Just Hangin’ Out…

Just Hangin’ Out…

social sensemakingOne of the privileges of working in a community-led, service oriented organisation, is that I come across some remarkable people. Remarkable, not because they are heroes who save the day, not because they perform magic that miraculously turns pain into pleasure, and not because they have a super power that transforms darkness into light.

Life’s just not like that. It’s more complex, multifaceted and ‘messier’, and we’d be wise to be cautious about what we hear about remarkable people in our western populist and simplistic media. I think there are other meanings than those anchored to the hero.

So, what does make these people remarkable?

In what might seem counter-intuitive for those who think that to be remarkable means to be; herculean, superhuman and gallant, paradoxically what makes such people remarkable, is their ordinariness. That is, the real ‘remarkableness’ is that they resist the need to be extraordinary. One way that I know some people do this is by; “just hangin’ out” with others.

Maybe this sounds too simplistic and not considerate enough of the vast skills and much experience of professionals who work in community services (and it is!), so allow me to explain what I mean.

I was recently talking with Barbara*, someone who understands, values and is energised by being in community with others. Our conversation caused me to reflect on how, through ‘ordinariness’, we can create moments of connection with others by; “just hangin’ out with them.

What do I mean?

Barbara attends her fair share of meetings and tells me that she could spend all day, every day in them. Although, mostly these are meetings, in which not much real meeting or connection takes places. Instead, they’re usually full with agendas that drive discussion to a place where people are focused on outcomes and achievements, rather than learning about and being with, others.

Perhaps this is what happens when we are seduced by businesses, efficacy and results; rather than connection, compassion, being present and relationships?

It was one particular conversation with Barbara that took my attention. She told the story of her work in a region where it is not uncommon for people to experience daily challenges. Various people have advised Barbara on the best ‘technique’ on how to connect with, and ‘help’ these people.

Such advice she tells me, is usually focused on factors like; ensuring appropriate preparation, setting agendas, allowing enough time, being clear on what she wants to ‘get from the conversation’ and Barbara’s all-time favourite; ‘stakeholder management’.

It’s all about organising, with very little focus on relationships.

Thankfully, this isn’t the way that Barbara attends to her relationships with others. She isn’t bothered by the best technique, she’s not seduced into seeing conversations as about ‘achieving results’ and she isn’t enthused about agendas.

Instead and ironically, it is the lack of agenda that means her conversations are filled with real ‘meeting’, ‘living’ and ‘being’; with others. Further still, they often end up achieving something, even though that was not the intention. If you’re easily lost in a world of paradox, you may be lost in this story by now too?

So, I asked Barbara what was important to her when developing relationships with others?

I just hang out with people”.

Knowing Barbara, this needed no further explanation to me, although there is more to it if you’d like to know…

When you get to know Barbara, you soon realise that while her method may be “just hangin’ out”, it’s her ‘her reason for being’ (ontology), that is the key to understanding her connection with others. This is grounded in relationships and communality, rather than individuality and self. Barbara seems to really grasp what Buber (1969) calls i-thou. Barbara told me that the most remarkable things can happen in these most ordinary of moments, simply by; just hangin’ out” with others.

The conversation with Barbara had me reflecting and wondering:

· How much could we learn about each other, if we just stopped trying?

· What might we learn from each other if we dropped our own agendas?

· How often do we find ourselves in ‘meetings’ where no real ‘meeting’ takes place?

What can we do to become more ordinary, yet at the same time remarkable?

*name changed


If you or someone you know is feeling lonely or seeking connection, you can contact Lifeline (in Australia) on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au. Similar support and crisis lines exist in other countries – for a full list, click HERE.


Author: Robert Sams

Email: robert@dolphyn.com.au

Web: www.dolphyn.com.au

Book: Social Sensemaking – Click HERE to Order

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

12 Replies to “Just Hangin’ Out…”

  1. Thanks Rob. Hanging out is the opposite of controlling and fixing so therefore must be unproductive afterall, if we allow others the freedom to make decisions for themselves they might harm themselves.

    1. Cheers Ed, I’m pleased that his resonated with you.

      I’ve learned so much from ‘being’ in community with *Barbara. While I may be the ‘leader’ in the organisation, I’ve learned much by following, listening and reflecting on how Barbara is with others. She gets what it really means to ‘meet’, while I can be easily seduced into meetings where no real meeting takes place.

      Oh the paradox of loosing a job, yet at the same time gaining a life…? Many people are so easily seduced by the promises of ‘work’, perhaps you are now in a better place?

      1. It’s hard when the “community” one is in operates through meetings, KPIs, graphs, appraisals etc and you are another “Barbara”. Five + difficult years have passed my life is happier in some ways however been valued and respected at work is a rare experience.

  2. What a well timed serendipitous post. We were discussing a “community of practice” that is neither of those things and the merits of face to face meetings VS. the conference calls we endure. I came across the presentation you did Rob S at the ACU, posted on Vimeo and wanted to reach out and see if you would share the notes from that presentation?

    In this discussion we were having there was push back from a “productivity, time and cost perspective”. Similar to AU, some face 4- 5 hours in the air to get here and connections are less than rapid! I explained there was far more value in the after hours connection when we break bread and connect away from the constraints of the stifling semiosphere in the office.
    Several others agreed and we were able to plan on bringing folks in and start to humanize that connection. This dialog occurred in the meeting with fewer players, more random thoughts and a little mental ping-pong after the formal meeting.

    Thanks for sharing Rob S!
    Frank G

  3. Controlling, fixing and crusading are much more efficient though and just make things easier…

    Freedom on the other hand, such a dangerous option, how could people know what’s safe for them?

    Thanks for the comment Rob. I’ve learnt much through my recent years working in community services and through reflecting on the ‘adventure’ that is the Social Psychology of Risk. More than I could ever have hoped to learn in the safety of Safety.

  4. Cheers Frank, I remember that presentation at Uni along with the reading and reflecting that preceding it.

    I’ve heard the term ‘Communities of Practice’ mentioned numerous times since and mostly it is is the context of some new or preferred way to work together with others. That is, most cannot resist turning it into yet another system, rather than recognising it is about relationships and a way of being with others.

    Perhaps it would be better described as ‘Communities in Practice”?

    Happy to send you a copy of the presentation mate, I’ll email over the next few days.

    Hope you’re well, it looked like a cracker few days with Rob L in town recently.

    Cheers, Rob S (aka Samsy)

  5. Hey Samsy, life is always throwing us paradoxes and we live in tension all the time. The real challenge for us all is to just sit still for a while and ‘meet’. Love your article ,a timely reminder I think in this world of high anxiety, efficiency and process. Love Barbara….we need more of them.

  6. Hi Rob, that’s why when i hear the language of ‘communities of practice’ I change it to communality, communing etc so that the participle captures the active nature of ‘being’ in community and ‘meeting’.

  7. Thanks Sam, you have affirmed me, I have found some of the most rewarding parts of my day are spent in conversation with fellow workers. I am surrounded by many “ordinary” people carrying out ordinary jobs but achieving extra ordinary things.
    An old saying comes to mind “People don’t care how much you know they only care how much you care” you really can’t care for someone if you don’t understand them. This can only be achieved by “hanging out”.

    1. Cheers Peter, thanks for the note and sharing your experience. ‘Hanging Out’ is pretty cool hey, yet also so hard in our world of business and fixing. Barbara’s been at it for a while and you can tell. I learn so much just by hangin’ out with her

  8. Cheers Gab, I couldn’t possibly count the moments of ‘ordinary’ meeting that that I’ve shared with you over the past few years of the ‘adventure’, how lucky are we?

    Barbara says Hi

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