Rule Ruled Us All

If you could envision a world in which everyone you shared your life with swept the table clean of Default narratives, and made a commitment to follow the One Rule in how they relate to you, what would it look like? What might be possible in that world? No, seriously, get out some scratch paper, and try this out…

  • What would your WORK life look like if it followed the One Rule?
  • What would your LOVE life look like if it followed the One Rule?
  • What would your FAMILY life look like if it followed the One Rule?
  • What would our DEMOCRACY look like if it followed the One Rule?

I'm working on building that world one commitment at a time – slowly removing areas where I operate on the Default definitions and assumptions I have received, and repopulating them with relationships that build my agency (like worker co-ops, my polyamorous marriage, and the work I do serving clients).

I won’t lie - it’s a process, getting other folks on board. At first. But my experience shows that, so far, it definitely produces a more easily communicative, consistently authentic, and happy life.

So, the next time life hands you a cup of coffee, invites you to sit on the stoop in the bright morning air, and asks, "So, what are we doing here?"... think about the One Rule, and what you could create with it.

Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under Unlikely Lessons.

All the World's a Stage

I’m standing in a sunlit room, barefoot on a lush carpet, surrounded by rolling whiteboards, half empty coffee cups, and my fellow teammates. We’ve just been told to, as a group, “Become a toaster.” The catch? No talking. We have to coordinate silently to organize our bodies into some commonly envisioned representation of a toaster.

I look at my teammates – teacher, administrator, social service provider, facilitator, all strangers gathered together for this educational design training intensive – and think “How the heck are we gonna do this?” And then, “Why are we doing this?!”

I’m at an ISKME (Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education) Action Collab Training. These folks have developed a framework that “is a collaborative approach to problem-solving that melds human-centered design thinking concepts and improvisation techniques to unlock a group’s creativity and innovative capacity.” And I get to spend two whole days learning about it!

Many things drew me here – but the emphasis on Theater Techniques, especially the practice and framework of group improvisation, enticed me to stay. In my own facilitation practice, I draw heavily on these same frameworks, practices, and techniques – not just because I love them, but because I have found them to be profoundly productive and even transformative.

This is what we are here to discuss today: the power of Theatrical practices and frameworks to cultivate courage, innovation, and cooperation in any group of collaborators.          

A Caveat – Narrowing the Lens

When it comes to lessons from the world of Theatre there is just So Darn Much we could talk about.

We could discuss theatre as a site of cultural norm and narrative re/production (and the subversions thereof) through guerilla street performances; or the Theatrical Troupe as an example of a robust organizational model which has survived and adapted through centuries of change; or the lessons Stage Managers can impart to entrepreneurs wrangling ego-driven collaborators in a high stakes multi-stakeholder project with a tight deadline and shoestring budget!

We will talk about all these things – and more – but today, we’re going to narrow down and look at just two practices in Theatre, specifically the Stanislavski System and the Tenets of Improvisation.

Stanislavski System

I – like many of my fellow actors in the current America Theatrical Tradition – was trained primarily in the Stanislavski System.  This technique can be summed up as: a systematic method of physical actions which produce emotions through their embodiment.

Want to be able to ‘spontaneously’ break into tears onstage every night? Develop a gesture or a stance that evokes the memory of a moment in which you were moved to tears – associate that memory with your movement, and BOOM! The emotion becomes realistically embodied on stage.

This collecting and curating of emotions and embodiments, and the cross referencing and cataloging that an experienced actor develops, is the most crucial asset of the Stanislavski Actor. The more emotions you experience, the more embodiments you observe, the more textured and realistic your portrayals of characters will be. Essentially, the better a student you are of your fellow humans, the better your performance of Humanity will be.

Tenets of Improvisation

Actors may receive training in many kinds of systems – indeed the diversity of performance training techniques is exactly as staggering as the diversity of humanity – but all Actors must practice their training. They must practice in a variety of circumstances, and with different groups in different contexts, if they are to hone their skills.

One of the best, and most prevalent, ways to do this is to engage in collaborative improvisation. The ISKME Action Collab folks are all over this, and include the Tenets of Improv as a core component of their process. They define these tenets as:

  • Let go of your agenda.
  • Listen in order to receive.
  • Build on what you receive.
  • Make your partner look brilliant.
  • You can’t be wrong.
  • Keep moving forward.

For ISKME, these tenets form the backbone of the framework their activities sit within – they are guidelines for participation that channel group energy toward trust, openness, and generative collaboration. For Actors (and many other genres of Performer) these tenets function very similarly, with the added benefit of being a controlled environment to test out their ‘spontaneous’ embodiments of emotion.

So, how exactly do these practices and frameworks cultivate courage, innovation and cooperation in any group of collaborators?

Building a Multi-Tool of Skills

Participants in the above techniques are building a complex set of physical, emotional, and social skills, which apply across a variety of life contexts beyond the Proscenium.  The core skills we are flexing when we apply and practice these techniques are Observation, Applied Empathy, Bravery, Radical Creativity, and Cooperative Collaboration. Let’s take them one at a time.


An actor’s training is, at its core, observation. Practicing portrayal of realistic characters requires detailed observation of Humanity and how we interrelate and respond to stimuli and environments. This is why many exercises – both in the Stanislavski System and in Improvisation – flex the skills of acute observation.

My favorite example is ‘Walk that Walk’ in which the practitioner spends time in a crowded public space, watching the walking patterns of individuals and mimicking them as realistically and spontaneously as possible. Similarly, the Improv exercise ‘Vacations’ requires intense listening skills, as the two participants build a fictional but realistic story as they ‘reminisce’ about their vacation together.

Applied Empathy

The practice of stepping inside the story of a character and their world, literally every night, hones a practitioners ability to empathize across differences. Successful practitioners apply these empathizing skills so effectively that they bring their fellow actors and the entire audience with them. They invite participants so fully into that moment that they are transported to an entirely different reality, and become invested in the lives and decisions of the fictional characters being portrayed by these practitioners.

The skills used in applying empathy – deep listening, imagination, connection, vulnerability, and compassion – are essential capacities for the performer.


In the Stanislavski System, the actor is literally building an embodied experience from the blocks of your soul and self – the moment your cat died, your team won, your first heart-break. Revisiting every powerfully emotional moment of one’s history – and seeking out as many other emotional experiences as possible – takes profound personal bravery. Digging around in our library of experiences requires that we face our demons, scars, and moments of exultation. And we do this not just occasionally, but every time we go to work. After all, the show must go on! Five nights a week and twice on Saturdays!

Improvisation requires yet another kind of bravery – the courage to perform without a script. Standing up in front of a group and putting yourself on the line with absolutely no rehearsal and little direction or structure is a deeply brave act – as the Tenets of Improv acknowledge, when they remind us that “You Can’t Be Wrong” and to “Keep Moving Forward.”

Radical Creativity

Actors suspend reality in our performance of character and place. In service to the scene, we create imagined states so powerful we can transport a black box audience to sunlit meadows to urban tenements, to battlefields, with nothing but our consciously applied physical presence. This requires a radically creative approach to portraying ideas. Actors flex radical creativity as we practice portraying the variety of ideas – emotions, context, narrative, and pathos – required to create those imagined states.

In Improvisation, we inhabit a space where we are granted permission to co-create our experience. In fact, we’re required to do it over and over again, in small, rapid-fire moments which require our creativity to be nimble and flexible.

Cooperative Collaboration

Theatre is inherently a group endeavor (yes, even solo shows stand on the shoulders of many stakeholders). You cannot do it alone – it cannot be successful without participants. As such, it is an emergent form of art – and the results are often much greater than the sum of its parts.

You develop and practice all the above skills within the context of a group – therefore many of the techniques of the Stanislavski System and Improvisation are oriented toward cooperative collaboration.

Why Are We Doing This Again?

I started training for the stage formally at age 5 – I had to do SOMETHING with this much energy and fabulousness. As I grew into the practice – eventually becoming a triple threat, and crossing the ‘color line’ to don stage blacks – I saw more every day how well Shakespeare captured it when he said “All the world’s a stage.”

It’s not that we’re constantly in character, or that life is but a series of facades – rather, it’s the simple fact that the skills we hone for the Stage are relevant in all walks of life.

Observation, Applied Empathy, Bravery, Radical Creativity and Cooperative Collaboration are skills that have many obvious application to the daily life of any individual. Keener listening skills will help us be a better co-worker, spouse, or friend. Flexing empathy keeps us involved in democratic processes, make us better neighbors, and even re-frame how we experience paying taxes. Bravery is helpful when facing challenges of the heart, questions of ethics, or daunting tasks. Honing your capacity for radical creativity is the best defense against the only constant we will experience in this life: change. And collaborating cooperatively is a skill humans have been flexing – for better or for worse, in every context we can imagine on this earth – since the advent of our species.

Applying these skills in groups – which is where we all spend the majority of our time, whether in a family unit, a workplace, a church, or a neighborhood – not only increases our own skills and capacities, but increases the group’s ability to come together to co-create their experience and achieve their collective goals.

In my work with groups, I find this repeatedly to be true. In the Action Collab Process, I see those findings reiterated – and codified into an innovative process that moves groups closer together, and closer to their goals.


The Facilitator shouts “Go!” and my group stares at each other for a frozen moment before springing into action. I immediately go to my knees, and raise my hands to be the ‘bread.’ Another two folks join hands to become the ‘slot’, and the last ones become the sides of the toaster. Following cues – I think – from the eye movements of one of them, I ‘pop’ up like a piece of toast. And we all break into relieved giggles. Somehow, without talking, having known each other for only 5 minutes, we took the instructions “Silently become a toaster” …and did it. In less than 30 seconds!

I sit back on my heels and smile, imagining how much we could accomplish if we applied these seemingly silly but powerfully productive techniques to all of life’s problems.

Want to learn more about ISKME’s Action Collab Process, or their signature conference, the Big Ideas Fest? Check out their website for news, events, and upcoming trainings.

Posted on May 22, 2016 and filed under Unlikely Lessons.

Safe Space

Hey folks, welcome back to my soap box! Before we go any further, I'd like to do something with y'all - its something I do with anyone I might ever want to get real with. Its a magic spell that - when invoked - transports us straight through the land of small talk into the soul-and-world-transforming land of Real Talk.

I'd like to set up Safe Space.

"What exactly do you mean by Safe Space?!" I hear you cry. Self-explanatory as this tool sounds (to me), the politics and mechanics of the words "Safe Space" mean a wide range of things to a wider range of people. So, since my rules are the ones we will be obeying here on this blog, let me break down my version of what this means for you.

What is Safe Space?

The Safe Space Tool is a set of ground-rules for creating consensual, productive, and drama-free high-stakes conversations. 

Its a way to instantly create (and replicate) a Safe Space for sharing high-stakes information, talking productively about triggering situations, or calling out dysfunctional dynamics in a relationship, dialog, or process.  It is infinitely adaptable. By selecting which sub-principles to emphasize, you can implement the 4 Principles to best support your situation, depending on the level of personal or group risk. Some components may be inappropriate for some settings, and invaluable in others. The more risk involved, the more carefully you want to frame the conversation.

When Should I Use Safe Space?

Anytime there are high-stakes potentially present! Examples include: co-working group meetings; dialog with house-mates, family, or other co-habitators; interpersonal relationship negotiations; dialog involving identities, emotions or triggering situations; and discussions where there is an imbalance of power in the participants.

Personally, I use it everywhere. I have Safe Space set up - to appropriate degrees - with my Clients, my Wife, my friends, my first-dates, my Mother (and whew! did that make our relationship better, lemme tell you!). I make a point to set it up anytime I might potentially get into high-stakes territory with someone - that way, if we go there, we're prepared! Having pre-agreed-upon ground rules for how we talk when shit gets real sets us up for consensual, productive, and drama-free interactions that can go deep easily and safely.

How do I have a Safe Space Conversation?

While you can incorporate these ground-rules into conversation norms in a lot of ways, the following script is a good place to start:

  1. “Hey, this conversation might be kind of intense, so I’d like to use this set of ground-rules while we talk. Can we try that?”
  2. “Shall I tell you about the Principles, or would you like to read them? Do they make sense to you? Is there anything we should add?”
  3. “Let’s invoke these rules from now until we’re done chatting. Ok? Ok!”
  4. “So, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about…”
  5. “Well, that was [challenging/helpful/etc.] Thank you for the talk, and for setting up these ground-rules with me.”
  6.  “…and, hey, now that we’ve set up these rules, if you ever need to have a high-stakes chat with me, you can just say ‘can we have a Safe Space conversation?’ Then we’ll be on the same page!”

The Principles of Safe Space

These principles are the core of the ground rules - remember that some components of these Principles may be invaluable in some situations, and inappropriate in others. Set it up with your context in mind!

Equalize the Space

  • confidentiality – share experiences & lessons, not gossip and identifying details
  • make space/take space – challenge yourself to step out of your pattern
  • challenge the idea or the practice being voiced, not the person voicing them
  • everyone has equal worth, and all perspectives are equally valid

Check Your Assumptions

  • no judgments or ‘disclaimers/self-judgments’
  • everyone is an individual, not just a representative of a group
  • ‘I Statements’ – own your perspective, don’t project it
  • believe in our common best intentions

The Right to be Human

  • respect each other’s right to be human (to have a bad day, to be triggered, to fail, etc.)
  • honor differences always, center them when appropriate (family of origin, culture, orientation, race, class, gender, ability, etc.)
  • acknowledge emotions appropriately
  • practice giving and receiving forgiveness

Consensual Dialogue

  • active listening – attention focused, appropriate eye contact, check body language, inquire about (and use) preferred pronouns
  • take a risk and speak up, but maintain everyone’s right to pass
  • silence is okay – pauses in the pace of dialogue invite all the voices in the room;
  • 50% rule – each party is responsible for an equal part of the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution’

Lets Set Up Safe Space!

You can simply download the tool and follow the instructions - or, for those of you who are more interactive learners, I've made a video for you to follow along!

Now that we've set up Safe Space, I look forward to many consensual, productive, and drama-free conversations with y'all!


Posted on March 17, 2016 and filed under Sassy's Toolbox.

Welcome to Sassy Pontificates!

Hi Folks! I'm Sassy. Welcome to my Soapbox.

I've been a communication enthusiast for a very long time. All the myriad ways we humans 'talk' to each other holds endless fascination for me. So when I started my consultancy, Sassy Facilitation, it wasn't just to support a movement and model I believe in, or to have the dubious benefits of being my own boss -- it was also to make a profession out of a proclivity.

I really, really like this stuff.

I like communication because it is endemic to the human condition -- it is the lifeblood of all our endeavors, especially when we cooperate to create something larger than ourselves. From a 2 person partnership, to a 20 person business, to a 20 million person city -- whenever we organize, we must communicate.

Who the Heck am I to be talking to You?

My most recent personal Strategic Planning session -- in which I decided to start this blog -- was... interesting. When I look at the column "Assets: Skills and Experiences," I see "Renaissance Woman", but "Crazy Quilt" would be just as accurate. I am, shall we say, an avid collector of eclectic experiences. Here is a small sampling:

  • I have facilitated a conflict resolution process inside a tent in a 70 mile hour windstorm.
  • I regularly lead participatory education events on adult sexuality -- some folks call them 'orgies'.
  • I dedicated 20 years of my life to Theater (becoming a triple threat before donning stage blacks).
  • I have a degree in Ecology, and once helped tackle and tag a tiger shark in the service of science.
  • I can also design and sew wedding dresses, fell, saw and split a tree for firewood, and run a full service kitchen serving 100 people 3 meals a day.

Throw in over 16 years in peer facilitation training, chairing and sitting on several Boards of Directors, living and working in democratic organizations since age 3, a healthy dash of Direct Activism, and a hard boundary against taking bullshit from anyone.

Add it all up, and what do you get? An experienced communication fetishist with an eclectically sourced, scientifically applied, and thoroughly beta-tested collection of high-stakes communication tools.

And in collecting and learning to wield all these tools, I learn over and over how communication is endemic to our daily lives -- and therefore how, when we learn a lesson in one context, its application in another context can yield very productive (or at least very interesting) results.

Communication Lessons from Unlikely Places

That lesson is the thesis of this blog. What powerful tools -- from practices & policies to rubrics & rituals -- for increasing communication competency can arise from unlikely cross-fertilizations of context? We'll ask questions like:

  • What can the BDSM community teach us about high-stakes, identity centered, oppression-neutralizing negotiations?
  • What can the system-oriented models of Ecological Science say about growth planning, resource allocation, and communication design?
  • What can Theater teach us about managing collective egos and competing visions on a tight schedule (and budget)?
  • What can the streamlined volunteer operations at Burning Man show us about the productivity force multipliers of fun and self-expression?
  • And, of course, what can the world of co-ops -- across all sectors, contexts, and ownership models -- teach us about consensual communication and unpacking power hierarchies in our daily lives?

We'll talk about all this and more, in four different ways:

Sassy's Toolbox

These posts will be explanations of communication tools that Sassy Facilitation has developed and uploaded into the Original Tools Library. We'll go over what they are, how to use them, and when to apply them to good effect.

Unlikely Lessons

In these posts we will take a scenario -- a story or experience from the Crazy Renaissance Woman Quilt -- and draw from it a synthesized communication lesson, tool, or metaphor that applies across unlikely contexts.

Communication Conundrums

This column's posts all start with the words: "Dear Sassy..." By popular request, every once in a while we will deconstruct and advise on an anonymous real life communication conundrum from any context.

Cross-Fertilization Salons

Occasionally we'll round up a few folks from interesting, innovative, or wildly different backgrounds, sit down and dig into a special sub-genre of communication. These posts will feature notes, interviews, and outcomes from these conversations.

Broader Perspective, Better Communicator, Benefits for Life

A larger toolbox, a higher vantage point, a bigger library -- pick the metaphor you like, the sentiment holds true: the broader a perspective you can draw upon, the better equipped you are to communicate efficiently, effectively, and equitably.

And because communication is endemic - you reap the benefits many times! No matter where you apply these communication lessons (at work, at home, in your hobbies, volunteering, in your family relationships) the benefits of better communication will spill over into the other wheelhouses of your life. Inevitably, your lives and the lives of those you communicate with will improve. Or at least we hope they will. I promise nothing -- but my life sure has!

But then, as I've said, I really, really like this stuff.

I hope this blog helps share that enthusiastic enjoyment -- and the spillover benefits to your daily life -- with y'all!

Posted on January 31, 2016 .