The ‘plus-one’ process

by Philip Boxer

How are we to approach the relationship to the situation intended by reflective observation in triple loop learning? How do we ‘read between the lines’?[1] This involves looking for the gaps between how a client situation is ‘read’ and the situation itself.[2]

Each project or organisation makes assumptions about what effects it creates or intends to created on its target customers or clients, and how. But in doing so, it also takes up a particular way of ignoring or leaving out aspects of the situation itself. This process takes about 60 minutes. It involves four roles: a speaker, a listener, and a plus-one. The exercise is in three rounds. The roles cycle in each round. The aim of the process is to become mindful of the gaps that emerge, i.e. of what is being left out, by the way the original situation is understood. This original situation is the situation presented by the first speaker.

  • Meeting in threes, one person takes the role of the speaker, one of the listener, and one of the ‘plus-one’. The person in the ‘plus-one’ position should manage the time boundaries, ideally using a timer on someone’s smartphone.
  • For 5 minutes, the speaker (2 in the diagram below) gives an account of a challenging situation faced by them. This first situation is the original situation. Note that the speaker is speaking about what is going on (wigo – 1 in the diagram below), which is the larger context in which the originating situation is situated.
  • The listener (3) listens to this account in silence, and then for a further 5 minutes asks for elaboration and clarification, concluding with his or her summary understanding of the nature of the challenge being presented.  This understanding constitutes a ‘reading’ of the situation presented by the speaker.
  • The person in the ‘plus-one’ position (4) has been listening to the way this speaking-and-listening process has made sense of the situation.  In the next 5 minutes, s/he selects a single metaphor that best evokes the overall sense of the challenge that has emerged. The plus-one then elaborates on the metaphor as if it were a dream, filling out its detail but making no attempt to relate its content to the situation. [3]
  • The positions are then rotated two more times for two more 15 minute cycles, so that the plus-one becomes the speaker, the speaker becomes the listener, and the listener becomes the plus-one.  In these second and third cycles, the speaker selects a situation from their own personal experience that speaks to the metaphor that they came up with in their plus-one role.[4]
  • In the last 15 minutes, the trio discusses what questions the metaphors raise about originating situation in terms of ‘gaps’ and the risks they imply are present.[5]

The narrative of the originating situation is set up within this circuit of relationships between speaking (2), listening (3) and the framing mental model (4).  The relationship of this framing model to wigo (1) is implicit in the way speaking (2) gives an account of wigo (1) subject to the model (4). What is being ignored or left out by this model (4) is the particular ‘beyond’ or ‘lack’ of wigo, i.e. wiRgo, represented by what lies beyond the bottom thick line. The other thick line between the reading (3) and the (1)(2)(4) circuit is to indicate that this reading (3) only has access to the circuit via speaking (2) under the influence of the model (4).[6]

  • The process of active listening (3) allows the particular account of wigo (1) by speaking (2) to be known in such a way that a sense of its relationship to the framing model (4) can emerge, knowledge of (1) being mediated by the way (2) speaks subject to its influence.
  • The other dotted-line axis is an impossible axis, in the sense that it cannot be held directly in the way that the speaking-listening axis can be held. It must therefore be approached through what the ‘plus-one’ person can imply about it from what passes between (3) and (2).

[1] The ‘plus-one’ exercise provides a way of understanding what it means to ‘read between the lines’. The split-screen journal is then a way of continuing to work with what-is-going-on based on this way of understanding.
[2] Looking for the gaps is thus not only about working with the difference between espoused theory and theory-in-use, but beyond that at the difference between ‘wigo’ and ‘wiRgo’ – not only what is symptomatic of the interests of the organisation itself in wigo, but also what is symptomatic about what is being discluded of wiRgo. In this sense, the plus-one process aims to go further than the Balint method, which aims to establish an ‘observing ego’ aka listener through which the clinician is able to look at himself or herself and assume the participant-observer position in relation to himself or herself – a position that some psychoanalysts refer to as the internal supervisor, creating an internal space of thinking for the clinician. See Theory? Who needs theory? by the Balint Society.
[3] This can be thought of as (what the ‘plus-one’ perceives to be) the shape of the ‘governing metaphor’ of the speaking-and-listening process, i.e. the ideal or organising frame within which the speaking-and-listening is given meaning, but devoid of any content relating directly to the explicit content of the speaking-and-listening.
[4] The experience chosen may be thought of as a ‘gift’ given to the process that speaks to their counter-transferential response as plus-one. All three metaphors are thus related to the challenge underlying the originating situation.
[5] The best way of working with these insights is to put them into the form of a dilemma. See using dilemmas as drivers of change. For more on the thinking about the above diagram and its relation to the impossibilities, see formulating network interventions. The stratifications needed to sustain network interventions are discussed in on stratification.
[6] The dotted blue line arrow from wigo (1) to the reading (3) indicates the absence of a direct relation to wigo and the unconscious primary process underlying wigo (1), with which the reading (3) is implicitly aligned. In these terms, the relation to wigo (1) of reading (3) and speaking (2) subject to the model (4) is that of secondary process.

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