Archive for the ‘Coaching’ category

England – oh Clean England!!

October 6, 2017

cleanjourney_paperI am just back from a whirlwind trip to England where I attended three different Clean Language related trainings. It was a fantastic trip, and proves without a doubt that England is a hub of excellence and activity for what goes on in the Clean Community. Besides providing brief descriptions of the training, if you want to keep up with me on this Clean learning journey, I am inviting you to come to my newly formed Reston Clean Language Practice Group, running 2x per month starting next week.

Clean for Teams

The Clean for Teams taster is a two day introduction to the elements and principles of Clean Language for Teams.  This approach to group facilitation holds at its very center the idea of curiosity in order to allow its participants to work at their best and be in support of each other. Team members become more self aware of their behavior patterns and needs while learning to be curious with each other.  Caitlin Walker took the Clean Language tools of David Grove including especially his eliciting of metaphors and brilliantly adapted its use to groups.  Do watch the TedX link above for a taste of what that’s like. The approach Caitlin created is called Systemic Modeling (aka Clean for Teams) because it teaches a group (a network or system of individuals) how to work in support of each other’s development. Because the skills are easy to learn,  the process is highly generative (meaning, not dependent on the facilitator over time) and promotes high degrees of personal and interpersonal awareness.  

If you are interested, as a facilitator, or as a group member, in processes that:

  • reduce friction
  • generate individual and insights
  • foster respect
  • celebrate diversity
  • establish an equality of attention in a group
  • shift the culture to a more productive one
  • and be relatively cheap to to acquire and use compared to an embedded coach or facilitator

then you should explore the possibility of learning these tools.  

A great description can be found here along with the dates for future courses.   

At the end this two day event, Caitlin said: ‘You have everything we need to go forward and practice’.  I am now looking for teams interested in working with me to learn the techniques.  I will become a certified Clean for Teams facilitator in the coming year.  And, to do so, I will need to find teams that are willing to be recorded, so that I can be evaluated and get feedback from my trainers.  Given that there are no trainers in the US (yet), you could become one of the first teams to adopt if you decide to work with me in support of my certification process. Contact me via my website at http://www.connections-at-work.com or call me at 571-437-4815.

 

Symbolic Modeling Rolling Program 

IMG_0117

Penny Tompkins, me, and Marian Way

If you are interested in personal change work using Clean language, you must learn Symbolic Modeling. Now also widely adapted to business, life and executive coaching, Symbolic Modeling originated in its therapeutic use with trauma patients. Invented by David Grove, Symbolic Modeling uses Clean Questions (a language of inquiry) to help focus the client’s attention on their own desired outcomes, resources, and experiences.  James Lawley and Penny Tompkins wrote the definitive book on this subject after observing David Grove’s therapy sessions for 4 years, codifying what they observed him doing.  The book is called Metaphors in Mind.  I was very lucky to be in this three day practice session with both Marian Way and Penny Tompkins facilitating!

 

Learning the basic Clean Language questions alone, without any insights into the Symbolic Modeling principles and processes is a bit like learning to write letters, without learning how to form words or sentences.  Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language questions are by the way, also at the core of the philosophy behind both Systemic Modeling and  Clean Space (see below).  

So, I highly recommend taking the Clean Language Core Skills Course (which is pre-requisite) and then using the Rolling Programme modules to deepen and practice the skills to become a Symbolic Modeling facilitator, if that’s where you are headed.  There is also a fantastic California based introduction to Symbolic Modeling in January 5-7 2018, called Symbolic Modeling Lite. Sign up here.

Clean Space

Marian Way and James Lawley have recently codified the essential aspects (process and principles) of the Clean Space practices of David Grove in a new book called Insights in Space, How to Use Clean Space to Generate Ideas and Spark Creativity. The two day training is based on the process described in the book. As you experience and facilitate the process, you are able to put it in action right.    

If you are interested as a facilitator, an individual, or even a group in processes that would:

  • spark creativity,
  • utilize space to gain perspective
  • create connections between those perspectives
  • generate new insights on any topic
  • be adaptable to many situations (we can create new processes from these principles)
  • be unlike anything you’ve likely experienced before

then this would be the class for you.   If you’ve ever gotten new insights from taking a walk, or taking a shower, you’ll discover a way to do this sort of thing in a facilitated session in ANY location.  Do note that all David Grove’s work was meant to get the facilitator out of the way, so that even with this, the facilitation is light touch – but heavily informed by spatial metaphor – one of the predominant ways we make sense of the world.

A more detailed description of Clean Space can be found here.  If you are interested in experiencing Clean Space with me, I am available to facilitate sessions with you in the coming months.   

Additionally, as mentioned above, if you want to practice Clean Language  locally in 1.5 hour practice group sessions in Reston, VA, I’ve just launched the Reston Clean Language Practice Group.  Again, for any additional information you would like on any of these topics, contact me at 571-437-4815.



My next adventure with my Clean learning journey will be in California for the Clean Convergence events January, 2018.  In September 2018, I will likely return to England to attend one or all of these events.

 

Adventures in Clean

Friday 7th September, 2.30pm to Monday 10th September, 2pm 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker, James Lawley, Penny Tompkins, Marian Way, Shaun Hotchkiss, Phil Swallow

Systemic Modelling Level 1 Rolling Programme

17-19 September 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker

Northern Taste of Clean 2018

29-30 September 2018
West Kirby, Merseyside, United Kingdom
With Caitlin Walker, Shaun Hotchkiss

The Long Term View – Systems Thinking and Beyond

October 4, 2017

 

img_0314

CDG -> IAD

At the user end of a systemic failure

Waking at 4:30 a.m. from the effects of jet-lag this morning, I tackled some admin work which led me to this unexpected result – a little systems story to frame my passion around what I teach in workshops: communication and systems thinking.

I am an independent contractor with my own business. I HAVE to buy ‘Affordable’ Health Care Act insurance.   I am required also to report address changes  – but not directly to the insurance company – no.  I found that was not possible. I had to report via the healthcare.gov website, and had anticipated it would be a quick ‘address change’.  A day before my departure for a trip to Europe, I embarked on this fascinating address change journey.   What I discovered to my shock and horror was that I was going to be REQUIRED to change health plans mid-year.  Why?  Because apparently the high end plan I had bought at my old address 10 miles south would NOT be available at my new address.  Why? No one could say initially – the guy on the end of the phone line at the old health plan put me on hold to go do some research. He found that only a small carved out geographic area near my old home had access to that plan.   Then my head started spinning. I had JUST reached my deductible for the year, meaning higher per visit coverage (less out-of-pocket expense) for the rest of the year.  Wait!!! Change plans?  Yes: Return to Go.   Start over.  From scratch.  Sadly, what’s available at the new address are plans with much higher deductibles. So, I am back to square one.  At least I live in a geographic area that HAS plans, I suppose. I see the silver lining, yet muse about how broken the system is. I feel momentarily powerless.

Just now back from my trip abroad and tackling the admin work early this morning, I look for any sign of mail that has my new health plan ID cards. None.  Searching emails. Ok, here it is in Junk mail.  Click on links – ah – yes, I will create a new account.  And then Wham!  I am stuck with an incredible FLAW in the registration process.  Aetna flawNo matter what I put into the field for username I get the same error.   I can’t register for an account.  The system says: if you can’t register, ‘just’ call.   Well, its too early for that.  I pause the task at hand and start writing in frustration.
This is a different sort of systems issue.  I can’t be the first one to report this… Yet, Aetna has taken no action.

 

My part in fixing the larger mess

I can imagine that both the policy flaw that was surfaced by my address change, and the error in my registration – although vastly different in their origination – might have been avoided with good systems thinking and communication.

I am elevating and using my passions around systems, systems thinking and quality communication. I also believe in the benefits of agility, Kanban, and Scrum. It isn’t to say I don’t value the latter. Nor that I wouldn’t work with agile teams.  It is simply that in my mind, systems thinking and communication improvement are precedents and prerequisites for agile success.

We no longer need problem solvers who only see their accomplishments as  check marks on the issue directly in ahead of them. We need workers who can question everything and say no with integrity and congruence when pressured unreasonably to deliver crappy policies, regulations, and software .  We need to create safe environments where people can speak up their truths without fear.  We need folks who can see both the details and the big picture, work collaboratively and creatively to solve immediate problems with a long term view.

Yet, this isn’t rocket science. I believe in the tools I can share to get you there.  Organizations are under pressure to rapidly create new systems (policies, programs, applications, websites), and to learn rapidly changing technologies, so they sometimes neglect to understand that the starting point of failure is a lack of systems thinking and excellence in communication.

If you (or your department or organization) are experiencing stress around deeper issues of communication and are interested in learning more about improving your (or your team’s, or workforce’s) ability to question, think, design, and work at their best in complex environments, contact me at 571-437-4815, send me an email at andrea@connections-at-work.com, or read more about my offers at http://www.connections-at-work.com. I will offer you a free 1/2 hour phone screen – to find more about you/tour team and to see if my style of coaching and facilitation would be a good fit.

 

 

 

Empathic Listening, Symbolic Modeling and Non Violent Communication – Compared

August 22, 2017

img_2220On August 19th and 20th, 2017 I had the good luck and privilege to participate in a weekend of Empathic Listening training and practice, led by by Allan Rohlfs (NVC Trainer), a student of Eugene Gendlin.  Gendlin was a philosopher, who was heavily influenced by Carl Rogers – a pioneer in client-centered psychotherapy. Rogers noticed that Empathic Listening contributed greatly to the creation of a safe space and connection between the client and the therapist. Gendlin went on to create ‘Focussing’, a method Rohlfs uses to help teach his version of Empathic Listening.

Focussing uses the term ‘felt sense’ to describe a pre-verbal or unconscious but emerging awareness about something.  In Empathetic Listening, there is both a listener and a speaker.  The listener is to discern the emergent ‘felt sense’ of the speaker and to use those moments to reflect back to the speaker by repeating or slightly paraphrasing what they said.   The idea is that the listener might, by focussing on the listener, also ‘get’ this same ‘felt sense’, that it is shared.  Unlike what we might think of being empathetic in normal every day discourse, there is a LOT more focus in a one way direction here. In other words, it takes timeand deliberateness – while in normal course of the day, being empathetic comes and goes in between other interactions.

In Symbolic Modeling, there is a client and a coach or facilitator.  The client expresses subconscious thought via metaphors that the coach intentionally elicits. Those metaphors come from what I imagine is the same place of ‘knowing’ as the ‘felt sense’ – expressing something that might never have been verbalized, that is emerging.  It seems to me, that Symbolic Modeling might be faster in helping the client understand themselves than Empathic Listening.  Symbolic Modeling makes no attempt and has no goal for the facilitator to ‘understand’ or ‘get’ anything about the client.  Hence, rapport and connection is not the purpose.  The Symbolic Modeller is a facilitator for the client – helping them to create their own ‘metaphorical’ or internal landscape.  However, the Symbolic Modeller is observing the coachee, reflecting their words back and looking for shifts or changes (i.e. aha moments, sighs, body movements) to support the new awareness emerging.  This is similar to Empathic Listening.

While the  purpose of Symbolic Modeling (coaching with a desired outcome) and Empathic Listening (rapport/connection) differs, the effect on the coachee/speaker could be similar.  

During the workshop, Allan caught me (when I was listener in a pair) trying to use a question, and he interrupted and asked me not to do that because any question would be ‘leading’.  While this gave me a LOT of anguish at first because I am so comfortable with clean questions and I do not consider them leading at all, I came to accept it for empathic listening.  I think this new awareness will help me to pause much more while coaching using Clean questions in a Symbolic Modeling session, rather than coming up with a question right away after the speaker stops.

During the training, we each got to sit in both the speaker chair and the listener chair in a pair, with Allan coaching the listener and everyone else observing.  Each speaker (in the speaker/listener pair) seems to have felt ‘gotten’/understood.  We seemed also to all agree that sitting in the Speaker’s chair was absolutely necessary to understanding Empathic Listening.  In other words, you have to be listened to well by someone experienced in Empathic Listening, to feel really understand the effect. In that way, you may become a more effective empathic listener.  This is true for Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language – best to experience it first.

On the relationship between Non Violent Communication (NVC) and Empathic Listening

The event participants were all familiar, if not expert, in the use of Non Violent Communication techniques for creating rapport and understanding. While NVC has the certain purpose of creating safety and connection between two people, within its construct, it includes places where one person asks questions of the other, in particular with relation to understanding the other person’s feelings and needs.  If you are not familiar, NVC uses OFNR (Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request) framework where the empathic bits are mostly centered in the exchange of feelings and needs.  The most significant difference between Non-Violent Communication and Empathic Listening as learned in the workshop is that in Empathic Listening, the Listener does not try to guess the feelings or needs of the person speaking. That element falls away in Empathic Listening in favor of a more natural verbal validation and very slight rewording of what was said. Observations and Requests are also not present in Empathic Listening.  Both are strongly geared toward creating safety, empathic listening being much more a one way flow, it seems.    As Listeners, participants in the Empathic Listening workshop fairly universally felt much relief NOT to have to guess at the other person’s feelings and needs. 

As I move forward in the coming year in my goal of becoming certified in both Symbolic Modeling (individual coaching) and Systemic Modeling (group coaching) both of which use Clean Language, I know that the philosophy and practice of Empathic Listening will stay with me as a useful alternative in other situations. I really appreciated that Jane McMahon (certified NVC facilitator) organized this event. It gave me the opportunity to connect meaningfully to a variety of interesting people. 

__________________________________________________________________________________________
If you are in the DC area and interested in learning more or wanting to practice, please get in touch with me at andrea@connections-at-work.com. I am considering starting a practice groups if I can find enough people interested in joining. Location will be Reston.

 

On Hiring An Agile Coach, How to Setup for Success

August 9, 2017

Hiring agile coaches is still very much a standard practice. Many organizations hire a cohort of coaches spread around the organization to help teach, train, and lead the teams towards their specific goal of agility (usually related to: better quality products delivered in a shorter increments).  There are indeed many benefits to agile coaching in the right circumstances (i.e. the team wants the outside help). The most critical time for ensuring success with a coach starts before the engagement – the pre-contract setup meeting in which current state, obstacles, and expectations are shared.  The team or its leadership asking for a coach must reflect on its current state, the state of the product (direction or strategy for the future), the dynamics of the team, external factors, the governance and software development processes, and its main points of pain (quality, speed, effectiveness – ROI). The team needs to have a sense of where it wants to focus its improvement so that it can become more responsive in its delivery of high quality software. It will hire a coach accordingly.   In a general sense, the team will have reflected enough to know that – with respect to agility – it is 

  • stuck in one or more patterns, that prevent quality or productivity, or general effectiveness. 
  • needs additional clarity about specific goals; and ways to reach the goals.  
  • has either communication or motivational issues which require individual or team coaching
  • wants to own the change….and the results

Given the above, the setup meeting I envision will encompass the following two topics: Goal Setting and Investment Thinking

Goal Setting: The coach and coachee (e.g. leadership and team) generate a common understanding of the specific goals as well as the skills, training, and facilitation needed of the coach to reach those goals. 

Goals should be measurable.  For example, if code quality is the burning issue preventing frequent delivery of features, then a coach versed in quality issues, software craftsmanship and Test Driven Development (TDD) will be suitable. The goal might be to reduce escaped defects by 50%.  Each agile coach has her own ‘book of knowledge’  on topics in the following areas (not an exhaustive list):  team dynamics, psychology, communication, organizational learning, management, agile methods (e.g. Scrum, XP, Kanban), processes and tools, systems thinking, software development, product ownership, lean startup, technical practices (e.g. TDD, ATDD, CI/CD), and scaled methodologies (e.g. LESS, SaFE, DAD).  It is important to find a fit that suits your situation well.  Find out more about the coach candidates and their strengths.  Broadly speaking, we can divide coaches into process coaches, technical coaches, and leadership coaches (focusing on communication and motivation) – but all coaches will be versed at a high level in many of the listed areas and have depth in a smaller number of areas.  

When needed, a coach should be able to call on other coaches in the organization to fill in any gaps.  For example, an agile coach focussing on process and methodology should be able to find assistance with CI/CD – DEVOPS expertise and bring in a short term trainer to fill a gap on the team they are coaching. A technical coach who is less comfortable with running retrospectives, should be able to ask someone with that experience in team facilitation to fill in.  The coach should be able to measure the goal and help you achieve it.

Investment Thinking: The coach shares with potential sponsor/hiring manager of the agile coach the ways in which they and the team will need to invest in the coaching. 

 If this step is skipped, you will encounter many bumps.  It is not uncommon for there to be some resistance to coaching involving change.  Many times it is due to pre-existing schedules and deadlines that are said to be ‘fixed’.  It can be due to fear that some might have of losing their jobs.  If we assume that ‘learning’ is the biggest impediment to a transition to agile, and that learning takes time, and we know that ‘there is no time’, no coaching will help. A coach running behind the busy people telling them what to do, just in time, will also fail.

Agile coaching involves the team learning new habits, and communicating in different ways about the work. Initially there will be knowledge transfer through training; knowledge acquisition (cementing the classroom knowledge) will come through the hands on work.  Doing is believing. A team that is willing to drop their own resistance and invest in some new ways of working together and communicating together will succeed. Management must support this. 

A coachee (leadership and team) will benefit most from a coach when they can recognize and verbalize their own resistance patterns and be open to talking about it.  A good coach will help them recognize these patterns early on.  Any team undergoing change will first experience a dip in productivity before the gains begin to take hold.  The timeline of a coaching intervention will be heavily dependent on the context, culture, and the size of the team.  Expect to have the team spend some portion of their work on learning and improvement.  Expect to experiment, and learn from failing too. This is learning.

General Principles of Coaching

If then, the initial improvements and goals are agreed to; management is invested in its own and its team’s ongoing learning activities;  and the skills of the specific coach are aligned to the desired improvements, the coach will come on board with a higher likelihood of success. The very best coach will seek to minimize the touch time with the team over time, and leave them in their own best state for learning on their own.   

The coach will be a powerful observer whose general stance will be to keep the team on track and to help them stay accountable to each other.  Although the coach will often wear the hat of a trainer and facilitator, she will, as much as possible, apply the general principles of coaching, namely:

  • A coach focuses on the agenda of the coachee (the goals and improvements they wish to achieve). The coachee decides which goals or problems to work on, not the coach. The coach can help them discover what they want most.
  • A coach uses powerful questions to generate new learning. The coach does not teach or advise, but asks questions and listens.  During coaching, the coach will help the team by facilitating sessions to find out more about the goals and areas where the team is stuck.  Many questions will be asked and orient the team towards finding solutions.
  • A coach encourages action. The coachee develops his or her own action steps, rather than waiting for assignments of the coach.
  • A coach supports change. A coach follows-up to support personal learning, growth, and change.

The reason we want to see general coaching principles applied to agile coaching is quite simple:  a team will feel more ownership, and the coach will be helping the team to generate its own best way forward.  Specific skills and knowledge of the coach can and should be brought into the mix when absolutely needed. However, it is much more powerful for a team to become a learning team, not reliant on the coach for spoon feeding answers.  A coach can help the team feel confident in its own choice, or steer them to select a new option if the first choice is not in the team’s best interest.  Only when the team is stuck, unable to think of options – should the coach provide an answer.
It is no wonder my recent tweet 
got so much attention.

There is so much work to do to teach people how to learn on their own again. It’s an art they have somewhat lost in the top down style org

This is what using the coaching principles can add.  If you have read “The Goal”, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, you will understand the power of these principles.

_________________________
This post was written from the vantage point of my own prior coaching experiences, many of which did NOT work out or align in the best way possible.  I have just rolled off what I hope is my last ever gig in an organization where agility is mandated and the teams do not genuinely request the coaching.

In the coming year I will be investing in Systemic Modeling training with Caitlin Walker who has achieved major cultural turn arounds in organizations seeking change with as little as 9 days of training, spread over a year with off and on remote coaching after that. I credit much of my thinking around the Setup process described above to her ‘Clean Setup‘ technique.

To hear an account of the effects of Systemic Modeling coaching, watch this video.  This type of work inspires me, and I hope that in the very near future, I can find engagements to do exactly this sort of intervention.   I am not giving up completely on agile coaching, but I will apply the above Setup criteria to whatever opportunity comes my way to ensure I am not ever in the position in which managers and leaders feign wanting the coach in a mandated agile program and then fail to invest in the coach when the coach is present.

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?
__________________________________________________________________________________________
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