Archive for the ‘Coaching’ category

Listening for Metaphors in Interviews

April 12, 2017

Here’s what I listen for when I interview: metaphors.  I use metaphor-listening to draw some tentative conclusions about a person’s thinking. I do this out of habit from the skills I’ve developed as a Clean Language coach.

Here are some metaphors used by a recruiter in a recent interview:

‘raw shootout’ to describe the competitive coaches market,   

                      literal meaning of shootout: “a decisive gun battle”

‘running you through the gauntlet’ to describe the customer interview process 

literal meaning:  “a former punishment, chiefly military, in which the offender was made to run between two rows of men who struck at him with switches or weapons as he passed”  

‘put in a pipeline’ to describe what happens to me next

literal meaning of pipeline: “a long pipe, typically underground, for conveying oil, gas, etc., over long distances” 

I soon developed an image of a big filter entering the ground, where I and other ‘resources’ who had survived duking it out, and harsh interrogations would be dumped into the delivery mechanism to fuel that Big Agile industrial complex.

These metaphors do not align with my values.  The interviewer was clearly not aware of his own metaphors.  There were no other metaphors that described an alternate reality or an alternate mental model in that interview. I do not judge, but I do notice how I feel and react. 

I am learning the realities of big placement companies with big revenue numbers that lack focus on what really matters:  the connections that people make with each other to gain trust, build alliances, create great products, and instill humanity back in the work force.

Agility is harder than you might think without this.  Connections do matter. And so do contractual relationships which need to be built on a foundation of trust, transparency, and a healthy does of shared values.

What do you listen for in interviews?
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If you are interested in forging stronger bonds, safety, trust, engagement, authenticity at work, do check out my upcoming one day (very small) retreat on the weekend of May 6th.  Accepting up to 6 people on a pay-as-you-can basis.

The Limits to Treating Only ‘the Parts’

November 15, 2016

Often the symptom shows up in one place but is caused in reality by a different part of the system.  

Question: What domain am I talking about?  

If you are a consultant or coach, or even a PM reading this blog, and you have read something about systems thinking, you’ll realize I am talking about projects or teams that run up against systemic or organizational impediments that affect their work

If you are my chiropractor, you’ll know I am talking about the body.

Why do I like this metaphor?

I have spent over $1000 this year treating myself to frequent sessions with a very good chiropractor and to excellent massages with his associated massage therapist.  I initially went to this doctor complaining about my right foot.  He discovered very soon, that treating the right foot would not resolve the issue.  He noticed that on that same side, the quad muscles were too short.  They were pulling at my back (which also had pain, but is now gone), and causing me to walk a little funny.

While the foot isn’t yet 100%, I do feel treating the whole system (body) is leading to better results. [I thought of this post while lightly jogging on the treadmill – proof of my better state]

Another thing I learned is that the way I had used chiropractors in the past was incorrect. I had gone a few times for a specific issue, and then stopped going when the local issue went away. I did not have the foresight or knowledge to understand that ongoing maintenance could be incredibly beneficial.  That means regular visits – whether every two weeks, or once a month. I prefer every two weeks.  His sessions last a full hour with a mixture of electric stimulation, ultrasound (full body), adjustments, and massage.

The analogy to the workplace and using a consultant is this: when you have had a coach help you set up a relatively stable agile way of working, with an established cadence or planning, working, demos and retrospectives, you still need to have the coach come in every now and then to help you redirect your attention to other parts of the system .  A coach helps you see the parts that you are biased in some way to overlook.  So does the chiropractor.

 What things are you working on that might benefit from a more global view?

Different balls, different games – metaphors for communication

July 5, 2015

AlistairGolf Cockburn has written that developing software is like a cooperative game.  Whether cooperation needs to occur between IT and business, program management and teams, architects and programmers – I do not often see the flow of ideas,  solutions and decision-making happening collaboratively. Coaches can not solve communication problems unless there is both the awareness and the willingness to have those kinds of problems solved.  It is a bit of a chicken and an egg issue.

I’ve recently come up with a few sports metaphors for the way the interactions go, or could go, if only deliberate learning would take place around communication excellence.  I’ll use an example to illustrate this. 

The backdrop for this setting is a large agile transformation. It has a fairly lightweight governance process but the leadership must report monthly to the business side whether the IT side is on track for the target deployment. The delivery date was set 2 years earlier and is now months away.  The pressure on IT to paint a rosy picture is high.  The program manager must update the governance reports.  Because the Program Management Office personnel who normally pull that data are on vacation, the program manager asks a coach to fill in last month’s data – using a chart the coach has not seen before. The program manager provides her only a paper copy. There are no calculations, queries or information on where the earlier data came from or exactly what it represents.

The coach  asks a lot of questions about the data behind the graph, but her questions are given short shrift by the program manager – who really can’t adequately answer the specific questions. The coach does as close to what the program manager requested as possible and provides the data – though with some discomfort.

The baseball metaphor

The coach has recreated the graph using a new sheet, augmenting it using her own ‘queried’ information for the current month in question. The coach delivers this to the program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager immediately shoots back: “The data from the tool is just that, data from a tool. It will never be accurate or up to date.” [she looks annoyed and wants to move on to her next issue of the moment. She shuffles other papers and looks back at her email.] The coach does not think that pressing the point will be helpful at this point. 

This interaction is not atypical in the IT and/or business world.  The coach (batter) has pitched a ball.  The program manager (hitter) hits it strong; the ball soars over and out of the stadium and there is nothing left to discuss. Batter wins. 

The golfing metaphor

Here’s another way this could have gone – using one of my favorite listening and inquiry tools: Clean Language.

It starts in a similar way: Coach to a program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager listens and then asks one or more of these clean questions – first repeating a portion of what she heard – clearly showing she was listening  ‘and you worry when data is used that may be misleading… ‘

     and what kind of misleading is that? [asking for more attributes]

     and what kind of worry is that?’ [asking more about state of the coach’s feeling]

     and  is there anything else about that data? ‘  [opening space for more observations]

     and where could ‘misleading’ come from? [getting at the source]

     and when misleading, then what happens? [getting at significance, if nothing happens]

Clean questions let you stay with the thinking of the person who is talking to you, rather than reacting right away.  To me, this interaction is like a golfer hitting the ball into the hole.  The coach has found a sweet spot with the program manager – a ‘time/place/space’ where the concern is heard and embraced. The environment is one in which the program manager assumes the coach has a valuable intention as well.  I imagine in this scenario, the two explore further mutual needs and resolve the discrepancy so both parties are happy and more importantly so that the program governance body gets an accurate picture – with all the consequences that might entail. 

The first conversation is frustrating because the coach wanted to ‘do the right thing’ – and perhaps was a bit fearful that not fulfilling the request for the data would be unprofessional.  She provided the data and did not argue past her initial observations and reflections to the program manager.  The program manager’s response and overall sense of urgency seemed to drown out her ability to stay present and listen.

Whether using Clean Questions or other types of listening and inquiry models, the type of attention given in the second example is rare … especially in stressful situations when it is MOST needed.  I do not accept ‘urgency’ or ‘time-pressures’  as excuses for not taking the time to listen and to investigate. It is precisely in the slowing down that in fact you can speed up with confidence. Yet it takes some training and intention to create an environment and culture where this can happen well.

The mindset shift that comes along with knowing how to use Clean Language can help projects, companies, and relationships thrive; it can create more vibrant classrooms, happier employees, better students, thriving business results. I’ve got many examples of this in my book of interviews of people who use Clean Language in their work.

If you want to learn more about Clean Language, please let me know by contacting me at andrea.chiou@santeon.com

Dream Girls

November 30, 2013

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!

The Story of Clean Language and the Gecko

April 11, 2012

When we moved to Africa, and I was just going into 6th grade, I learned by observing that shooting off the tail of a gecko doesn’t do anything harmful to them. They do not bleed. They just grow the tail back. My brother used to do this with his little suction dart gun. There weren’t a whole lot of activities for young kids – we just used our imagination. I did try to stop him, but he was not stoppable. There were a few options: intervening when he was about to do it, finding the gun to hide it, or explaining to him that he just ‘shouldn’t’. I preferred the latter because it was easier for me to execute, but it was not effective.

Logic doesn’t usually work to get people to change their behavior. So, what works? What is the root cause for the resistance people have to logic. I’ve been exploring these types of things to figure out how I can be effective as a change agent.

One answer of several intriguing options is Clean Language – a very powerful coaching approach to help people discover new ways of thinking based on metaphors!

Humans frame all experiences uniquely as we  experience the world differently in the metaphorical landscape. To make a change in your life, a Clean Language coach helps a person or group discover their own metaphorical landscape surrounding a goal, issue, problem or idea.

Clean Language is a process by which one explores an issue through ‘Clean Questions’. These questions guarantee to remove the possibility that opinions, judgements, expertise, suggestions, and other types of undue influence by the coach/helper/questioner enter into the picture.
Examples of Clean Questions (just a few) are listed here. X would be replaced by the exact noun or a phrase used by the person seeking help:

  • And what kind of ‘X’ (is that X)
  • And is there anything else about X?
  • And that’s X like what?
  • And what would you like to have happen?
  • And what needs to happen for X?

Try this yourself. Catch yourself wanting to respond with your own opinions or stories to someone who has just said something interesting. Imagine that they have more to say. Then pick one of the first two questions using a phrase or noun of theirs and see what it feels like to let them continue by asking them of these questions. You will consciously be allowing your conversation partner to develop their thinking. Simple. And good! You will become a better listener too.
But a Clean Language facilitated session can be even more powerful. A Clean Language session involves ‘intense listening’ by the coach, and intense discovery by the person seeking Clean Language assistance. As a coach, not giving solutions is quite a mental challenge and takes practice.

I recently practiced a Clean Language session for the first time with someone who needed help. Aside from the beginning and the end of the session, I spoke only a handful of times to ask some Clean Questions, using a few words from the other person to guide them into further exploration. By the end, I was completely exhausted! But the fabulous reward was – my coachee said that she thought the session was so incredible because ‘all the ideas for her resolution came entirely from her and not from me’. ‘She would never have thought of them without the session.’

What a wonderful testimonial on the ‘regenerative’ power of using Clean Questions. Like the Gecko’s ability to grow back his tail, the capability to grow from expanding one’s metaphorical landscape is inherently human.

For those of you who are still curious, there are a few options. One is: buy Judy Rees’ book, ‘Clean Language, Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds’. That is where I started my learning. Another option can be to learn about it through a new web site Judy has created called Learning Clean Language. This site has video tutorials of Judy introducing the concepts of Clean Language. She is developing this site in a very agile way, with periodic releases, and ample feedback mechanisms so that she can help you learn and you can give her feedback on the site. You do need to register and create an account, but otherwise it is free.
Lastly, if you would like have a Clean Language mini-makeover – I am offering free ½ hours sessions by telephone or Skype (audio). Please feel free to contact me by email to arrange a pre-session consultation and let’s get started. Find me at andrea.chiou@ascconsultinginc.com.  And by the way, the topics to do not have to be BIG problems, they can be simple workplace issues you are facing. Start simple, and lets explore.

I Listen, You Think and Resolve

April 8, 2012

Building on my last post about the power of being present’ in conversation, I am setting a new goal: to become a really good listener. This will take me a bit out of my comfort zone.  Heck, it would take most people far away from their analytical, interactive, interrupting conversational styles. As described by Nancy Kline in her book, ‘More Time to Think’, attentive listening allows the ‘listenee’ the thinking room to talk through and solve dilemmas and mental blocks largely independently.

Most people don’t give the act of listening much notice. I didn’t until I started reading about Clean Language questions developed by David Grove. The Clean Language questions made me realize how much of ‘ourselves’, our values, our opinions and solutions we inject into every conversation. The power of not injecting our responses and substituting instead Clean Questions along with selected words used by the person you are listening to – is magical. It allows the other person to blossom and open up in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

The book More Time to Think takes a slightly different angle suggesting that most people are not doing their best thinking – because they are not given the space, encouragement or safety to finish talking through what they are thinking. By introducing Listening Environment and Listening Sessions, special guiding questions and the use of several other techniques–most requiring the listener to keep his/her mouth closed, but not allowing them to lose attentive focus– the thinking person will find and fix their own problems and/or enable new creative solutions to form.

As with Clean Language – the coach (listener) is not viewed as indispensable to the coachee (thinker)– because the coachee (thinker) finds his/her own solution. This is great stuff!  Simple, but powerful. Indeed, some of this may simply be used in natural conversation, once you have mastered the general techniques.

How do you give your loved ones, and your co-workers sustained attention when they speak to you? Please feel free to add your comments.

And if you would like additional information on Clean Language, please visit Judy Rees’ new site: www.learncleanlanguage.com. It is free with registration and teaches much of what is in her book through short video clips and other material.

Being Present: Extending Your Capacity for More Effective Communication

March 6, 2012

I once had a doctor that amazed me every time I visited her. When she entered the room, she was fully present and ready for me. She would welcome me warmly and ask about my family life. This opened up a conversational space between us that allowed a bond of trust and closeness that made me feel comfortable. In doing so, she was thinking of my person, physical and social in an integrated fashion.

Contrast this with a typical doctor’s office visit now in which the doctor enters the room, shakes your hand and says: What symptoms are you having today? or What can I do for you today? Directed questions right off the bat make me feel a little uneasy and do not allow for that feeling of mutual respect. The second doctor chose a question to elicit just the response needed to identify the supposed one problem that I came in for.

What do you prefer, an open ended question that is inviting to the larger picture or a closed-ended question that demands a specific answer? Think about the knowledge work you do or the issues you need to resolve with people: do you stop first to reflect on the larger picture of the work you are doing and the person you are interacting with before delving deeper?

No matter which knowledge industry you are in, creating interactions that are as deep, broad and open as they can possibly be is not easy. It is my belief that individual developmental coaching can help people to change their approaches to problem solving and thereby improve results in their own careers and in those they serve.  Let me tell you another short story – again in the medical field.

Recently, I had asymptomatic diagnosis of a 3.5 cm gallstone after an ultrasound. Two doctors, a general practitioner and a gastrointestinal specialist told me in no uncertain terms that I must go to the surgeon and have my gallbladder removed.  When I went to the surgeon, he told me that he would not touch me with a knife as I had no symptoms.  He was thinking about the bigger picture, where as the two others were not.

Think about how easy it is to put your trust in a specialist in a field you are not familiar with. Do you instinctively trust their opinion, diagnosis, problem-solutioning approach?  How would you know that they are considering the full picture? What assumptions do you think they are holding tight? And how can you stay in a conversation to probe their assumptions when all non verbal queues indicate they have to move on to their next patient? From the point of view of being a patient (or being a member of a software team being assessed on your performance), how do you ‘hold presence’ to ensure your views, issues, and questions are heard?

This week I have been reading Presence-Based Coaching: Cultivating Self-Generative Leaders Through Mind, Body, and Heart. If you want to cultivate a more effective mode of communicating, you can benefit from the practices of ‘being present’ as described in this book.  An excellent coach will help you to cultivate the skill of ‘being present’ when you engage with your client and teams.

I wondered as I read this book whether the wonderful doctor who habitually invited me into a conversation about the larger ‘picture of me’ had had a good coach to help her relate to her patients. I also wondered whether she would have taken the time to make a better evaluation of my gallstone issue before sending me off to the surgeon.  Most knowledge workers, who have vast quantities of information and expedient seemingly viable solutions close at hand, would benefit from slowing down, testing their assumptions, asking open ended questions and establishing trust before attempting to solve the problems ahead of them.

As usual, I welcome your thoughts and stories!