Enhancing Intervision with Empathic Practices

Enhancing Intervision with Empathic Practices

In our previous article we introduced you to Empathic Intervision as a new peer-to-peer structured method of interaction for groups working together to identify opportunities and co-create solutions. We described how it supplements intervision with the advantages of layered empathic capacities to aid deeper hearing and consideration of each other’s perspectives. We also discussed the general process of Intervision meetings and described its contributions to well-being, personal growth, innovation and learning for individuals, organisations and groups.Today we continue by describing some of the challenges people experience with Intervision. We then continue, showing how Empathic Intervision is designed to address these challenges and enhance Intervision benefits. Additional layers of empathic skills will be introduced and Empathic Intervision is explained.

Challenges with existing Intervision Methods

Intervision methods are generally successful in improving professional expertise and quality of work. They do, however, come with specific challenges.

Conflicting intentions and expectations

Peers joining an intervision may come to the group with different expectations of- and intentions for a meeting. Some people are inclined to grab a cup of coffee and throw up their legs, while others feel there are pressing issues and no time to waste. These differences can create tensions which go unnoticed unless explicitly voiced.

Lack of trust

The nature of the intervision process relies upon mutual trust. Confidentiality is essential. What is discussed during intervision stays there. Participants are not allowed to take any of the information discussed into other conversations, unless with specific consent. But establishing trust is frequently taken for granted. Having no formal way to contract ethical responsibilities with one another, leads to -often unintended- mistakes. Once trust is breached, interpersonal problems inevitably arise.

Groupthink

People interacting together regularly start to take each other’s way of working and thinking for granted. In these situations diverse views can disappear and creativity can wither. It becomes more and more difficult to come up with creative alternatives to current problems his may lead to demotivation to hold more intervision meetings as well as a lack of finding ways to solve issues at work.

How Empathic Intervision enhances Intervision

Empathic Intervision addresses the complexity of interpersonal dynamics in diverse groups. It applies layered empathic capabilities to the intervision method to facilitate interpersonal processes. If left unacknowledged and unharnessed, group dynamics may undermine the intervision process. Empathic capabilities are engaged in Empathic Intervision to ensure that unique skills and perspectives associated with diversity are embraced to facilitate creativity and innovation rather than causing aggravations between people.

Intention setting

The outcome of the intervision meeting is better served if it is guided by a skilfully articulated intention. Empathic Intervision is useful to you and your colleagues when it is applied as a means to an end. Intentions act as a road-map guiding the individual and collective will and actions with a particular focus.

Each Empathic Intervision meeting begins with setting a collective and a personal intention. The collective intention is named as such since it is agreed upon with the whole group. Taking time to discern a collective intention alleviates the problem of people coming to the meeting with different expectations of, and intentions for, the meeting. The personal intention represents each individual’s intention towards the collective intention. It shows all participants the depth and breadth of perspectives and establishes both, focus and commitment.

Ethical responsibility

Working effectively and efficiently with others in an Empathic Intervision meeting requires mutual trust. This in turn requires creating a conducive environment for each person to be courageous to offer their best. It requires sharing experiences, thoughts and feelings. The most innovative solutions emerge when people are able to share their most deeply held insights and creativity. These aspects are often accompanied by feelings of vulnerability. It is therefore essential that all participants in the meetings carry a shared ethical responsibility to uphold an environment that embraces confidentiality and the suspension of judgment. Empathic Intervision emphasises the practice of ethical responsibility with a step in the structured process dedicated to contracting the required environment by the members of the group.

Arriving with self-empathy and personal intention setting

Practising helps you to develop agency, the awareness of yourself as being the initiator of actions, desires, thoughts and feelings. With self-empathy you become aware of your own experiential state in each moment. This enables you to differentiate your own emotional experience from the experiences of others. In the group it helps to become aware of your intentions, how you relate to others and how you avoid slipping into groupthink.

Coordinating interaction and synchronization with kinesthetic empathy

Interpersonal dynamics in a group can be complex. Often the complexities are provoked through intentions and states of being expressed and responded to through bodily gestures. Kinesthetic empathy is applied to intervision practice as a way to bring awareness to these unconscious expressions and to help you and the group to synchronize and coordinate with each other. You become more aware of the influence you have on each other and on your and their physical space. When self-empathy and kinesthetic empathy are practised together, the best of individual and group thinking is brought into being.

Mutual understanding through reflective conversation

Once intentions are set and ethical responsibility is contracted, a space is created to address the issue at hand. In conventional intervision methods, a speaker speaks and peers listen. Empathic Intervision has a different approach to gathering information. It asks peers to reflect back what they hear the speaker say. The advantage of this type of conversation is threefold:

  1. It slows down the process, giving everyone time to reflect and not jump to conclusions.
  2. It makes sure peers hear and understand what is being said and gives the speaker the possibility to correct if what is being said gets interpreted in a way which does not correspond with the experience of the speaker.
  3. It holds up a mirror for the speaker to reflect on what is experienced, which gives opportunity to develop and deepen the issue at hand.

Identifying and considering perspectives through imaginative empathy

While the to and fro of empathic conversation gives an opportunity to clarify the experience of the speaker, it does not offer alternative perspectives. Chances are that the search for common understanding actually has an adverse effect: it narrows the way group members look at the topic. Imaginative empathy uses imagination and acting to enable you to renew your outlook on the issue at hand, understand the perspectives of others in your group and to experience the effects of having a problem explored from multiple perspectives. It is used as a means to explore complicated, complex or stressful situations through ‘as-if’ acting.

Empathic Intervision makes work engaging and challenging

The peer-to-peer nature of intervision makes this organizational approach relevant to current organizational development. We are observing the emergence of practices such as human-centric design, agile self-organizing teams and co-creation, where the aim is to bridge silos, cross barriers and engage a broader range of knowledge. Hierarchical systems, in which experts are able to define a path and influence follow-through, are losing traction. Methodologies are emerging that rotate power dynamics from hierarchical to horizontal. The aim is to enable people to engage their authentic, motivated selves at work.

Intervision is an approach to action learning and experiential learning. The process of Empathic Intervision provides a method of organized dialogue that responds to the needs, in organizations, for a human-centred approach. As a peer-to-peer process it aims to transform traditional hierarchical power dynamics. It also combines work with learning. Colleagues are able to tap into their combined knowledge, experience and skill repertoire to explore complex work issues in real-time.

We hope to have given you a taste of what Empathic Intervision is and how it can be of benefit to a diverse range of organisational processes. If this has sparked your interest, why not have a look at our website, where you will find more information about the different programs we offer, the science informing this method as well as ways to contact us.


Empathic Intervision: Process and Benefits

The Intervision Process and its Benefits

In our previous article we introduced you to Empathic Intervision as a new peer-to-peer structured method of interaction for groups working together to identify opportunities and co-create solutions. We described how it supplements intervision with the advantages of layered empathic capacities to aid deeper hearing of each other and consideration of each other’s perspectives.Today we continue by describing how intervision differs from supervision, how the intervision process itself works and how it contributes to well-being, personal growth, innovation and learning for individuals, organisations and groups.

How does intervision differ from supervision?

Both intervision and supervision are about vision, in that they address situations, challenges and problems to envision a preferred situation or outcome. However, with the prefix of inter- in place of super-, emphasis in intervision is on a multilateral exchange between peers or colleagues. There is a transverse, horizontal integration rather than vertical alignment of knowledge transfer. In intervision, suspicions around the influence of challenges discussed on job performance evaluations are no issue. Intervision is aimed at personal and team growth with the help of peers.

Supervision, on the other hand, is a hierarchical process that involves a supervisor meeting and interacting with a worker to review their work. It typically involves a manager offering developmental activities to employees. It also includes a monitoring and support component whereby a manager supports the worker to deal with complex situations and dilemmas. Supervision is commonly used in medical, psychological and social practice where it is considered essential for effective practice (Munson, 1981).

Typical components of Intervision Methods

Although many different methods exist to help structure intervision meetings, most of them go through similar phases. First, an incident, question, success story or problem is chosen as the focus of that specific meeting. The person introducing the issue explains, often with as much detail as possible, what is going on. Peers listen, and possibly take notes.

Then a round of clarification takes place. Peers try to clarify as much as possible all potential angles on the issue. A common way of doing this is to question the provider of the topic or to discuss amongst peers what they see as the issue at hand. Advice is never given. This round is meant solely for clarification and, if applicable, problem definition. Sometimes, this process needs to be repeated because aspects can still seem unclear.

The third phase entails a round of experience sharing. Peers share their own experiences and insights as well as possible behavioural alternatives. In this divergent phase, as many solutions, answers or suggestions as possible are gathered and centrally noted down.

The fourth phase returns the issue at hand to its introducer. This is a phase of reflection, possible clarification of suggestions, and the forming of a ‘plan of action’: a way for the person introducing the issue to reflect on all the suggestions provided and determine a way to move forward. Often, all people taking part in the intervision reflect back on the session and share what they themselves have learned from it. This can also include an evaluation of how people have worked together and one’s own contribution to the shared working.

Although the above-mentioned process might seem individualistic in nature, it does not have to be. Different methods highlight different aspects and ways of working. Important is that the topic discussed lies within the field of influence of the participants. I.e., not everyone within an organisation has the capacity to change the existing organisational culture. A more adapted question in that type of situation is how one can successfully work with or within it.

The benefits of Intervision

Intervision, and indeed Empathic Intervision, enjoys many characteristics and benefits:

Well-being

The intervision methods in general and the Empathic Intervision in particular create a feeling of connection amongst participants working together. The nature of the process strengthens their sense of belonging to the organization and group. It also facilitates a shared purpose, a common understanding and a common perception of value.

Personal growth

The structure of Empathic Intervision provides for reflection on self through self-empathy practice. Participants in the group are encouraged to learn to reflect on their own actions, become more aware of motives and take responsibility for the effects of their actions on others and on the work as a whole.

Innovation

The emphasis on shared expertise and experience and the promotion and engagement of diversity of roles, perspectives, expertise and experience provides a fertile ground for innovation. Empathic intervision encourages people to challenge their perspective, thus avoiding entrenching single realities. It provides the people in the group with a sounding board for their ideas. This diminishes groupthink while building cohesion and leads to a collaborative culture and collective responsibility.

Learning

Intervision enables a learning culture in your organization. The combined focus on work and learning practice ensures that what is learnt during training is implemented at work. Technical training is applied to complex situations and the supportive role of peers with diverse knowledge and experience means that someone else in the group is likely to have the practical experience to move things forward.

The process provides a platform to learn from, and with, colleagues. By giving and receiving feedback, you contribute to each other’s development and help each other to perform better at work. It leads to experiential learning as it gives you and the group access to alternative ideas, consequently helping to shift directions and test new approaches.

In the third article in this series, we will show how the benefits of intervision as discussed here, and the shortfalls of intervision as discussed next time, are respectively enhanced and addressed by using an Empathic Intervision practice. We will also position Empathic Intervision in modern organisational climates.


The Peer-to-Peer Practice of Empathic Intervision

The Peer-to-Peer Practice of Empathic Intervision

Empathy has gained a lot of traction over recent years in many professional sectors. The Businessolver State of Workplace Empathy Study (2019) demonstrates that leaders are in greater agreement than ever with their employees on the need for empathy in the workplace, yet crucial gaps remain between intentions and implementation. In order to bridge this gap, empathy practice needs to be understood, implemented, and studied. Walking the talk requires hands-on empathic skills.

This series of articles will introduce you to Empathic Intervision, a structured method of interaction for people working together, to identify opportunities and co-create solutions to challenges. We start off with a description of what is commonly known as intervision and we place the specific practice of empathic intervision within this organizational approach.

In the English language, intervision is not a term commonly used. As you get to know more about intervision, particularly in an organizational climate opening to co-creation, bridging of silos, human-centric practices, servant leadership and other strivings to dismantle traditional hierarchical power structures, you may wonder why not. The current series of articles will answer the questions: What is Intervision? How does it differ from supervision? Where and how is it applied? What are some of its characteristics? And why is it so relevant to our time? We will also address the issue of why empathy is particularly relevant as a capacity in intervision.

What Intervision is

Intervision is an organised conversation between people combining work with learning. It is a structured method according to which colleagues come together to handle situations, questions and problems with an intent to learn from each other, improve expertise and co-evolve new insights and outcomes, with regard to the issue at hand.

It is structured in that it provides a process within which colleagues are organized to address a predefined issue. It is not a free for all. A well-designed routine, managed according to time and content, offers valuable support for peers to address issues.

Another defining characteristic of intervision is that it is peer-to-peer. A group of colleagues embrace a combined diversity of knowledge, experience and skill. It serves to facilitate a range of colleagues to work and learn together. Intervision is frequently applied in a setting where a group of professionals, such as doctors, with either an individual, or a common professional challenge, come together to analyse work related issues. In business a group of managers or a team may establish a routine to analyse work related issues and to look for possible technical or interpersonal solutions or alternatives to behaviour.

Intervision has a dual purpose: improving work situations through common understanding and professional development, as well as learning through work related issues. Colleagues meet to explore and handle situations, questions or problems in a work context. Through a methodical exploration, colleagues learn from each other and rely upon their combined experience and knowledge to understand a situation from multiple perspectives.

While intervision is little known in English-speaking institutions, it is extensively applied in professional, business and learning institutions in the Netherlands and to a lesser degree in Belgium and France.

Empathic Intervision

Empathic Intervision supplements the advantages of intervision with layered empathic capacities that serve to strengthen engagement and encourage diversity amongst members of a group. This is always an advantage, and particularly useful where there are cultural differences or differences of opinion. Empathic capacities enable members to listen and hear each other’s deeper experiences, thoughts and feelings about a topic and to identify and consider the perspectives of the others in the group.

Empathic Intervision is guided by and aligned with the setting of collective intentions. An environment conducive to innovation and learning is cultivated to embrace confidentiality and the suspension of judgment by considering and contracting ethical responsibility. Participants useself-empathy to bring awareness to their own conscious, and hidden agendas, helping them to identify how they show up to meetings. A moment is taken to allow everyone to set a consciously chosenpersonal intentionthat aligns to the previously set collective intention. Reflective conversation ensures that the issues raised are fully heard and understood by each member of the group. Clarifying the experience of the speaker for both speaker and listeners. Imaginative empathyapplies imagination and acting to gain perspective on the multiple and diverse views in the meeting, to enable participants to renew their outlook on the issue at hand with a composite understanding of the multiple perspectives represented by the group.

In the following articles in this series we will look at the process of intervision itself. We will discuss how intervision differs from supervision and what the typical components of intervision are. We will discuss the benefits and shortfalls of the general intervision process and we will show how the benefits are enhanced and the shortfalls addressed with Empathic Intervision.