What really piques Martin de los Rios’ interests is social planning, especially governance and conflict resolution. In 2009, he met Myrna Lewis and was introduced to the three levels of Lewis Deep Democracy. This led him to spend the next 18 months training to be a Deep Democracy instructor. The training culminated with him flying to Johannesburg in 2010, to attend a “Train the Trainer” summit that involved breaking though trainer/participant/process issues and delivering Deep Democracy training amongst other Deep Democracy experts, he was awarded the title of Deep Democracy Instructor.
Nowadays, Martin has integrated Lewis Deep Democracy practise into his daily life and with the other tools that he uses in his consulting business. He used to work at the City of Melbourne when he was becoming an instructor. He used deep democracy for community engagement processes and internally through organizational development programmes. One such example of the latter was facilitating better team dynamics through Deep Democracy as a coach. At the time, there was an important Technology Innovation Initiative put forth by his organization, however, team dynamics were getting in the way: the team was struggling with the manager, conversations were unproductive, expectations and goals were not being met, and a general sense of annoyance was festering amongst team members. Given a looming organizational mandated deadline and a short amount of time to remedy the situation, Martin used a variety of Deep Democracy tools such as the Soft Shoe Shuffle and Amplification to help the team have the conversation that they had been avoiding. The team was polarised, the manager on one side and her team on the other. He introduced The Argument process to create clarity and help people say what they need to say. The end result was transformative for everyone.
“It was a break-through, they moved beyond the excuses they were giving each other, there was growth through the team’s awareness of the situation, there was better interaction, and in the end they were able to hold the event they were tasked with doing on schedule. ” Martin refers to these outcomes: “as the ones that create a real group hug.”
He chose Deep Democracy over the other engagement methods because he believes the majority of other methods pursue and focus only the outcomes. This artificial outcome may result in quicker buy-ins from participants but these successes Martin says, “are often times short-lived, artificial, and ultimately: the issue(s) still remain(s), shoved under the carpet, growing.” Martin believes Deep Democracy is better in this regard;
“Deep Democracy enables participants to not only explore their own positions but to explore the positions of others, which results in an unexpected learning and realization. Built into this process is a promise of growth at the personal and group level that results in long-term agreement and more profound outcomes: group transformation.”
Martin believes there are two steps for preparing himself to facilitate a difficult session. Firstly, he clears his head to be in a good space: he does not want to be hooked into a story when initially speaking with clients before a session; this is his attempt to being neutral and “parking his own views” as he calls it. Secondly, he does work on himself: he reflects on his triggers, confidence and fears, and recognizes where he’s at. He practises meditation for this second step, to be aware of his own place and to listen to the voices within himself. Martin poignantly describes the process as “Neutrality is my aspiration, not my state of being; I park my own views and baggage.”
Whether a session goes singingly or badly, Martin believes in the importance of reflection. Finding the time to reflect on his practise, he works with what happened in the facilitation session and believes in the support of colleagues to unpack what happened during the session to learn from it. However, when determining if his facilitation has made a difference for his clients, he points to the uninvited feedback, both positive and negative. For the uninvited positive feedback: “It’s usually they want more of it and they want to introduce it to other people,” but for the negative feedback: “You’ve missed something there, it’s frustration amongst the group, the feeling of going nowhere fast, you need to pay more attention, and I use it as a tool to improve my practise.” Edge behaviour is a big thing for a group or yourself; it usually manifests itself in tension or the making of jokes or delaying deeper conversation. He tells me: “I help them go over the edge, I get them to feel safe and ready, I hold that space to have the safe conversation.”
His Pro Tip for aspiring Deep Democracy practitioners: “Go for it and think about it later!” From his own professional experience, Martin developed his confidence and skills by pairing up with friends and partners and practising until he felt it was “Second Nature”. He is a strong believer of conversations over Post Its, and believes:
“The most important tool in your toolkit is you, your self-awareness, your feelings, and your being present in the group.”
Martin ends the interview by telling me: he sees his future deep democracy practise working with communities that are facing difficulties or complexities. He wants to help them explore the long-term view of inter-community relations, resource development, or past history facilitation. He is also passionate about teaching the next generation of Lewis Deep Democracy Practitioners, he describes coaching as “helping a person work with his community of personas,” which he explains to me means "helping a person unpack her experiences by herself, grow and achieve her goals”.
His email signature reads:
Conflict resolution training and facilitation, decision making processes, group facilitation, Lewis Deep Democracy, coaching, community engagement, social planning