Tags: change, dialogue, gratitude, personal growth
Categories: Clean Language
I’ve been intensely focussed on Clean Language during 2014 and well into this year as well. I’ve reflected on where I’ve been and what I want to do next below. It’s a sort of open mini self-retrospective…first I’ll recap what Clean Language is, for those who don’t know.
Clean Language is a mode of inquiry and a way of coaching – from the realm of psychotherapy. Using Clean Language type of inquiry is about fostering/encouraging the ‘conditions’ for change when a client has a goal, an aspiration, or alternatively when they don’t know what they want, they may start with what they don’t want. When I started looking into it, I was struck with its simplicity and its power, and thought about the many ways it supports other models I have been studying. I was also struck by its power as a mental model, even if it is never overtly used. In fact, there are folks teaching this to very young children with tremendously powerful outcomes.
Clean language is a question only based system, where the questions focus attention on the words and phrases and patterns of symbols (words/thoughts/constructs) used by the client/customer/interlocutor. In it is ‘clean’ in that it removes injections of one’s own reactions, assumptions, and suggestions and keeps the focus on the person who is doing the thinking. I can think of countless business conversations in which one person is cut short, when in response another person interrupts with their own thinking (sometimes also masquerading as a challenging question). For this reason, clean has affected 100% how I experience conversations and dialogues.
Clean Language also draws on the power of metaphor – intuitive, subconscious knowledge. In business settings where it is used, it may not go so deep as in therapy, but the metaphors can bridge gaps in understanding in an incredibly dense, efficient way. In addition, clean questions/clean coaching can help reveal intentions, assumptions, desired outcomes, resources and so forth. It can be a powerful addition to any process, especially when taught to groups who then used among themselves. This has been demonstrated by Caitlin Walker’s adaptation of Clean Language – called Systemic Modeling.
Here are the 5 things I’ve done to engage myself in the process of learning more about Clean Language:
1.) In the hopes I might find some interested people in the software and facilitation fields, I spent a lot of time presenting at numerous workshop during the past year including Agile2014, AgileDC, the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators Network, IIBA-DC, and the Coaching Special Interest Group of the Chesapeake Bay Organizational Development Network. I found quite a few people who found it fascinating and got some really interesting feedback each time.
2.) During the past year I worked with a Clean Language professional Sharon Small, owner of the Clean Language Institute, to produce a book compilation of interviews of people who use Clean Language professionally in some fashion. That was tremendously illuminating because we found deliberate usage in a variety of quite disparate fields, and we have not uncovered them all. So a goal we have will be to increase the number of interviewees in the book in the coming years. The book is called ‘Who is Using Clean, Anyway?‘
3.) I’ve enjoyed participating in monthly Skype calls of enthusiasts from around the world in the IT/Clean Language space – where we collaboratively share our knowledge, learnings, successes, and questions.
4.) There are numerous Youtube postings, and several Facebook groups that also have kept me actively learning in the Clean Language space.
5.) I recently finished reading all the major books on Clean Language that I felt were important for a serious practitioner. Many of these books and resources are listed right here on my blog.
Now, in the present , I am trying to imagine answers to some of these questions:
- What would I like to have happen next?
- How does Clean Language really affect how I listen to conversations, interact with people, understand them?
- Do others notice?
- Do I remember what I was like before I knew about Clean?
- How does it (and Caitlin Walker’s Systemic Modeling) bear resemblance to other means of inquiry and rich, dense information exchange between people, such as The Core Protocols of Michele and Jim McCarthy?
- How will I apply what I have learned more systematically down the road in work settings?
- What inhibits me from trying?
- Do I want to delve deeper in practice, or step back for a while?
- Do I want to stop delivering workshops?
- Do I want more formal in person training in Systemic Modeling? or Symbolic Modeling?
- If I get more training, what happens next?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a much older wish coming true this year: I am going to go to Jerry Weinberg’s Problem Solving Leadership retreat in June. I’ve wanted to do that for some time. And Jerry’s work has been heavily influenced by Virginia Satir, who was a key influence in the development of NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – from which Clean Language emerged. So I’ll be experiencing a week’s worth of immersion on a ‘cousin’ branch of Satir’s influence… and I’ve been told by many that PSL offers a lifetime’s worth of learning. I hope so.
My future learning about Clean Language is in my hands, yet to be sculpted, revealed. I’ve imagined a few possibilities.
- I may revive the notion of hosting a Clean Language practice group, but I’ll need to find a place to host it where folks might be willing to come.
- I definitely will try to connect with Caitlin for Systemic Modeling training in the coming year or two.
- I will hold open the possibility of hosting Clean Language explorations on-line, if there is interest.
- And, what might help a whole lot will be to attend a Personal Journey Retreat given by James Lawley, Penny Tomkins – who will be offering that in the US – West Coast – in January 2016.
Penny and James wrote the seminal book on Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling, It is called Metaphors in Mind – Transformation through Symbolic Modelling. They codified the way that David Grove used Clean Language in therapy by observing him in his therapy sessions, as David Grove didn’t want to stop his work to write!
James and Penny also maintain the most exhaustive on-line resource involving Clean Language. It is like a museum gallery – which you can see here. And, for those not in psychotherapy, there is still much to be gained here – articles about Clean Language used in research, business coaching, and facilitation and so forth. It will be a museum visit – and if you start reading there, after a time, you’ll ask yourself – ‘What? Is it really time to close already, where did all the time go?!’ I have much left to explore here as well.
That’s it for Past, Present, Future – at least for today. Oh – and if YOU are interested in connecting with me to practice or learn more, please do. You can find me on twitter at @andreachiou or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Categories: Clean Language, Conference, Listening
On October 21, 2014, I held a workshop at Agile DC conference titled ‘3 Techniques to Raise the Communication Bar on your Agile Team’. I had an hour to convey the three techniques that I had proposed in the workshop summary to a room of close to 50 people. I introduced the audience briefly to Clean Language and we practiced listening skills using the basic questions. Then we learned two techniques from the Systemic Modeling work of Caitlin Walker. Clean Setup and Clean Feedback.
I’ve compiled all the Clean Feedback forms from the participants and posted them here. I’ve also compiled and posted on my blog a full list of followup books and other internet content that will help participants if you wish to continue your journey learning Clean Language. [As a side note, in the intervening month, my conference interview on Clean Language with Todd Charron at Agile 2014 conference was released and that can be found here at InfoQ website.]
Here are my key takeaways from presenting at AgileDC. Each bullet has my observation, the meaning, and the impact – which is the general format for giving Clean Feedback.
1.) I had a strict 1 hour limit. I must be crazy to even attempt my ambitions in such a short time, and the impact is that I probably will not do an hour long intro again in the same way. I would probably pare down the number of exercises and keep it really simple, as suggested by George Dinwiddie in a post-conference twitter conversation. Even though I had a lot of great feedback, the pace was too fast.
2.) The room was full and the feedback reflected that participants were grateful to have interactive exercises as a format at the end of the day. Exercises are very effective and energizing and really help to engage the ‘what’ of the session better than slides. I will continue to hone the exercise rhythm for future workshops so there is enough time to debrief each time as well as to do short live-demos in front of the larger group. I may also try to do workshops with fewer people where there is more opportunity to interact with everyone during the exercises.
3.) A number of people expressed that they enjoyed the workshop – in person – afterwards. Even my boss came and asked for a session for the other coaches back at headquarters. I wanted nothing more than for folks to have a great memory and enough exposure to know that Clean Language techniques exist and that team communication can be enhanced by questions, curiosity, intentionality, and feedback. The impact for me – knowing that some got what I intended – means that I will continue to find ways to teach and share these techniques and to practice them in smaller groups. I currently have a three hour workshop planned with the Mid-Atlantic Facilitator’s group on January 30th, in Washington DC. You can register here if you are local to DC.
4.) Longer term follow up with participants is rare, though I have no doubt that some were stirred by just this brief exposure. I may add a field on the feedback form in the future to optionally collect emails from participants that want to receive more information.
Lastly, a few people were interested not just in the how – which they got from practicing, but the wider context of why. I’ve included some of the key points taken from Caitlin Walker’s book, From Contempt to Curiosity, in this poster, which I had hanging in the workshop space. I don’t think many had a chance to really look at the posters I prepared. The points on this particular one are a great way to close this post – giving you more food for thought (and me too).
Categories: Clean Language, Conference
I bought The Gift of Time at Agile 2014 conference. It is a nifty tribute to Gerald Weinberg written by many of his admirers (Fiona Charles, James Bach, Michael Bolton, Esther Derby, Bob Glass, Naomi Karten, Tim Lister, Johanna Rothman, and Dani Weinberg) for his 75th birthday a few years back.
I read Michael Bolton’s chapter, called ‘It’s all Relative’ on the flight home and was amused to find here several references to Jerry famously using the reply ‘Compared to what?’ to search for more information from his interlocutors (to their great surprise).
Michael Bolton who at first was really surprised by this question, then came to realize its incredible usefulness, and created the aptly named Relative Rule:
A description of something intangible, as ‘X’, really means ‘X to some person at some time’.
In software, that rule can be applied to so many concepts; quality, purpose, done, tested, etc.
Having just presented on Clean Language at the Agile2014 conference, I mused that Jerry’s ‘compared to what?’ was a relatively ‘clean’ question – one extremely useful to software development field that can be used along with the standard clean questions from David Grove that I taught in my workshop. In clean questions, we have the core questions ‘(and) that’s X… like what?’ to get more information about a word. We also have ‘(and) what kind of… X is that X?’ Additionally, we have, ‘(and) is there anything else about X?’ There are other questions about size, location, resource, time, significance. [X is a word or phrase, taken verbatim]
The notion in Clean Language is that you cannot assume to know the meaning someone else prescribes to a word, phrase or fact. Only the person who uses the word has the context/meaning of their word precisely.
The underpinning of the clean language mindset is that we don’t interpret words using the ‘generally accepted’ definitions of words in daily use, but rather inquire further using clean questions as to the nature of the meaning for the person using the word. Of course in a software development setting, we couldn’t do this all the time nor to every word we encounter, but we can strategically apply it when there is ambiguity. (In the case of clean language therapy, the whole session would consist in fact of clean questions)
Next time I present this topic to a software development group, I will add Jerry’s question to the arsenal as a special clean question of Jerry’s. And I’ll spend a bit more time talking about Jerry’s life work – summarized so nicely in ‘The Gift of Time’.
I did ask my audience at Agile2014 how many of the 60 attendees were /NOT/ familiar with Jerry Weinberg. I was stunned and really sad to see about 3/4 of the audience raise their hands.
Hopefully I gave my audience not only the gift of clean questions and listening, but an avenue to more exploration via my very brief mention of Jerry’s influence on me. I certainly think sharing more about Jerry’s life and work could benefit the software development community greatly. And I will certainly attempt next time – incorporating some clean questioning exercises for scenarios one might encounter at work.
P.S. And it isn’t altogether surprising, btw, that both Jerry Weinberg and David Grove (discoverer of Clean Questions) studied with Virginia Satir…. that line of influence still intrigues me.
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. Read the rest of this post »
Categories: Clean Language, Conference
… 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.