Definitions and Metaphors
We define systemic constellations as a social technology that gives access to parts of the implicit knowledge of a person or a group and makes this knowledge available for explicit communication and creative dialog.
We often use the term management constellations to identify the specific variation of the technology that we have developed for the use in management contexts. The main distinctive aspects are:
- Focus on management issues
- Integration in a consulting, coaching, or decision process and the combination with other methods
- The managers themselves act as representatives
- The collective sense-making process is an integral part of the systemic constellation.
Explicit and implicit knowledge
We distinguish between explicit knowledge that is available for verbal communication and can be expressed in words, figures, diagrams etc. from implicit knowledge that guides our actions and behaviors without being consciously reflected.
The two aspects of knowledge are peculiar to the two functions of our brain described (among others) by Daniel Kahneman as System 1 and System 2. Human behavior is determined by the interaction of the two systems.
Systemic Constellations as Dialog
Dialogue, in the Spirit of David Bohm, is a freely-flowing group conversation in which participants attempt to reach a common understanding, experiencing everyone's point of view fully, equally and nonjudgmentally. We can consider systemic constellations as a scenic dialog.
For our purpose we define systemic constellations (according to Matthias Varga v. Kibéd) as a language that combines the movement of the body (or objects) in the space with verbal communication, in order to process information and develop knowledge.
Systemic Constellations as a form of Theater
We approach constellations as a specific form of theater. The client is the author of the script, the consultant or coach is the director of the performance. The director’s role is to help the author to deploy his story on the stage.
The main difference between Systemic Constellations and other forms of theater (like role-play) is that the actors focus primarily on expressing their perceptions and impulses and not on actively performing the role.
We use the metaphor of mental maps to describe the way, knowledge is stored in our brain. This metaphor is consistent with the fact that our brain is structured as a network of connections between different neurons.
As in all maps, some aspects of the territory are shown and others neglected. A map “comes to life” when we read and interpret it, and make our moves accordingly. The same applies to the knowledge stored in our mental maps.
We affirm, that in a systemic constellation we represent the mental maps (referred to a specific phenomenon observed in a social system) and act according to this map.
We refer to “system” as a specific form of representation of complex entities that we observe in our world. A system is the result of a cognitive operation that consists in drawing a limit that encompasses a range of objects that we consider to be interrelated and that we want to observe as a whole. This limit distinguishes the system from other objects that we consider to be part of its environment.
Within the limits drawn we identify specific elements and investigate the sign and magnitude of the circular interaction between these elements.
In the environment, we distinguish other elements and we analyze the interaction between these elements and the system as a whole.
We emphasize the difference between the system as a representation of some specific aspects of an entity (organization, family or individual) and the entity itself. This difference is comparable to the difference between map and territory or menu and meal. In colloquial language, the two concepts are often mixed. We think that this creates confusion.
When we use the term “social system” we refer to a specific aspect of the communication patterns within a group of people and not to the group per se.
We use this term to identify the structural elements of a theory that we choose to represent in a constellation. The choice of the theory and related model is informed by the central question that guides the consulting process. We can consider the question as the pivot or base for the model.
We try to make sure that the elements of the model include all the relevant aspects that permit to find an answer to the question. The model includes explicitly or implicitly the hypothesis about the interaction between the elements.
We use the term meta-model to identify basic or archetypical structures that can be further differentiated to describe the actual situation we want to analyze.
Resonance is the concept we use to describe the way non-verbal information is exchanged between clients and consultant as well as between the representatives and eventual observers.
Resonance is a physiological process that is influenced by the way a person focuses his attention. It can be trained and to some extent we can deliberately control the resonance by focusing the attention and intention.
Co-creation is the process in which client, consultant and eventual representative or observers modify their mental maps and their explicit as well as the implicit perception of a situation.
The co-creation process affects all persons involved, although their respective contribution differs and so does the effect on their everyday behavior. Co-creation is experienced on a cognitive, emotional and physiological level.
We consider systemic constellations to be essentially a co-creative process.
We use the term as proposed by Gregory Bateson: “a difference that makes a difference”. This implies that information depends on the person to whom the difference makes a difference, in other words, it depends on the sense and meaning that the person attributes to the observed difference in a specific context.
Therefore sharing information requires that the partners focus on the same context.
We use the concept of truth very cautiously. We would not affirm that a constellation reveals absolute or objective truth.
However, we can say that information gained in a systemic constellation is true, if the meaning attributed by the client to a specific evolution of the constellation is sufficiently congruent with the dynamics he is experiencing in the real situation, represented in the constellation.
In order to make sure that our interventions are as closely in accordance with the reality of the clients, we try to be in resonance with the client in every phase of the co-creative process of the systemic constellation.
In our approach a solution is a plausible answer to the question that has been defined together with the client. Usually it is the next step that the client decides to make. The solution results from an integration of the implicit and explicit knowledge of the clients and consultants. It can be perceived as a mental, emotional and physiological shift and is often associated with a sensation of relief, clarity, certainty, even beauty.
Systemic principles of order
The so-called “systemic principles of order” are an important element of classic constellations practice. We do not believe, however, that the concept of universal principals of order is useful in an organizational and business context.
We assume that the orders that are relevant to make good management decisions (whether it is the matter to manage a business, an organization or one’s personal life) are depending on a specific culture i.e. on a set of values and rules shared in a specific community. Certainly some of these values and rules are of more archetypical nature. Order in organizations is mainly determined by the nature of the process that generates the products or services that are their raison d’être.
We use the so-called systemic principles (right of inclusion, precedence of the older member, balance of giving and taking) as criteria worth checking. They might or might not be relevant in a specific situation. Too much focus on these principles, especially in a normative spirit, might rather deviate from the dynamics that are relevant in a given moment.
Clockwise flow of power – the so-called grammar of constellation work
According to our experience, one of the most consistently encountered patterns in constellations is what we call the “clockwise flow of power”: It appears that the person standing on the right is perceived as more powerful in respect to the one standing on the left while the person to the left feels somehow like being in service to the one on the right.
We do not use this finding in a dogmatic way but rather as a guide for making our hypothesis and testing alternative moves.
We avoid using the concept of knowing field, that is quite frequently cited in the constellations community, because we believe that knowledge pertains to people, who are communicating and acting together and not to an external or yet superior entity. In this respect, the concept of knowing field can be misleading and we prefer to refer to a collective mind or better, collective body-mind to describe the phenomena of new information emerging from the group.
We see the person representing a specific element of a constellation the same way as an actor in a role-play. The difference between constellation-work and role-play lays mainly in the rules of the play and the instructions of the director.
It is a human ability to slip into different roles and feel and act from that role. We assume that the representatives gain their information from the communication between the various persons involved. This communication occurs on different levels (especially by assigning the representative a specific position within the constellation) and is processed according to the patterns or programs stored in their body-mind. Some of these patterns are common to humankind and others to a specific culture. For this reason the reactions of the representatives can bear valuable information for the represented situation.
Shift in Structural Levels (Strukturebenenwechsel)
Some people fear that personal or familial aspects can appear unintentionally in a systemic constellation. Sparrer and Varga von Kibéd refer to the phenomenon as a shift in structure levels. We are firmly convinced that this only occurs if the consultant implicitly or explicitly interprets the behaviour of the representatives on a personal or family level and acts accordingly. This means, the structure level shift takes place in the mind of the consultant and not in the constellation. If the consultant sticks consistently to the question of client and to the context of the issue, any unwanted emergence of personal or family issues is excluded.
Ritual phrases are an important component in family constellation-work and to some extent in organization constellations. We do not see them as a useful intervention in management constellations, because we have no therapeutic or ideological intention in our work.
However, we encourage sometimes a representative to address another actor and express his desires, suggestions or expectations, sometimes even feelings in order to test their effect and find an attitude that is more effective.