On performing shared work

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As longtime collaborators and co-presenters, Tim and I are pretty finely-tuned to each other’s rhythms, patterns, and quirks. We have to be—in front of audiences and in sessions, we’re in a state of constant and mutual listening. We play off one another. We demonstrate our dynamic as two people in a shared venture: as a unit, we are lively and enthusiastic, but also substantial and serious.

Sometimes, we forget—especially when we’re new to our audience—that we’re not just talking about equity and systems change. We are demonstrating it, whether we intend to or not. In the following conversation, Tim and I examine how we come across as representatives of what could be—should be—a better way of working towards a better world. —Tuesday


TIM: So let’s set this up. You and I did a joint talk on shared work at the Dalhousie College of Sustainability recently. It was great, but what was fascinating for both of us was the feedback we got.

TUESDAY: We should say we always love feedback. We get so accustomed to the way we interplay during presentations—it’s always valuable to hear from folks in the audience, both from those who know us well and those who don’t.

TIM: Right. So after the keynote, a few people mentioned that I have a habit of interrupting you. They noticed a pattern and found it distracting, especially given that our work is all about shifting power structures and bringing in marginalized voices from ‘the outside’. We had lots of great feedback too, but of course, that perspective made both of us take notice.

We operate at many distinct levels—there’s our friendship as mates, our partnership as collaborators in client work, and our performance when we present our thinking to the world. The feedback brought to us by this particular audience member helped both of us to understand that those three levels might require different types of attention.

TUESDAY: Yes, that was a big light bulb for both of us. We’ve got a long-term friendship and working relationship, but what people see has different connotations depending on how people encounter us and when.

Some people watch us and may immediately notice you talking over me, but if they spend more time with us, they’d see that you interjecting—either with a stream of thought, or repeating something I’ve said, or just saying “Yeah!”—is what you do when you’re really engaged. It’s how you integrate something meaningful. I know that, and I’m okay with it. But a new audience may not know that. And when it’s layered against what we’re saying about equity, good listening, and correcting power imbalances, I can see how it would come across as jarring.

TIM: We don’t want that.

TUESDAY: Right. But on the flip side, some of our natural way with each other lands on the right side. People like it when I tell you what to do. It makes them laugh. It upends an intrinsic dynamic—I don’t think of it consciously, but when it happens, we both realize people are hungry for this. They like wondering if what we’re saying is just talk, or if I really have equal power. You go off, and I reel you back in. It’s genuinely who we are.

TIM: Yeah. We’ve also had feedback from people who say they notice that I defer to you more than you defer to me. And they like that.

TUESDAY: Yes! But you’re not conscious of that, are you? I mean, you’re not ‘trying’ to do that.

TIM: Not at all. It’s just another pattern of you and me—but this one happens to match with what we’re saying the world needs more of. The white guy deferring to the woman of colour. People like seeing that. But then again, if the first thing they notice is me interjecting, they don’t like what that implies. And fair enough.

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TUES: Some of what people may see of us is reflective of our state of mind in the moment, or how much sleep one of us got the night before—when I’m exhausted, I get a little more quiet, just absorbing. You know that about me. I’m slower to work my energy up. Whereas when you’re tired, you crank it up. You rally to compensate. I know that about you. But during a keynote, let’s say, I see now there’s a danger of our natures coming across as you being overly bullish, or as me being silenced. Kelly McGowan, another systems change facilitator we work with sometimes, saw this really early on. She said, “Hey, why not just be explicit about who the two of you are as a unit on any given day?”

TIM: Right! Sometimes that might mean entering a room and just saying, “We’re really excited today, but a little drained—so I might be rattling on a bit, and Tues has to warm up... bear with us!”

TUESDAY: Totally. Diffusing right off the top, or acknowledging our states as human beings. There are so many factors that influence how we show up—there’s our friendship, our enthusiasm for real change, our different personalities. It’s all that stuff you and I take for granted, because we can read each other. If we feel like any of that is going to affect how we present, it makes sense to just name it up-front.

TIM: I think the more shallow the exposure, the more attentive we have to be. A one-off speaking event is a snap exposure, as opposed to a more intimate space like a masters’ course. The less of our friendship people get to see, the more quickly they might determine our dynamic feels off-balance somehow.

TUESDAY: That we have to perform the equalness of our relationship feels like a pressure sometimes. But if we aren’t conscious of these things, any perceived imbalances can be an obstacle to people hearing what we’re saying.

TIM: Do you remember the really beautiful, thoughtful feedback one of the professors at Dalhousie's College of Sustainability gave us? It launched us into this whole stream of thinking.

TUESDAY: Yes. She took the time to write to us about what she saw as the irony of you interrupting me, after talking about making space for the equitable exchange of ideas. We appreciated that. She wasn’t the first person to notice that pattern. But she also had a really great, practical idea. She said, “When you’re doing keynotes, Tuesday could give Tim a hand signal to pass off to Tim, when she’s done or otherwise ready for him to jump in.”

TIM: Right. It may feel less spontaneous, but in addition to practicing the theory of what we say, we have to practice how we say it. There has to be a fluidity and deliberateness in how we bring it to life.

TUESDAY: There’s a part of me that’s really resistant to being told how I need to show up. I worry that when you put too much energy into performance, you’re not concentrating on the deeper impact. You and I have worked so hard on how we show up with each other and for each other—on the underlying substance. You know that. I know that. And that part of me feels like that should be enough. But clearly, it’s not.

TIM: Anything that is an obstacle is something we need to work on. I read an interview with Chance the Rapper recently, and he said something that stuck with me. He said, “There are so many questions that I'm trying to ask, and I'm still so far from being done saying what I gotta say.” That feels like the energy of you and me. If we’re going to get better at prompting people to ask better questions—really turning the habitual rationales of the status quo upside-down—we have to practice, or else we’ll get in our own way.

TUESDAY: Yeah. If we’re not conscious of our ‘performance’, no matter how that word may grate, we might inadvertently block people from joining us in this work. If we distract people with perceived dynamics, we decrease access—even if you and I are cool with each other. Practice will help us make sure people know it, and see it. I’m keen on that. Are you?

TIM: Always.


Thanks to everyone who has given us their perspective in our work—audience members, partners and collaborators, and clients. We value all your input, either in-passing or in deeper work—and we love it when the things you share with us launch us into a closer examination of who we want to be as individuals and as a collective.

 
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