In a recent conversation, Society of Process Consulting member Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi and Member Services Specialist Kathy Vlietstra discussed the concept of "guesthood" and its connections to process consulting. Jeanne shed light on the importance of guesthood as a mindset and a valuable approach when working with clients, drawing parallels between diverse cultural experiences and the world of process consulting.
What is Guesthood?
Jeanne shared her unique perspective on guesthood, drawn from her extensive experience living in different cultures, including Africa and Asia. She explained that anthropologists use “guesthood” to describe an ethical decolonizing research method. Guesthood emphasizes being a respectful and humble guest rather than a dominant colonizer.. It encourages cultural sensitivity, fosters positive interactions, and promotes a balanced dynamic of being within a scene without taking over the scene. Practicing guesthood involves acknowledging your role as a guest, treading lightly, and approaching new situations with openness for more harmonious relationships.
She revealed that during her time in Indonesia, she and her intercultural team were the objects of an two year anthropological study. The Australian researcher entered their space as a guest, trying to observe, interpret, and make conclusions while also inviting her interpretation and analysis. The guesthood approach differs from earlier approaches to anthropology, in which observations and interpretations are made without the participation and analysis of the group being studied This experience opened her eyes to the essence of guesthood and its significance to the idea of co-creation of processes and knowledge.
Guesthood in Learning
The guesthood mindset encourages consultants to approach their work as observers and learners first, rather than imposing their own ideas and assumptions on clients. This approach is particularly crucial in intercultural consulting, where respecting the culture and being mindful of power dynamics are of paramount importance. As Jeanne put it, “there is a lot of remembering to be quiet, observe, and ask questions.”
The Connection Between Guesthood and Co-Creation
Jeanne’s insights align with the principles of process consulting, emphasizing the importance of co-creation. The guesthood paradigm illuminates the importance of checking any assumptions or conclusions with the Client for accuracy. Rather than entering a client's space with preconceived solutions, process consultants aim to work in partnership with their clients. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of respect, mutual learning, and the acknowledgment that clients bring invaluable knowledge to the table.
Recognizing Power Dynamics and Whiteness
Jeanne’s perspective highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing power dynamics in consulting relationships. She stresses that consultants, especially those with privilege, should be acutely aware of the power they bring to a client engagement. This acknowledgment includes understanding how their presence may impact the client's decision-making process, and the responsibility to be humble, respectful, and avoid overpowering the client with their own perspectives and assumptions.
Applying the Guesthood Mindset in the US
Understanding guesthood in the United States means recognizing power imbalances and how it relates to issues like caste and implicit bias. Jeanne explained how the awareness of caste can help us understand power imbalances in various situations, such as age-related dynamics and racial biases. She encouraged people to be mindful of their own position in these systems and strive to reject and rectify the constructs that perpetuate power imbalances.
Challenges and Opportunities
Jeanne noted that adopting the guesthood mindset helps consultants in entering any new organizational culture. Recognizing and addressing power dynamics leads to inclusivity and collaboration, benefiting consulting and promoting diversity and equity.
In summary, the guesthood concept offers a valuable framework for process consultants to approach their work with humility, openness, and a deep respect for the knowledge and experiences of their clients. By applying the principles of guesthood, we can navigate the complex world of consulting while actively challenging and dismantling systemic power imbalances in society.
If you would like to learn more about guesthood, Jeanne shares the following academic journal article by Graham Harvey as a great resource - Guesthood as Ethical Decolonizing Research Method