To change anything you need self-compassion (what we learned at #dareconf)

Jonathan Kahn Opening the Dare Conference

It’s a month since I organised the first Dare Conference about people skills for digital workers (videos, photos, write-ups). As I tweeted at the time, I’ve never made anything I’m as proud of. Although I lost a large amount of money on the event (backstory), most of our choices paid off:

  • People were moved by the talks, saying they’d never seen this level of honesty on stage.
  • People said they’d never felt this comfortable at a conference nor met so many people they want to stay in touch with.
  • Online we had several thousand livestream views and 75k photo views.
  • Some people said #dareconf changed their lives.

Thanks to Dave Gray’s suggestion, at the start of the first day we asked people to write down why they came, and at the end of the second day we asked what action they’d take when they get back to work. From the answers we collected (combined with traditional feedback) we learned that although people came to #dareconf with a range of challenges, the range of actions they chose at the end was narrower, focused on self-compassion.

What’s difficult in your work?

People talk about their challenges in different ways. I’ve split them into three categories: challenges with groups (eg organisations, society), challenges with other people (eg teams), and challenges with ourselves. These are real quotes from attendees:

Diagram of quotes from attendees (see table below for text version)

Groups Other people Myself
Participants said “I want to create an environment that enables my team to do great work” “I want to gain skills, tools, perspectives to turn conflict between people into an opportunity to learn and grow together” “I want to be more courageous when talking to people at work”
“I want to be better at listening to myself and my beliefs, and let go of external validation”
Tools and practices culture change, digital transformation, governance communication skills, listening, collaboration, leadership self-compassion (self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness), courage, vulnerability

What will you change on Monday?

Here are some representative responses to that question:

  • “It’s easy to think that people we disagree with, who are ‘difficult’, are somehow ‘less human’ than we are. An event like this connects us to everyone’s humanity and makes it easier to find common ground.”
  • “I’ll have compassion for people fearing digital change and for myself as I guide them through the transition.”
  • “I want to be my whole self with clients. Highlights, failings and all the bits in between. I accept now that not having answers is OK; it’s a starting point to discovery, and it beats the hell out of wasting my energy pretending I know what I’m doing all the time.”
  • “I saw a safe space emerge, and because of that people were more honest, more raw, than I expected. I will seek to make my client relationships a safer space as well.”

DareConf in the Purcell Room

Change starts with ourselves

Although we might characterize our challenges as being about culture, organisations, or teams, to actually change any of these things we need to start with ourselves. And that’s where #dareconf took people—from their need for a safe space, or for a sense of purpose in their work, or for real collaboration—to their need for self-compassion. To be kind to yourself, to be aware of our common humanity (ie imperfection and failure), and to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. Once you have compassion for yourself, it’s easier to pick up the skills you need to work with others, because you’re more able to have compassion for them. And once your “other people” skills get going, it’s easier to imagine creating safe spaces for collaboration, whether that’s within a single team or across a big organisation.

What’s next? #dareconf mini

One thing #dareconf participants were adamant about: this must happen again. Which might be the most meaningful thing you can say to an organiser.

Here’s what’s next. We’ve just announced dareconf mini, 20 Jan 2014 in London:

We’ve distilled what we learned at #dareconf 2013 into a low cost day of presentations about people skills. Join us in the intimate Lilian Baylis Studio to learn skills, meet people, and share ideas.

  • Each presentation combines a personal story with a practical “how-to” you’ll apply to your work
  • Take home a personalised workbook with next steps from each presentation
  • £165 + VAT (if you book before 18 Nov) including a delicious lunch
  • Optional workshop day: manage your team, your time, and your relationships at work

I hope you’ll join us! And even if you can’t make it, you can help us spread the word.