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=== Kinds of support that a talker might be looking for===
 
=== Kinds of support that a talker might be looking for===
 
*whatever is on their mind support  
 
*whatever is on their mind support  
 +
*feeling stuck support
 
*as if talking to an expert support (can help them prepare to talk to an actual expert)
 
*as if talking to an expert support (can help them prepare to talk to an actual expert)
 
*taking regular pitstops along the way with you support (for someone working on a long-term project, like a term paper, a book, or a thesis)  
 
*taking regular pitstops along the way with you support (for someone working on a long-term project, like a term paper, a book, or a thesis)  

Revision as of 11:20, 26 July 2020

Teddy Bear Tech Support is about support that requires a minimal amount of "doing" on the part of the people that are providing the support.

Here’s just how minimal it can be:

There’s a story about a computer technical support office that had a teddy bear on the front counter. The rule for people coming to the office was, before you could talk to an actual person, you had to first explain the problem you were having with your computer to the teddy bear. If talking to the teddy bear solved your problem, then you'd be on your way and you wouldn't have taken up any of the real people's time. Many problems fell in this category, and so the people who worked at this tech support office were able to save a lot of time this way.

Having another mind to think through things with is very valuable. There are plenty of cases where all that the other mind needs to provide is a forum for having you say things out loud to someone. You automatically bring yourself to the situation in a different way if there's someone else holding the space with you. As a result, the point of focus can change. You can hear yourself differently. What you have to say can unfold in a very different way.

Teddy Bear Tech Support was inspired by the story about the teddy bear at the tech support office, but note well that tech support is NOT what this is about!!!   Here are some examples of what someone might want to talk through with you when you're their teddy bear:  

  • Whatever thoughts come to mind as they try to wade in when they're not sure where to start
  • Prioritizing their day
  • Making their intentions clearer for an email they just finished drafting out
  • Fleshing out some different possibilities that could address an issue
  • Reflecting on a parenting decision or a conversation they need to have

Here are some minimal things you might be asked to do what you're their teddy bear?

  • serve as a silent witness
  • do some paraphrasing of parts of what you've said
  • offer some questions (and perhaps offer the questions in writing)
  • make guesses at the core of what's important

At the heart of what TBTS is about is giving talkers an environment

  • where the focus is on bringing their own resources to bear to the matters at hand
  • where the processing that the talkers are doing is to be supported with highest priority (so that the thoughts and impulses, e.g., to give advice, of the teddy bears don't threaten to encroach on the talker's processing)

So, with teddy bear setups, it’s about getting to interact with someone in a way that makes it so talkers are better able to help themselves. As a teddy bear, a key part of your job involves staying out of the talker's way, and that's why what you're "doing" is kept to a minimum.

You might not be "doing" much, but your presence and attention can make all the difference. With you there holding the space with the talker, what to say or do next can become clear. What becomes the point of focus changes. Some things can become immediately obvious. The talker can hear themselves differently. Someone is paying attention, and a lot can change because of that.

Why minimal? Why have constraints?

One reason to constrain what teddy bears do to be minimal is because it can give the power of listening more of a chance to work its magic. One way to do this is to have it so the teddy bear only mirrors back parts of what the talker said at times when the teddy bear thinks it’d be helpful, i.e., either repeats verbatim what the talker said or reflects back in the teddy bear’s own words what you’ve said.

Another way to make more room for the power of listening is a process called the Clearness Committee. It’s a process that involves multiple teddy bears supporting one focus person where the teddy bears can only respond to what the focus person is saying by asking questions.

The following excerpts from Parker Palmer’s description of the Clearness Committee give a sense for what this teddy bear setup is about:

Many of us face a dilemma when trying to deal with a personal problem, question, or decision. On the one hand, we know that the issue is ours alone to resolve and that we have the inner resources to resolve it, but access to our own resources is often blocked by layers of inner "stuff"—confusion, habitual thinking, fear, despair. On the other hand, we know that friends might help us uncover our inner resources and find our way, but by exposing our problem to others, we run the risk of being invaded and overwhelmed by their assumptions, judgments, and advice—a common and alienating experience.
Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or “fix” people from the outside in but rather to help people remove the interference so that they can discover their own wisdom from the inside out. Nothing is allowed except real questions, honest and open questions, questions that will help the focus person remove the blocks to his or her inner truth without becoming burdened by the personal agendas of committee members.

The Clearness Committee is described as a two hour process with just one focus person. Here's a script for running a short version of the Clearness Committee where people take turns being talkers and teddy bears that I'm calling Holding the Space Sessions: http://meaningfulaction.org/ScriptForHoldingTheSpaceSessions.pdf

Other reasons for constraining what teddy bears do to be minimal are:

  • so talkers are less in performance mode
  • so the talker is more in more freely talking just see how things unfold mode
  • so we're in there's only one person's agenda at a time mode
  • so there's less need to handle social dynamics
  • so there's more hearing and being with, more being there and just seeing what unfolds
  • so the talker can talk without needing the teddy bear to follow that closely with what the talker is saying, so the talker can even start in the middle of a story of whatever they've been thinking about
  • so we can connect more often in more different ways, because you can have teddy bears support talkers for short lengths of time with more different content
  • so talkers can spend less time feeling isolated and more time feeling bolstered in our abilities to see how to realize possibilities
  • so talkers and teddy bears can benefit from having structure, clear expectations, and predictability
  • so talkers can connect with more different teddy bears, because the constraints make the role of teddy bear something you can plug anyone into


TBTS offers possibilities for exploring different structures of interacting for different situations. A talker can be briefly flipping into and out of teddy bear mode every now and then during the day with a teddy bear (can TBTS make it easy to have a socially acceptable way to have more frequent shorter interactions with someone so that talkers can have more connection with that person?), or every now and then in the middle of a conversation. Or, a talker can be talking more at length with a teddy bear. A talker can have an ongoing teddy bear setup to help with achieving a goal or establishing a habit. Or, a talker can have a teddy bear setup that is just for helping us make one decision. The possibilities and the benefits are many, and we'll see that "teddy bears" are benefiting as well as "talkers." The benefits include connecting more, connecting differently, holding more space with more room for the talker, and holding the space differently. It is about benefiting from having different windows into each other's worlds.

By being included in these "minimal" but significant ways in the talker's process, we are getting to take part in each other's journeys.

Maybe I could/what if

scheduled for

  • getting self going
  • or checking in
  • or shifting gears
  • or for before they're ready stuff
  • or having TB serve as a stand-in for someone it'd be helpful to meet with
  • or to try talking to
  • or have a dry run with

spur of the moment

  • cuz don't feel like it is getting the better of them
  • something comes up that needs fixing or musing about

digest ideas with

  • Learning by explaining and puzzling over out loud support - in the midst of reading or studying, grab a teddy bear and talk things over as if the teddy bear were a fellow learner or someone you could teach the material to. Let them be someone you can digest ideas with.

"Can't follow closely" and other ways the talker is given a lot of freedom to take things where they need to go

It's fine if they can't follow what you're saying that closely. They can still hold the space for you in ways that are supportive. For example, we use TBTS in a "can't follow closely" way during my weekly meetings to work with a writing partner where we each are working on our own writing projects. My writing partner and I take breaks from writing every 20 minutes and take 3-minute turns serving as teddy bears for each other. We are often smack dab in the middle of something and just start talking as if the other person had a much better idea of what we were talking about than they do.

How does the magic work?

Variation and selection

The magic of Teddy Bear Tech Support has many components to it. To read about one key component, click here to go to the Variation and selection wikipage.

Imagining/simulating what is going on for the teddy bear

What changes now that someone else is paying attention? One big difference with having someone to talk to is that, to some extent, you're imagining what the other person is paying attention to, what are they expecting to hear you say, what parts are likely to stand out for them, etc. These things are factoring in to what you're saying to the teddy bear.

So, then, you might automatically start explaining things you don’t think you need to explain to yourself. You might end up listing off some key things or key points that can shed light on the situation. You might start to see things from a third party perspective. Such things can often lead to big shifts or profound insights.

So, what the talker is imagining is going on for the teddy bear can also be a big component of the magic. Click here to go to the Imagining wikipage to read about this component.

Note: It's particularly interesting because what they are imagining need not be anything like what's actually going on for the teddy bear. It's not about that. It's about your experience as the talker and what the imagining of these things does for you in terms of what you're then saying or thinking.

Totally committing

What totally committing to talking to a teddy bear can help with:

  • Sometimes asking the right question seems like half the problem. Talking to someone can make it more likely that the right question will get asked by the talker.
  • Shifting out of one mode and into another. Often you can't get away with staying in certain modes when there is someone else with you. Sometimes all it takes is their mere presence.
  • Sometimes my problem is that I keep finding myself saying, “No, I don’t like that” and doing a lot of starting over. So, I'm not able to commit to trying things out by going down just one path and continuing to build on it.
    • This can definitely happen with writing, where I spend a lot of time just thinking about writing instead of actually writing. Sitting around thinking about writing (especially if you’re like me and want things to spring perfectly from your head) doesn’t get you to the same places (to say the least) as actually getting things out onto paper does.
    • What can help is using a recording device (if not a real person) as a teddy bear. Otherwise, sitting around thinking is precisely what happens for me when I try to talk out loud without a person or a recording device listening, I tend to trail off and shift back into just doing a lot of thinking without talking.
  • What's key is to have it feel like someone or something is paying attention. Because of that, the space has been held for me to have a different process unfold.

Because of mere presence of a teddy bear

Left to our own devices, we will tend to go down certain paths. The mere presence of a teddy bear can be all it takes for us to be finding ourselves going down different sets of paths. I might be able to stay more focused on what's important or what needs the most attention, or have better self talk, or think more big picture, etc. What's key is to have it feel like someone or something is paying attention. Because of that, the space has been held for me to have a different process unfold.

Same page enough

The beauty of TBTS is that you only have to be on the same page enough with your teddy bear. If you don't have the time or desire to get someone fully up to speed with everything, you can still benefit from their support if the name of the game is to just be on the same page enough.

The teddy bear only has to get the gist of some aspect of what you're talking about to be able to come along for the ride with you. It could be just to see how frustrated you are with what's happening. There are different things like this that you can follow about what's going on with the talker as they go along that allow your presence to be felt by the talker, especially if later the talker stumbles on a solution to what's been frustrating to them and you can then knowledgeably join in the celebration.

Because all that's required is that you're both on the same page enough, this can help the talker get into freely improvising mode.

Here's one example where it didn't take much to get my listener on the same page enough as me. All I had to do was repeatedly say the words "grumble grumble grumble," and this proved to be a very satisfying way to do it. In fact, it definitely felt more satisfying than if I had spelled things out with more words. Saying "grumble grumble grumble" over and over again was a great way to acknowledge, validate, and sit with how I was feeling. The content of the words I would've said instead of "grumble grumble grumble" didn't matter. It was getting to feel the feeling that mattered. So, this made it so the content of the words didn't have undue influence.

Not the Teddy Bear's page instead of the Talker's

Here's a sentiment that often rings true for me: I don't know what I think until I've heard what I've had to say. I get to find out what comes out of my mouth when I shift into think out loud mode. So, I benefit a lot from getting to talk through things with people. As I talk, if I've found that I've said something particularly helpful or insightful, it helps if I can immediately take the ball and run with it. But, I don't always get to. Often, I find myself feeling like I'm chasing the other person around. They've got their own ideas and their own agendas, and I'm trying to work within the rules of normal social dynamics to steer them back to a place that I want to explore.

What TBTS is not about: Having the teddy bear expound on "If I were the talker, here's how I would go about things.

It's not to have the teddy bear do our work for us or live our lives for us. In fact, when there's a tendency for these things, it's possible that setting up a clear teddy bear setup could allow us to interact with the teddy bear in a way that is more connecting (especially when we have teddy bears who often make lots of suggestions and who tend to have agendas for us).

The gift of getting to witness/accompany and experience the journey

Serving in the teddy bear role can provide us with the opportunity to hold the space for people in a way that develops our capacities to deeply listen. Here is a piece that speaks to that by David Castro on Learning to Listen. It is called Empathy in 8 Minutes, and it is about how he experienced doing an exercise where you listen quietly for 8 minutes as someone tells you his or her life story.

When my partner started to tell his story, I wanted to ask a truckload of questions directing the conversation. I wanted to follow up on particular details, ask about things he hadn't mentioned, shortcut certain areas and learn more about others that interested me, like someone fast forwarding through a TV show.
After about three minutes, however, something remarkable happened. That incessant voice in my head began to quiet, and for the first time I began to listen at a deeper level. I observed my partner’s body language, soaked in his selected words and stopped trying to control the conversation flow. In the remaining five minutes, I learned something profound about the person speaking. I began to see and understand him for the first time. I was actually listening to him instead of focusing on my bundle of projections about him.

TBTS makes it easier for the experience to be about only one person's agenda at a time. Notice how natural it is to have the both surprising and not so surprising number of agendas that David Castro had as a listener in the first 3 minutes of this exercise.

Developing listening skills

Teddy bears get to develop listening skills by getting to witness the power of listening as they make choices (in the teddy bear setups that have choices to be made) about when to do things like mirror back what they've heard and when to offer questions, and as they learn to ask questions that are more of a listening nature.

I have a friend who often mentions that they find me skilled at listening and that they would really appreciate being able to be a better listener themselves. I wonder if having experiences with being a silent witness teddy bear could help my friend become a better listener.

If the rule is simply that the teddy bear remain silent, that can make things much easier for people not only in the moment but likely in the future as well. This is a way the teddy bear can get to have experiences of what it's like to listen. Seeing how things unfold when all that has been offered is listening will provide experiences of what can be made possible by the power of listening. These experiences can yield a lasting impression that can help the teddy bear become inclined to make the choice to listen more in the future.

Empowering to witness

For me, I've found it empowering to see how effective it is when we are better able to explore our own ideas for ourselves. I've found it reassuring to watch people say things to themselves that I would've wanted to say to them (if I weren't being a silent witness). It reminds me that what I want to do is hold the space with compassion and trust for the talker, knowing how empowering giving that kind of support can be for both me to witness and the talker to receive, and knowing that getting it is all too rare.

Many easy ways to recruit Teddy Bears

Teddy Bear mode needn't last more than a couple minutes. In general with TBTS, there are a lot of ways to have it so that you're not asking very much of the teddy bear, including it not needing to take up much time.

Whatever the case may be, whether the situation is thinking through a minor or a major life decision, talking through where you’re stuck with something you’re trying to write, or wondering how you might be able to handle a delicate situation gracefully, there are many ways to harness the power of including someone else in your process. The next section lists some examples of support you could request from teddy bears.

Kinds of support that a talker might be looking for

  • whatever is on their mind support
  • feeling stuck support
  • as if talking to an expert support (can help them prepare to talk to an actual expert)
  • taking regular pitstops along the way with you support (for someone working on a long-term project, like a term paper, a book, or a thesis)
  • don't feel like it support (including "before they're ready to start" support)
  • to get even more support that complements the support they get from a partner or an advisor/mentor

Teddy Bear Tech Support from the Teddy Bear's perspective

Teddy Bears recruiting Talkers

I've talked about TBTS in terms of talkers recruiting teddy bears. But, teddy bears can also recruit talkers. For example, teddy bears that have retired from their careers can be of service to young talkers. One thing this could help with is with finding talkers that they can be normal mentors to or normal friends with.

Doing job shadowing is another reason teddy bears might have for recruiting talkers. If someone is wondering about what it would be like to be in a certain career field, sometimes they arrange to shadow/follow a person around on the job to experience what the job is like. One way to do job shadowing is to have times where you serve as a teddy bear for the person you are shadowing.

Note: Work in progress

This page is under construction. What follows is a work in progress. One thing I'd like to make more progress on is adding more stories and examples to this website. So, if through giving TBTS a try or if you've already been doing some form of TBTS and have things to share with me, please get in touch with me by contacting me at teddybear@umich.edu.

One way to give TBTS a try is by going to the Opportunities Signup (bitly.com/oppsignup), where you can find people you can schedule times to do Teddy Bear Tech Support with.

Teddy Bear mode needn't last more than a couple minutes. For me, it's often about talking about things that I am far from having worked out and need to do some casting about for a while without worrying about being all that coherent. I often don't know what I think until I've heard what I've had to say. So, I like being able to say, "Hey, let's flip into 'Teddy Bear' mode" when these things arise. So, I put together this Teddy Bear Tech Support website to explain Teddy Bear mode, so that more people could at least benefit from these brief Teddy Bear interactions if not from the other kinds that I've described on this page.