One of the critical capacities that we need to develop to do social change work more effectively is “seeing with fresh eyes.” MIT professor Edgar Schein says, “We do not think and talk about what we see; we see what we are able to think and talk about.” How can we practice really seeing what is happening, rather than just seeing what we expect or already believe to be true? One way is to use a “check-in.”
Many of you may be familiar with a “check-in” as a way to start meetings: each participant gets a turn to briefly share what is happening in “their world”—what they are thinking, feeling, and wanting at that moment. Check-ins are an effective and reliable way to help participants to become fully present, to get everyone’s voice into the room, and to hear what’s on people’s minds around a particular question. When we use a check-in as part of a change lab workshop, it can serve an additional purpose: it gives the group a chance to see itself—an important aspect of collective sensing. A check-in lets everyone see what is going on in the group as a whole, by making explicit what is happening within and among us. Our check-ins weave us together, and the comments form a snapshot of our whole. By practicing how to listen empathetically, to suspend judgment, and to create a safe space where each member can share their authentic feelings and thoughts, we are able to learn a lot about who we are and where we are in our individual and collective journeys. We can identify trends, notice differences, and be able to make any necessary mid-course corrections with greater confidence. And by practicing our capacity to see ourselves more clearly, we can better work together.
Taking a tool like a check-in, which you may already be comfortable using, and enhancing it to build other needed capacities is an easy way to jump start your social change work.