Thursday, June 26, 2008

Talking Shop

Travel Plans

Yikes, two people more sensible than I am just realized that if I was telling people I was leaving town July 11, and arriving at my destination July 16, something was probably wrong. That complicated in-country itinerary my friends in SE Asia have been composing does not include a place to stay, etc. for the first three days I'll be there. Back to the drawing board!

Glad we (OK, they!) caught that now and not any later. It's funny, the guys in Asia have commented several times on how glad they are that I'm coming, that I'm so "on top of things," that I'm so organized. Organized? I laughed, and figured they would learn their mistake soon enough - so, my pride is not hurt by this strange mistake. But I do hope it doesn't make trouble for those who will be trying to figure out what to do with me between the 13th and the 17th, when my "assignment" really begins.

Gifts, Skills, Preferences?

This really is a treat for me, to do the coaching and debriefing and even get in on the writing and last bit of field work, without having to go through all the hard stuff that gets a team to that point. I'm so grateful, so glad that I'm most helpful doing the things I really like to do!

During ethnography training we usually go through a "skills spectrum" I invented to help individuals and teams see what their relative strengths and weaknesses might be, related to this particular task. Curious? Here’s my list. (It's not exhaustive, but detailed enough to be helpful.)

1. ADVENTUROUS: You love to explore, tend to be outgoing and social. You don’t mind talking to strangers and are willing to “get out there” and meet people.
2. FRIENDLY: You easily build trust in a friendship. People are comfortable with you and tend to open up to you in conversation.
3. FAITHFUL: You are solid and trustworthy, keeping your friends’ interests at heart, and persist in working through misunderstandings that may arise.
4. PERSISTENT: You are a determined person and will be faithful in keeping at your assigned task, even when success does not come easily.
5. QUESTION-ASKER: You are good at expressing your curiosity, even when this means asking questions that poke and pry a bit; you want to learn more.
6. ANALYTICAL: You can look at information that has been gathered and see patterns from the information; you are good at evaluating and analyzing these patterns.
7. INTUITIVE: You are a creative thinker who has a sense for how others are feeling and what they might really mean; you read between the lines. You form theories and look at the big picture.
8. WRITER/EDITOR: You are skilled and comfortable with words, enjoying documenting your experiences or helping others put theirs into words that communicate well.

I have whomever I'm teaching identify which of these skills they expect to enjoy or be most comfortable with, and which ones they expect to struggle or feel insecure about. I also tell them they are going to have to attempt all eight of these things, which are not just gifts or immutable personality traits; they are also skills a person can acquire, and they will grow in all of them. It helps though to know when a teammate might be scared or reluctant, versus excited and confident, so we can work better together and encourage one another.

Once you have a bit of experience under your belt, even in your weaker areas you may be stronger than someone else in their strengths. So, since I've been involved in projects like this for a good many years, I often end up having to teach and model and manage things I'm still relatively uncomfortable with - simply because under the circumstances, I can do those things as well as or better than anybody else who happens to be around. It's a drag. Often, I'm blessed by the chance to see my "students" quickly surpass me.

So... I wouldn't want to just do the stuff at the bottom of that spectrum and never have adventures, but I'm glad when I can stay out of the way and let other people do the groundbreaking, then show up once it's time to build.

I love to analyze and speculate about things, too - so joining in on strategy once the data is starting to really stack up is a lot of fun.

Interesting Meeting

On that note, here's something interesting that happened this week. Some of my old CP cronies sent one of their new recruits over to talk to me. He's going to be joining one of their agency's regional offices and hopes to do research projects from there. He's studied quite a bit of sociology and has been exploring missiometrics (missions statistics and measurements; although that's not his cup of tea - nor mine).

When I explained how and why we do ethnography the way we do he was totally tracking with me. I said, "What we're doing is exploring sociological questions, for missiological purposes, using anthropological methods." I can't believe I actually used that kind of language, can you? But he GOT it. He knew exactly what I meant. And he loved it, he thought it was great. How fun is that?

Christianity and social science have always gone hand-in-hand for me. It isn't always that way; this guy, for example, had professors who thought it was impossible to be a religious person and a sociologist. You have to keep the two really separate, they think. I can understand why social scientists might oppose missions and missionaries - though you'd hope they would ask a few questions instead of assuming we're all working at cross-purposes (no pun intended). It's also too bad when Christians and missionaries throw out social science without seeing how valuable and helpful it can be. It was great to spend an hour or two with someone who appreciates the connection.

The only part of the conversation that kind of shook me was when he was asking questions about CP, JP, OMF, PI - yeah, how are these names and entities related or not? It's awfully confusing, and I don't really like to talk about it. The website we have up now doesn't help much. Once again, I'm probably the best equipped to fix it. But it's hard to speak clearly when the reality is so far from clear. I thought our self-definition, 'teamiosity,' and sense of direction would have made some progress in the last year, but I don't think they have. Dang. (Again, LOVE my work, not so keen on the work environment.)

When I mentioned that CP was founded in 1980 my new friend smiled and said, "That's the year I was born!"

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