Do you have 18 second team members on your software development project?

Posted July 24, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language

I am presenting a workshop on Clean Language questions and listening at the Agile2014 conference coming up next week.  Why might you want to come? Well, because an 18 second team member might not be the best team member.

Management guru Tom Peters says, if you are 18 second manager, you’ll need to focus on strategic listening so your business doesn’t fail.  The 18 seconds refers to a study done of doctors who are there to diagnose your ailments – and that is the average amount of time doctors let the patient explain what’s going on, before they give a diagnosis.  We all know how many software projects fail for hidden assumptions, and imperfect interpretations. One could say: if you are an 18 second team member, you’ll need to focus on ‘clean listening’ so your software release doesn’t fail.  So let’s get better at that on our agile teams.

I have been involved with the clean language community for several years, having been introduced to it by a fellow agile coach. While Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling emerged from the therapy field, the questions and related methods have been used by people world wide in a variety of industries such as: police investigations, nuclear plant auditing, medicine, schools, recruiting and in some small pockets of the IT world.  When you begin to use clean language questions, impeccable listening becomes an unavoidable skill that is acquired through practice. The reason for this is that the question format requires the use of the client’s exact words. There is no paraphrasing when asking the questions.  The clean philosophy is also about intentionally setting outcomes as well as overcoming blocks, which most agilists will relate to.  It is also about creating better self-learning and building bridges of understanding between people with necessarily unique experiences. Experiences revealed via metaphor are at the heart of clean’s success at creating change. Team generated metaphors lead to an awareness of the team’s current alignment with the project, revealing obstacles and opportunities. Clean questions and metaphors can and have been used in cross-department interviews to bridge understanding between teams and customers, or development shops and sales. The possibilities are truly just emerging more broadly outside the core area of coaching and therapy.

As an added benefit to those both going and those not able to go to the Agile 2014 conference,  Sharon Small and I will make available a Leanpub ebook called ‘Who Is Using Clean Language anyway?’. This book is a compilation of interviews with Clean Language enthusiasts from around the world. The book will give readers a sense of the power of Clean even if they haven’t been trained before or haven’t read any of the Clean foundational books.  It will also include an Appendix of the major books and trainers around the world for those interested in further exploration.

Anticipating a new experience – my reflections

Posted July 15, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Uncategorized

… and when I was 12, arriving in Burundi for the first time, as we were driven from the airport, the embassy staff accompanying us offered this to me: ‘It’s dark now, you can’t really see what’s around you. How about you go write down what you think it’ll be like tonight. Then tomorrow as the day unfolds, you’ll be able to compare notes’.   This is what I am thinking of now as I prepare for my first big agile conference in Orlando, both as attendee and speaker.

My session – Clean Language Questions for the Aspiring Agile Learner: Advanced Listening Skills – is in the first slot on the first full day of the conference.  I don’t know how that came to be, but I definitely think it is fortuitous. Doing it when my energy is high, right at the start is perfect.
I’m glad to share a topic that was first introduced to me by an agilist from Korea, June Kim. I’m glad Agile Alliance is willing to take on topics that are not ‘purely’ agile, but may lead to great agility!

Through clean language coaching, I’ve been able to reclaim myself from a time when I was more exuberant and open, learning and thriving on the environment and possibilities around me.  When arriving in Africa at the age of 12, I was very excited. I had images in my mind, and yet wasn’t sure what to expect.  I felt bubbly in my tummy – warm, and simmering anticipation. Just as I knew the few following years in Burundi were to be full of adventure and new connections, I also know now that my foray into Clean Language will be all about learning and it will last for years and be equally adventurous.

As a few folks have noted yesterday in a twitter conversation, there is a debate about whether professionals in IT who don’t take ownership of their own learning are just part of a system and can’t reach beyond its hold, or whether they are practicing ‘learned helplessness’ and could choose to do something different.  I do know that once you have found something you like, you will pull your head out of the sand and go for it. There is no uncertainty here.

Aside from my own conviction that clean offers everyone something to take away, I’m also buoyed by the fact that there are proven uses of Clean Language already in businesses, in IT, and in other domains where people need to collaborate at work.  I want to use clean language and systemic modeling in the coaching and facilitation work I do – more frequently and more deliberately than I do now. And I want to share it.

When I am not doing agile coaching at Santeon and preparing for my talks, I am also working on a book with Sharon Small who is the first certified clean language facilitator in the US. The book is modeled after the ‘Who is agile? book’ (which by the way, is free today) that I helped Yves Hanoulle produce in 2012.  This new book will be called ‘Who is using Clean Language, anyway?’  It will be a similar community book – of interest to those who want to explore clean language and its related methodologies.  You’ll be able to find out how clean language is changing lives of people around the world. I hope to have first draft out by Agile 2014, with about 10 folks in it. It is so exciting to follow one’s passion.

For those coming to my session in two weeks, I look forward to sharing and am glad you are coming! Yay!  And now, before I forget, I suppose I’ll have to start writing down what I expect the conference will be like now, so I can compare notes after…applying my learnings from a distant past…. and well….a very ‘agile’ thing to do.

Book Review – From Contempt To Curiosity

Posted April 6, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Book Review, Clean Language, Dialogue, Effective Meetings, Listening, Organizational Change

Caitlin Walker has written a brilliant book recounting her own 15 year journey with Clean Language as applied to groups – a compilation of stories illustrating the models that she developed along the way which she now groups together and calls Systemic Modelling. This work builds on the work of others as well – the originator of Clean Language, David Grove, and his original modellers, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, with whom Caitlin trained and learned. She acknowledges these and many others who assisted her in her consulting practice, Training Attention, along the way. There is a nifty appendix of the major influencing works at the back.

The title of this book hints at the fact that the places that Caitlin took up work using her models were usually starting from a place of high dysfunction, disarray, miscommunication with silo’ed and competitive subcultures or inappropriate reward systems. Her aim in each new engagement was to bring her learning, tools and Clean Language to create the lasting conditions for change – collaboration through questions, curiosity, modelling and metaphor. It is a compelling journey of hope.

Each story elaborates how she had her cohorts broke new ground in the application of Clean Language in a specific group setting. The breadth of settings includes schools, business, IT, recruiting offices, and university. Each chapter covers the context, constraints, the current situation, the desired outcomes, the training provided, the documented progressive learning and experimentation, as well as cautionary tales of each endeavor. The Systemic Modelling techniques are introduced chapter by chapter as she developed and refined them: (not in any particular order) Clean Feedback, Clean Scoping, Clean Set Up, Developmental Tasks, 5 Senses, Drama to Karma, Metaphors at Work, and When You’re ____ at Your Best. There are wonderful illustrations throughout to help clarify concepts that are introduced and there is no shortage of sample Clean interactions so that even a novice or someone not familiar with Clean Language can get a solid grasp of the possible applications by the end of the book.

I have read most of the Clean literature and this new book is a fantastic addition to the catalogue. Addressed equally to the Clean Facilitator as to the potential customer interested in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling for groups, the stories are accessible, smoothly written, and also compelling. Indeed I think this book has a very broad audience. Consultants, executives, and coaches involved in organizational development, communication, culture change, and engagement issues will find this an inspiring guide to a refreshing, revolutionary way to create the conditions for change in group and business settings. What I (and many of my colleagues may) appreciate with Caitlin’s approach and the rich contribution of David Grove’s Clean Language applied here – is the intent to lay the foundation, train folks, and have the resulting behavior changes remain sustainable – basically, for the Clean Facilitator – to work oneself out of a job successfully. Caitlin shares all the stories, even ones that over time, did not quite sustain as well as she hoped – since even those were fertile material for analysis. Why did they not stay sustainable? What were the systemic issues at play? Turnover in leadership? Amidst those are some fabulous success stories and you will relish them all.

I desire nothing more than fostering workplaces and school learning environments in which folks exhibit curiosity towards one another, exploring problems and solutions in a safe way, taking collective ownership and pride in their work. Other authors and thought leaders have addressed well the need for learning organizations in works such as Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline or created models such as Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference. And while I admire those models, none spoke to me with the hope that they could be widely disseminated or fairly easily learned by a broad cross-section of people and industries. Caitlin has given us a concrete, laid out foundation for systemic change at an organizational and group level, based on concrete practices and the foundation of Clean Language. As I work towards my own vision for success as an agile coach with IT groups and organizations, I am very committed to sharing, utilizing and, training on these models.

The book is sturdy with all glossy paper. It won’t mind getting a spill of water or wine on it. Those who like to annotate in pencil or pen straight in their books may find that annoying, but I like the quality of the book. I hope to take it around and share it liberally with folks who are interested. There will soon also be an ebook as well as audio book available. Most major Clean Language literature books, by contrast, are not available in either of those formats.

Thank you Caitlin Walker, and all of your collaborators, for bringing these stories and your journey to us in such wonderful detail.

Prevention *and* Build Quality In – how can we help stem teen suicide?

Posted March 6, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Uncategorized

Last night, over 1000 people gathered in the auditorium of our local high school to learn what it is the school and school system and their partners will be doing to respond to the rash of suicides that has plagued our school as well as surrounding schools in recent years. At our school, we have had three in each of the past two years – two just last week.
This picture shows everyone introducing themselves.

2014-03-05 19.23.08

I was skeptical that this event would meet my needs. The invitation email made it seem like the evening would be a ‘one-way street’ of information to the parents and audience members. Aside from the introductions shown in the picture and some interaction in the cafeteria at the end, that is the way the evening largely played out.

Who came? The media, the Superintendent of Schools, School Board Members, many community mental health service organizations, representatives of several foundations concerned with suicide, and student representatives from a group called Active Minds. The evening started with formal introductions, statements of intent to engage the community, recognitions of the school leadership, staff, and teachers.  This felt like armor.  I was hearing too much left brain analysis/problem solving and needing more that leaders show vulnerability and emotion. I wanted connection from the heart.  I felt alone in this sea of people – surely similar to the way a quiet teen might feel navigating the halls of a 2000 person high school.

To help allay fears of parents, Dr. Panarelli, Director of the Office of Intervention and Prevention, described how the crisis counselors are actively engaging with the students, seeking out and making themselves available all around the school. She asked us to not talk about each incident as being part of a pattern or naming the school as somehow different, as this would make the kids feel bad. [Note to self: this is hard to do]  She asked us: do your kids have 3 adults other than parents that they feel they can talk to if they or others around them are experiencing emotional difficulties? None of this made me feel reassured. I tried to empathize with these presenters. After 6 suicides in two years and many more within the county as a whole, they are visibly taking on a big communication and mobilization effort. The goal is so much bigger than any one person or organization. Kudos to everyone trying.

Jesse Ellis, the County’s ‘Prevention Manager’ (as if this could be managed), said he will leave no gap unfilled. He will be ‘sure’ we will be successful. He will coordinate activities, invite parents to participate.  To me this is exactly the wrong message. We don’t need a false sense of we’re in control now. We need to model that we may not prevent the next one, but it won’t happen without us putting forth our best effort. We need to show our own vulnerability and not be shamed when we fail. Then he cautioned us that while he doesn’t want to use stats, he did want to share that we are on a good track compared to the rest of the state. This statement made my heart sink. It also seemed incongruent and impersonal. I don’t think he meant it that way. He is coping with the aftermath, trying to make sense. This is my most liberal interpretation.

The students from the Active Minds Club spoke next. They have had mental health awareness training. They provide yoga classes to reduce stress after school. They listen non-judgmentally and provide emotional support.

After the representatives spoke, we filled out survey cards with our suggestions, inviting us to share our contact information and ideas. I wrote down that I would help facilitate an open space event to allow more interaction, connection, dialogue and community involvement. We were then invited to visit the cafeteria where we could take fliers and information with us. It was too crowded, but there was a lot of energy. I made sure to visit the Active Minds booth. I was very impressed by the listening skills of the 4 student reps as I stayed to chat with them for a few minutes. I will encourage my son to check out this organization especially as it is largely thus far a college campus organization. I signed up to help them and to attend their meetings in the coming months.

If I could pick an analogy for this whole school effort, it seemed to me like a lot of Quality Control at the back-end of a development process. ‘We know there are depressed kids, let’s make sure we catch them before they commit suicide’. I wanted it this: ‘We imagine the source of suicides is that kids are many times unable to express and share their feelings, their fears and their vulnerabilities. They do not have role models for this. To succeed in raising mentally healthy adults, we need to start in the elementary schools, modeling and teaching empathy, emotional intelligence and resiliency’. I wanted to hear things like: We’ll be introducing Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violdent Communication in elementary school.’  This would be akin to ‘building quality in’, in software terms, not inspecting for failure at the end.

Yet still, I praise everyone who showed up last night. Bless you all.

There is a lot of work ahead. I just pray one or many of us will be there in support, at just the right time, for the next kid who needs it.

Building Bridges through Curiosity

Posted February 20, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Listening, Organizational Change, Teams, Uncategorized

This blog post is inspired by two case studies, one using ethnography and one using Clean Language – both to improve company resilience and success over time.

An international company (Tesco) recently used an innovative ‘ethnography’ approach to help turn around poor financial results. Their goal was to infuse diversity of thinking by having managers at international locations become ethnographic observers outside their own country at other Tesco locations.  This would help the observers and observed become more aware of their own local cultures by exposure. It spread ideas that worked and helped to meld the culture. You can read about it here.

That Tesco project posited that positive change can come from these steps: perceive what happens in another other work environment, uncover restrictive assumptions through questions, and explore both the new and home environments in new ways. The primary questions used were: What’s familiar? What’s surprising? What do I want to learn more about?  Training folks to be curious by enlivening their senses, taking them out of their environment and teaching them questioning skills can indeed be useful in building bridges.

While reading this story, I made immediate associations with the Clean Language group work that Caitlin Walker and Nancy Doyle, from Training Attention, have undertaken to improve interpersonal understanding in teams and groups. I recommend you read about this adaptation of Clean Language for organizations here.  Similar to the ethnography study, Clean Language and Systemic Modeling for organizations use questions to surface the way people operate and think of their life/work/environment. The Tesco experiment involved moving people to new environments to stimulate new thinking. The Clean Language work more simply involves only exposing internal thought processes and intentions to one another within a team or organizational structure. In both cases, the goal is to help folks learn how to reveal information which isn’t readily available or in their field of awareness. This increases the communication bandwidth for mutual understanding and reduces conflict.  In addition, with Clean Language Systemic Modeling the goal is that peers co-coach each other and fold Clean Questions into everyday work, conversations and meetings. Long term, there is no dependence on the Clean Language trainer. The process promotes new relationships and emergent knowledge within the organization.

That sounds great in theory, right? But where has it actually worked? I learned recently about a case study of a small software development company that Caitlin trained 10 years ago. This company provides tablet solutions to pharma labs to track their lab/research work. For ten years, this company has required its employees to learn and use Clean Language and Systemic Modeling. You can learn more about it here. It has had stellar results in bridging all kinds of communication gaps. Communication between marketing and developers is vastly improved. The marketing staff, now widely using Clean Language questions, make sense (inquire more deeply) about a complex and changing market and learn much more about their potential customers before ever proposing solutions. These bridges have in turn enabled the company to rise above its competitors in what was then a crowded field, all while keeping a relatively small corporate footprint.  There are many other domains in which Caitlin and others  applied Clean Language and Systemic Modeling, including: Police, Health Care, University students, troubled youth, to name a few.

Does this spark your curiosity?

Clean Language and Systemic modeling build understanding and rapport via respectful listening and inquiry. Clean questions are particularly good at focusing attention on the words and thoughts of the person being questioned. This is because the questions do not promote advice or content on the part of the questioner. They are ‘clean’ in that sense. Here are a few of the basic questions:

  • What would you like to have happen? (intention)
  • What else is there about X? (probing for more info)
  • What kind of X? (probing for metaphors)
  • X (or that)  is like what? (probing for metaphors)

In these questions, X is the exact word or phrase used by your interlocutor. There are an additional 6 questions that inquire about location and time/space.  Extending this into organizational work, the Systemic Modeling techniques involve selective use of what Caitlin calls ‘Clean Setup’ , ‘Clean Feedback’, ‘Modeling Time’, ‘Diversity of Perception’, ‘Modeling Positive (or Negative) States’ among others. While I won’t go into detail here, these Systemic Modeling questioning tools are used in conjunction with Clean Language in groups.

As someone posted in one of the Clean Language groups I participate in, Clean Language is  also ‘simple’, ‘accessible’ and ‘sustainable’. If you want to read books, or other blogs about Clean Language and Systemic Modeling, you can learn about them via resources (books, blogs, DVDs) that I have collated here.

Why did the case study about Clean Language affect me viscerally? The case study caused me to reflect on my own past, in particular a collective team failure (losing a contract re-compete). For years, we had had our heads buried in our ‘own’ analysis, our narrow context and our problem solving work for our customer.  We did good work, not excellent work. But looking back, I see that we were all missing a sense of curiosity about ourselves and about the way the environment evolved (or stagnated) both internally and in the competitor/customer ecosystem. Knowledge work is not just a reflection of the work processes and structures we put in place – this can lull us into a sense of ‘having things covered’. Knowledge work is deeply rooted in and affected by the way people think and how broadly they think and enquire about the world around them. To change from status quo or to ensure survival, we may need to become aware of how it is that we think first. We need to pull from what may be subconscious current thought processes, make them explicit (exposing assumptions and contradictions), ask for new outcomes and then re-structure our models based on what we want (our intent). This can be done – internally and sustainably – with the help of Clean Language questioning and modeling via coaching and training.

Promoting a culture of inquiry as a way to ensure long term corporate resilience is nothing new. But Clean Language and Systemic Modelling as a tool is very new and quite intriguing.

Finally, curiosity and questions that work well are driven by a fair amount of ‘intentionality’. Here are some examples of intentionality that I have developed:

1) I have an intention to learn; therefore I may request that someone  ask me ‘cleanly’ about what I am like when I am learning at my best. And as they help me develop my conceptual landscape using Clean Language questions, they will help me increase my self awareness while also learning what works for me.

2.) I have intention to support the work done by my team; therefore if someone disagrees on some matter, they have some information that I don’t, and I want to find out  what else there is about that view that I may be missing. I then ask them ‘clean questions’ to reveal their thinking.  This enables them to be heard and understood and contrasts with normal arguments and discussions that might ensue when I reassert my own views. Instead, I learn (my intention is to learn after all) an alternate view, which then may help expand my own thinking.

3.) I have the intention to be aware about things evolving outside of my immediate work and home life – to stay curious; therefore I will inquire and ask more outside my normal channels using clean questions. This might be markets, customers, peers at other companies, former colleagues, neighbors, chance encounters in public places.

The nice thing is that no matter where I would like to exhibit this curiosity, the same Clean Language questions and Symbollic Modelling techniques can be used. In brief, these techniques are few and simple, though not easy.  Learning to use them, honing your listening, being aware of your intent and  faithful to your curiosity take time and practice. The reward is in the discovery of new landscapes of possibilities! For organizations, the reward is growth, awareness, and better flow of communication.

Dream Girls

Posted November 30, 2013 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Listening, Personal Growth

Christie and meMy daughter graduates from college (Franklin College, Lugano, Switzerland) in May, I see her following closely in my footsteps of many decades ago. Reluctant but ready to step beyond the classroom, she wants to explore! She loves learning foreign languages and meeting people from around the world. Her major (International Relations) isn’t necessarily immediately marketable (as mine wasn’t – German Literature). She may choose graduate school eventually. She’s anxious about what she will do next but she has dreams. Whatever the path, I have confidence it will all work out. It did for me under similar circumstances. I tell her that.

She comes to me, I think, because I listen. I don’t give advice. Sometimes, I tell her what worked for me. Or I might say, follow your passion. She has some practical ideas, and some wild ones, like moving to China to teach or work.  Oh, that sounds so very familiar. To my surprise, it is unfortunately not as easy to do now as it was in the 1980s. I don’t tell her my preference or what she should do. I think she keeps coming back to me because of that. I give her thinking and reflecting space – what Nancy Kline calls a thinking environment in her book: Time to Think.

As I listen to my daughter, I reflect on my own feelings and my journey. I am still evolving in my career. I’ve made it to where I am through hard work. And I keep moving towards my goal: to be an excellent agile or kanban coach,  facilitator, trainer, and change agent. I read, I learn, I write a bit, I connect with people. There’s some uncertainty. But I’m ok with that. I keep the dream alive by working towards it. That’s what I want her to do too.  Dream girls!

Power And Love – my first NVC workshop

Posted October 28, 2013 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Courage, NVC, Organizational Change, Teams

2013-10-27 09.36.17

Thurgood Marshall Center

On Sunday, October 27th, I attended my first Non Violent Communication (NVC) workshop. It took place in the Thurgood Marshall Center in the Shaw neighborhood of DC, which is known for the riots that took place there in the 1960s. I remember those riots – they formed very profound memories in my early childhood.  I’m glad the neighborhood which is located just miles north of DC’s convention center area looks alive and well now.  I particularly liked the retro basketball court open space that the event was held in.

The goal of this workshop was to expose and discuss the power and privilege structures that are all around us to see how we can, despite these, still show up empowered to ‘hold the whole’ – to consider the needs of those in power when we are not, and conversely to consider the needs of those we serve should we be in a position of power.

Miki Kashtan from the BayNVC and Wes Taylor, a seasoned NVC practitioner from Baltimore were the co-facilitators. Both were superb, holding the whole completely throughout the day – even when, on one occasion, there was definitely some tension in the room.  To see them both absolutely comfortable when things are not comfortable is like eye-candy to an aspiring coach like me.

The workshop began with an invitation to us all to become ‘co-creators’, to be involved when things aren’t going right.  This reminded me of my earlier post about confrontation – the collaborative kind that allows us to show up with all of our needs, feelings and requests – not being afraid to voice what is on our mind. But here in this workshop, this was framed around the needs of the whole. It isn’t either ‘me’ or ‘the whole’, it is both. It is hard for most to grasp the notion that we can all have our needs met with some give or take training and practice. I came to this session to get ideas on this topic.

Miki asked us to think about why we decided to come. Since we had 30 people and limited time, we posted the responses to this until all reasons were covered and no new ideas came up.  Here is the list:

  • When is listening just waiting – when to take action
  • (Re)define power
  • Learn how to lead from Below
  • Cultivating, not showing up in a ‘knowing’ stance
  • Learn to transform inner model (i.e. Power/Domination model)
  • How does one skillfully respond to power
  • How do we meet needs for the whole – without compromising self
  • What is our ‘Intention to Act’
  • How do we enlarge our circle of action (what is the ‘whole’ that we think of)
  • How can we use power to inspire others

After acknowledging we might not cover all of this in one day, Miki and Wes proceeded to each tell a story in which people in positions of (structural) power used that power  in a way that would fit the ‘needs of the whole’. I summarize just one here: The owner of a small pre dotcom bust IT training firm was losing money. The owner wrote a holiday letter warning everyone that cuts would need to be made. He then invited everyone to participate in a multi-day discussion to see how everyone’s needs could be met while preserving the company.  Amazingly, the sacrifices people were willing to make were more than enough to continue operating for some time.

You can see the transformative power of an inclusiveness mindset. The challenge is to keep this mindset switch ‘turned on’. In my interpretation, it isn’t enough to ooh and aah at such stories and retell them and similar ones. If you are committed to changing the existing paradigms of structural ‘power over’ mindset, you must find ways, even when not in power, to bring the ‘whole’ into focus. One of the most powerful questions to have handy at all times is: ‘What would change in how I show up if I choose to ‘hold the whole?’  In this example, both the employees and the owner chose to show up in consideration of the whole.

But we need to build trust that we can take into account the whole: Do people know what they need and want? Do they know how express it, to ask for it?  In the old model of change, from a position of power, you could just guess at what’s needed and offer it. For example, I will offer to have the offices remodeled. I’m in a position of power (I have resources) to do that. I decide how and do it. That may not work well.

In a slightly more inclusive model, you can ask people what they want. This tends to be too open ended, and may not engage people the way you expect. Why is this?  We have all internalized domination so much, that we do not engage in possibilities of change automatically and tend to remain silent, even when given the opportunity to participate.  Instead, to get the maximum engagement, you may try with offering three options for a change and invite everyone to engage in a discussion of which one.

Miki closed this session by quoting this:  ‘The alienated world is what we create every day’. If we start to recognize that by our non-action with ‘things as they are’, we are helping to sustain this alienated world, perhaps we will start down a new path.

What is generally needed for change

For change to happen, we need to

  • Recognize a need for change.
  • Acknowledge there is a possibility for change. This is indeed radical for many people, because dominations systems typically withhold information. In this manner, they self-perpetuate.
  • We need to have resources for change. This can either be structural resources and/or sheer will – mobilization of people first, with or without resources.
  • Be willing to change.

Change towards a Needs based Economy, Miki’s passion.

Miki expressed her personal passion to transform folks’ view from:

‘Structural power equates to dominance’


‘We can use structural power to increase our capacity to mobilize resources to attend to people’s needs’

What structures, processes, systems do we need to support people’s needs?  In a needs based economy, we need to attend to the whole, but we also need resources: time to practice, community support and feedback. Later in the day, those in the workshop who live and breathe NVC expressed how important it is to have your own personal coach, resonant partner, or NVC support person to help you through. The work is exhausting, draining, and difficult.

Structural Power, defined traditionally means that a power over relationship involves:

1.) Consequences if you aren’t doing as expected
2.) Control of resources by those in power, including access to information
3.) Limits and constraints on your options, imposed by those in power

‘The mere fact that these characteristics exist drain one’s energy from even engaging in the thought of making a choice’

We then discussed that waking up in a position of structural power is more morally difficult than waking up in a position where you have no structural power. Yet still, learning how to say ‘No’, or to confront is something you can do to start to create that shift in ‘structure’. Not all structure is based on physical resources, such as money and position. If you think of mindset and your individual actions as part of the shared structure or collective mindset, then your small actions to ‘shift’ the ground will make a difference.

‘Violent means cannot create non-violent results’

After lunch we started with the notion that it is not always obvious how to create the whole that works to meet everyone’s needs. Miki mentioned that reading the book ‘Creating a World that Works for All‘ helped her to change her views on this.  A story from that book about the Exxon Valdez oil spill highlights the paradoxes we sometimes face. The people protesting the spill relied on that same oil for their everyday lives.  They didn’t fully appreciate how much part of the system they already were.   What we need to ask ourselves is: ‘If you were in a position of power, what would you do to make it ‘work’ for everyone?’

Movement in Groups Activity

We played a game with short thin sticks. This reminded me a lot of some of the agile games we use to teach team and group work. Wes instructed us to hold the stick between our two index fingers and walk around the room moving the stick in space as much as we could. Then we formed pairs, holding two sticks, but the far end of each stick was held by our partner’s index finger.  We did the same in triads, and then in groups of six. Holding the ‘whole’ in this case meant holding the sticks. It sure was hard when we didn’t really have a chance to ‘know’ the others in our group. Did they prefer holding high up, low down, moving fast, moving slowly, holding horizontally or vertically. Who was leading, who was following?  We did a debrief of this and there were lots of learnings.

‘It is easier to see privilege you don’t have’

How do we lovingly invite ourselves and others to see the privileges we/they have?  I hadn’t mentioned that we had only 2 black people, and 4 Asians in the room. The rest were all white.  This was the most intense part of the day because, when Miki decided to open the discussion about privilege, she ONLY invited people of color to participate. Right away, a white man who was gay protested saying he thought he was in an underprivileged class by virtue of being gay. Another white woman gave feedback that she thought not well-off whites might also be included as an underprivileged class.
Miki explained: you do not experience what it is to be black, to be judged by your exterior if you are not black. Let’s hear first from anyone who wishes to speak who is black.  The black lady in the room said: In all of her life, she has never once been given the floor in this manner, deliberately. She welcomed the acknowledgement and asked us to see her as a black person. She said it was very transforming for her.  Everyone fell silent. It was an emotional moment.

For more on privilege and power, please google: ‘Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’. You will come to understand there are many ways that being white contributes to having more power than most realize. Miki then recommended A Swedish movie entitled ‘As it is in Heaven‘.

When we don’t have awareness of an issue, how can we create dialogue on it?  How can we create the possibility of collaboration within a diverse group?  When someone else holds the power? When we hold the power w privilege? When we hold power without privilege?

What would change in how I show up if I choose to hold the whole?

Here are some possibilities:

  • Link all actions to ‘why’, naming and acknowledging that which I value.
  • Acknowledge that you don’t know the answer – that we have to co-create the answer.
  • Show up with more confidence that I can be influence
  • Acknowledge to myself and others when you have a need for additional support, countering a pervasive cultural norm of ‘self-sufficiency’.
  • Never ‘force’ yourself to do anything if you sense a ‘no’ or resistance inside you.
  • Keep a journal
  • Invite people on the team to say ‘no’ too. Then log your reaction when you frown on the ‘no’ that does surface.
  • Show gratitude.

An embodiment practice

Miki asked us to consider the following in preparation for the game

What strengths and blocks do we have to be leaders of the whole at our best?
What qualities would you like to have that your current responses do not reflect?

We then practiced an ‘embodiment’ game in groups of three. In this game, I might imagine 4 gestures which I and the two others will use to symbolize each of these: the situation, the block, empathy, and eventually the success.
We created these symbols and then practiced simulating the situation, the feeling of our block, the access to empathy – over and over and over, until we could suddenly feel that we might overcome that block and be successful.  If you can embody the feeling in gesture, then you might remind yourself in the real situation to reach to those positive symbols of empathy and feeling of success.

Wrap up and debrief

We spent some time at the end in silence thinking of the actions that we could take to

  • improve our ability for self-care
  • connect with people
  • practice holding the whole in situations of unequal power

One young lady at the very end was lamenting how darned hard this work is. She was literally in tears recounting to us her work with children in a ministry – how at the same time that her work has been very rewarding with the children who adore her – the other teachers there are in pain and hurting because of her successes. She said she felt completely burnt out with the incongruence between these two reactions and she wanted to just tell these teachers to read the NVC books.  Miki helped her by suggesting to her other ways to meet the needs of those other teachers.  Second, Miki reminded her and everyone else, that no matter what happens, if you do not have a support person, or a group of people you can count on to share your change-stories, blocks, failures, and successes, you will burn out.  How important it is to remember, coaches and change agents need lots of support!

Lead by supporting those in power out of a place of love – this leads to collaboration.  In turn, express what is important with small strategic requests.

There isn’t much I would do to improve my day spent with this community of people. I would have liked to have had more comfortable chairs. I would also prefer that everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning (rather than only doing this in small groups). I’m glad there will be post workshop outreach to create exactly the support groups we discussed at the end, whether it be an online chat group, or monthly in person meetings.

Here are some of the additional links to articles Miki has written on power and privilege.

Dilemmas of Leadership
Invisible Power and Privilege
Stepping Into Power While Maintaining Connection

I would also like to acknowledge here and cross-reference the recent posts by Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) on what he has dubbed the Antimatter Principle. At its heart is a call for people in IT and other knowledge work to begin to see the world through the lens of attending to personal needs.

What are Needs?

One Principle, One Agendum

I am grateful to my software development friends across the world who have exposed me to so many ideas and new ways of thinking about how to work with purpose and joy.


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