Archive for the ‘Listening’ category

The Feedback Loop – Success!

June 22, 2018

June 2018

feedback

I have just received a lovely email from a participant in one of my East Coast workshops earlier this year.  Over the past six years of quietly and gently sharing the gift of Clean questions and mindset, I’ve noticed that the real impact of what I do takes some time to show up. And it is such a joy when it does.  I’ve gotten permission to share the story, although the participant wishes to remain anonymous. I hope you enjoy the story too!

Hi Andrea,

I hope you are well.  I attended your Clean Language workshop last month. I wanted to share with you that applying what I learned in your workshop made a significant difference for my project and has helped enhance our effectiveness with our client.

Technically, I run QA for a small software company outside of [location removed]. But I am also involved in requirements gathering and other areas of client engagement. While meeting with my client, I didn’t ask the series of clean questions verbatim because I didn’t know how my client would feel about that. But I started as best as I could with a clean mind, did a lot of listening, no convincing, and asked a few questions that were, to me, a version of the clean questions you had taught us. The results felt almost magical.
Though a very nice client, the problem we were facing was that the end users of our application are Safety Inspectors for a government agency. They are older gentlemen who had been very successful at what they do, doing things the same way for a very long time. So they didn’t want to transition to using new technology to record and execute their inspections. Thus, they were presenting a lot of resistance in meetings and so forth.
My manager kept telling me that the issue we were facing was age and their related mistrust in technology. But during my last visit to the client site, I was able to discover that the real core issue wasn’t either of those things. The core issue was their fear that they wouldn’t be able to learn how to use the new technology well enough, and that would result in some kind of public safety disaster. It started to click for me when I heard them insist that they would have to hire their teenage grandkids who would know how to press the buttons on the mobile field app for them. Like I said, I didn’t bother trying to convince them otherwise.
Instead, I recommended to my manager that we implement on-the-field UAT testing for the inspectors to conduct while still in the safety net of a pre-production environment. This way, not only can we further minimize potential production issues, but we can also demystify (without a debate) the perceived threat of the new software to the inspectors. Our developers are very talented and the application is easy to use. I felt that the inspectors would realize that and gain in self-confidence as long as their initial try would yield no real world consequences.
This approach worked even better than I had imagined. Everyone on the client side was on board immediately. They even got excited and started planning the ride alongs for the on-field UAT. And there was a wave of great ideas and requirements that started to flow in from the same inspectors. Since we are agile, we are able to accommodate these new requirements.
I wanted to thank you for the workshop and also let you know that I am very inspired and continuing my study of clean language. Also, I wanted to ask if there has been any study on how we can use clean language to help more marginalized or quieter people in a team by providing them with a better platform to be heard. Is there a way that I can get involved with that kind of a study?

Thank you so much! I hope to hear from you soon.

[the author wishes to remain anonymous]

The participants of my short workshop are typically exposed to an hour of demos and exercises, a few slides with content and pictures, some story telling based on questions that come up, and they leave with a handout as well.  What I am inferring was imparted in this case was the clean mindset – listening to understand well while quieting any urge to respond with your own thoughts.  How wonderful that it had a further impact on the participant and the outcome of IT project as well!

I’ve started to collect very brief feedback testimonials on my company page.  You can find more brief testimonials here.

There’s a lot afoot in 2018 with Clean retreats, clean trainings and conference workshops.  I can help you find the best fit for learning, whether online, in person, introductory, or in-depth.

More fundamentally though I would love to connect with you and give you the space to think about whatever is on your mind, to give you an experience of being listened to cleanly and to answer questions you may have.   Email me at andrea@connections-at-work to request a free 1/2 hour conversation.

Connections At Work

June 10, 2018

Diverse TeamRead each question slowly, and journal or reflect on whatever comes to mind:

When you are connecting with others at your best, that’s like what?

When connecting… You are like what? What do you know about yourself? What would you like to have happen?

Who are the others around you? What do you know about them? What would they like to have happen?

What are you collectively working on?  What do you know about that work?  What does that work want to have happen?

When connecting with self, others, and work and when you are all working at your best, then what happens?

I’ve had fun creating the ‘cleanish’ questions above to reflect on my company mission.  I am curious if these questions are meaningful to you! Did you gain any new insights?

I continue to help spread a ‘clean’ way of deepening connections between the many facets of work: the nodes between people, ideas, the structures, processes and improvement steps that can lead to more joy for both employees and customers.   

I am ready for even more connections in the second half of 2018 – ready to support others who are curious about how Clean Language thinking and questions might improve work and relationships. See here for training opportunities that I am leading and organizing. If those are not suitable, I can either craft something custom for you or connect you to other courses by other leading partners and trainers in the Clean Language community (Baltimore, California, Chicago, Liverpool England, Portsmouth England, Malaysia and online)

Also, I’ve got something new in the works.  I’ve opened up a slack group called Connections At Work. You are welcome to join a community of people who want to foster conversation and connections that are deeper, more curious, tolerant, and resilient than what they have now. It is easy to jump on a call, have private chats, and contribute to the dialogue and connections using this tool!

Let’s see what magic might happen when we connect well in our lives and work!

Welcome!
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For other inquiries, email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com

Collaboration Collapse from Power Distance and Hidden Bias in the Workplace

May 6, 2018

Does your team ever experience lapses or collapses in effective collaboration? Are individuals less engaged with each other than they should be at work?  In the last post, we explored how to be intentional in setting up the team for success in collaborative work.  In this post, we’ll explore power distance, hidden biases and their symptoms.

Power distance comes from actual or perceived differences that convey or cause a feeling of superiority to others, often subconsciously resulting in altered behavior. This can arise from structural imbalances, such as economic power, pay differences, access to information, training and education, or biases in promotions at work. It is also caused by biases arising from things like one’s gender, seniority, religion, race, national origin, age, beliefs, appearance, or the way one processes information, sometimes called neuro-diversity.  Can you think of others? At the end of this post you’ll find a link to a Harvard University website that can help you become aware of your propensity towards the various biases.

Symptoms in the Workplace
Power distance can either have a subtle or a very strong influence in the work place. Here are several observable symptoms related to power distance and hidden bias.

  • Interrupting people
  • Mansplaining
  • Ignoring someone when they are speaking
  • Downplaying or even taking credit for the contributions of others
  • Withholding information needed by others to do their work.
  • Belittling people because of what they say or what they ask.
  • Offering to help without asking – inadvertently taking their work and learning opportunity away.

On the receiving end, a person will often clam up, withdraw, become anxious or belligerent, thereby shifting the quality or duration of any required collaborative work.  The training and awareness required to counter these effects is needed to let people know these behaviors are not ok. It takes great personal awareness, knowledge, and maturity to develop the composure to counter and give feedback to the offender.

Economic and Psychological Impact
What is the economic impact of poor interpersonal behaviors and reduced collaboration on existing teams and projects?  Because of the “metoo” movement, we have seen the impact on the careers and lives of so many women and sometimes also men, when people in positions of power have wielded their power to intimidate and control women’s careers, often silencing them with hush money.  When the problems surface fully, the people perpetrating extreme power-over behaviors also pay a price when they lose their jobs and reputation.  Another way of measuring the economic cost, is the amount of money spent on programs to assess, train and coach people in emotional IQ, leadership skills, team IQ, personality, diversity and inclusion. Couple those costs with the psychological toll of the minor infractions that barely get noticed and you begin to sense the magnitude of the issue and its effects on the workplace.

So What Can you Do?
There are several routes to increasing your own awareness about these issues. You can read more about the topic, take an assessment, or go to a workshop on biases and communication.  You can also initially simply take time to journal what you observe such as the number of interruptions you make or how forcefully and frequently you advocate your position over those of others. On the flip side, you  can log how much you pause, listen and ask questions from a genuinely curious stance towards people who are different from you.

Get help
A coach or a facilitator can help you and your team to observe its behaviors and can work systemically to foster better interactions. Personal awareness and development is a requirement for high performance teams. The best team approaches I know of have a very strong personal development component to them.

Be a role model of calm
What should we do when bias directly affects us?   One way is to be  be inspired by how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reacted to bias and power distance. In the May 2018 documentary of her career, we learn that even soon after she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she kept calm in the face of the blatant sexism she found in the Court.  She was and still is, at age 85, a pioneer in promotion of equality between men and women, describing her attitude when she first started on the Court: “I simply took the stance of a kindergarten teacher because the judges didn’t believe discrimination existed.” Anger, she knew would not serve her. [Note: You can learn more about the current Supreme Court by reading this article on the observed gender differences in ‘interruptions’]

What can you do if you find yourself responding emotionally to work situations? This is understandable when something about your beliefs, values, or career is being challenged or affected.  You’ll need to learn how to manage your state, and respond when it happens.  Use the power of observation, curiosity and listening first.  Confront, but do so empathically. Seek help, if you need it.  Find teachable moments. Acknowledge to others that these moments exist, catch yourself and others when you see it.

Here are some online tools to help you learn more

Remember, you are not alone.  Together with others you can help to cure these workplace ills. By adding tools and skills for developing awareness and connection, inclusivity and inquiry at work, collaborative work will be joyful.

We can increase the possibility of it succeeding by not shying away from conversations about power distance, hidden biases, and co-lapses.

Do contact me if you need help at andrea@connections-at-work. I can offer a phone consultation, training, facilitation,  personal and team coaching.

Systemic Modeling 101

November 22, 2017

What is Systemic Modeling and how can it supplement and improve the conditions for team success?

Topics include:

  • Origin
  • Whom is it for?
  • What are the benefits and observable outcomes?
  • Clean Scoping during pre-contract phase
  • Where can you learn more?
  • Training
  • How to request a Clean Scoping session

ORIGIN 

Caitlin Walker devised a set of exercises and models unique for group work that are based on the work of David Grove, a psychotherapist. David Grove was able to help patients – often PTSD patients – to heal without giving them advice.  Instead, he engaged them by asking questions that helped them model their own internal processes and in doing so they could recognize and reorganize their own patterns and change.

The foundational philosophy is one of deep respect for the individual and his/her own internal processes and therefore it is one of appreciating diversity in groups as well.  Caitlin Walker immediately put it to use and extended it for use in groups evolving into  organizational change work that has had astounding results.

Caitlin Walker’s own definition:  “a set of tools to create intelligent networks of attention across groups, enabling them to make the most of the experience and expertise of each individual present”

My quirky view: One of the coolest, most avant-garde and interesting techniques I’ve ever learned for helping smart people to become aware of and then improve in their interactions and communication. A set of techniques that that allow the team to become self facilitating – and therefore not reliant on a permanent external coach.

Clean for Teams is an alternative reference to what is known as Systemic Modeling.

WHOM IS IT FOR?

Systemic Modeling is domain and experience agnostic. It can work equally well for CIOs, CEOs, as it can for entry level workers. It works for groups in universities and a practice of doctors or lawyers. It has been used with disengaged youth failing in school, as well school administrations and IT teams. It has no boundaries where collaboration is concerned.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS AND OBSERVABLE OUTCOMES?

Benefits:

  • Increased creativity, psychological safety, and engagement – qualities coveted by many knowledge work organizations for contribution to high performing teams (see Google Article here)
  • Reduction in  Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer behaviors (see Karpman Drama video here) – fewer metaphorical elephants left to roam about untended.

You will notice that team members ubiquitously and frequently:

  • listen and pay attention
  • show curiosity and using clean questions,
  • set up for outcome and action oriented work,
  • give each other clean feedback,
  • spot each other’s ‘drama’ (behaviors of persecutor, victim, rescuer)
  • switch the ‘drama’ to outcome/action/evidence orientation
  • set developmental goals and pairing with others to evidence and feed back on the improvements

Other outcomes include:

  • Evidence of more equal levels of  participation in team meetings than prior to training
  • Increased self – advocacy and increased inquiry and learning
  • Utilizing the diversity in thinking for the greater good.
  • Use of modeling exercises to unearth hidden cultural tendencies and assumptions about the ‘way things are’ – thus ensuring continued improvement in culture.

CLEAN SCOPING DURING PRE-CONTRACT PHASE

One way that Clean for Teams sets itself up for success is in the pre-contract phase.  The Clean for Teams facilitator will typically have free phone calls or face to face meetings with both the sponsor advocate and members of the management. They will be led through a Clean Scoping exercise.

The facilitator asks the client what they would like to have happen. She checks for ‘sensory’ detail – not just conceptual words – so the client must share what they expect they’ll notice different once their outcomes are accomplished.  Then she repeats that process for the current state. How is the team working now? And what is the evidence of that? There are some additional probing questions to find out how the leadership expects it will  respond to others’ needs for change. This is to ensure their values around change will mesh with the goals of Clean for Teams training.  If both client and facilitator feel aligned based on what is shared and experienced during Clean Scoping, then the facilitator can draft up expected timelines and outcomes.

WHERE CAN YOU LEARN MORE?

The practices and stories of Clean for Teams in action across the last two decades are described in Caitlin Walker’s book: From Contempt to Curiosity, Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate using Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  You can listen to some compelling examples of how and why it improves communication in this brief radio interview. Listen to how Caitlin Walker learned about and then devoted her life to Clean Language in this Ted-x.  All links are to audio recordings for your convenience. The paperback of her book does have excellent illustrations that bring to life many of the concepts and models. It is cheapest to buy from the Clean Learning website.

TRAINING

Assuming there has been a set of  Clean Scoping meetings, the training plan would consist of sessions conducted in teams no larger than about 8 people.

The learning is iterative and most models/exercises will be used and addressed more than once during training.

Day 1 – Five Senses , Working at Best
Day 2 – Clean Feedback, Team Metaphor
Day 3 – Drama Triangle , Modeling
Day 4 – Clean Setup, Developmental Tasks
Day 5 – Current Situations, Modeling

Follow up sessions – Usually there is a need for follow up sessions spread out of a period of weeks or months to work on live issues and for deepening the practices.

HOW TO REQUEST A CLEAN SCOPING SESSION

To contact me for a free Clean Scoping session, email me: Andrea Chiou.
Please feel free to comment or interact here on the blog as well. Others might find your questions as well as the answers quite useful.

Contempt meets Curiosity

November 1, 2017

Contempt means thinking that a reaction or an attitude or a person or a group of people are unacceptable as they are.  Curiosity means noticing how things are and wondering how they’ve come to be like this and what we might like to have happen next. – Caitlin Walker

Do you experience some aspects or behaviors of people you interact with as alienating?  I sometimes do. And I am trying to learn how better to deal with that.  Since much of this habit is done under the proverbial hood, I’ve committed to start noticing and catching myself when I am subtly labeling or categorizing others in the back of my mind.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  I can try to be a bit more curious about you and you about me.  The world will surely improve if more of us learn this skill.  Whether at work, at home, or even in the routines of family life connecting, listening, and sharing requires both skills, attention, and time.  Nancy Kline’s book, Time to Think convinced me of that long ago.  Caitlin Walker‘s book, From Contempt to Curiosity, was more icing on the cake for my learning journey.  Recently I started to listen to Caitlin herself as narrator of the Audible recording of the same book. It’s a delightful listen, highly recommended to all my agile coaching friends, former and future colleagues, anyone in the healing, social service, teaching, or organizational culture change domains.  You’ll be amazed by the power of her stories in which more confident individuals and interactions emerge with the simplest of techniques.

I yearn for more interaction where mutual curiosity is nurtured, connections are strengthened, creativity fostered, and productive activity and friendships are born.  This is why I started the Clean Language Practice Group in Reston, VA. We practice skills that lead to better, more resilient interactions, and happier selves.

What is your experience of contempt and curiosity and the connection between the two?

Come join us there if you would like to learn and practice with a small group every other Thursday evening.

 

My Company is Seeking a Team to Train in Clean Language

October 23, 2017

My company’s name is Connections At Work.   My mission is to promote connections between people and ideas.  And I don’t know a better tool to do this with than Clean Language.

Clean for Teams Paris

Training a Team of 12 – Paris , Sept ’17

I am urgently looking for one or more teams to train in Clean Language and the body of work called Clean for Teams.  I will be cross posting similar appeals on various groups in LinkedIn.   Apologies if you see this in duplicate.  Will you help me find a team?  Here’s what I need and why:

My ideal team(s)  would desire a huge increase in performance and/or increased mutual understanding and general engagement with each other. To help me find such teams, consider a few of the following contexts that might apply:

  • You or a team you know of is working in a competitive landscape and you just want your company to outperform all the others for the next 20 years! (Hint: there’s several small companies that have done just that for years using Clean Language)
  • Maybe you are working with a team or know of one where  members participate unevenly or with uneven results due to communication foibles?
  • Perhaps you’ve seen or heard of some drama in a group or team you know of such as blame, secretiveness, inability to say no or to give each other useful feedback.

Maybe its a bit of all of the above… The team can be a team of managers, programmers, service professionals or any other sort of group or small business, agile or otherwise.  It can also be executives. Clean knows no boundaries.

So, why do I need such groups now? Why urgently?

The reason is that I am pursuing a Certification in Systemic Modeling more familiarly  known as Clean for Teams. I need to train one or more teams as part of the certification. More importantly,  I want to see the results I know are possible from these tools. Lastly, I enjoy helping teams get into a state of mutual support, inquiry, and self-development. Here are some benefits of Clean Language:  

– helps groups/teams/leaders strive towards autonomy and mutual support;
– is simple to learn and practice after a few days of training;
– does not require constant coach presence, and is therefore very affordable
– is an efficient way to surface creativity, eliminate assumptions and misunderstandings;
– incorporates a very effective feedback model that can be used frequently and easily

While simple enough to learn , it will take commitment from team members towards creating a higher level of personal and team self-awareness than what they are used to.  It will happen over time, while the team and members learn to drop habits, sometimes unconscious ones and replace them with  introspection and very big dose of curiosity. It isn’t hard, but the will must be there. Don’t worry if you’re a bit scared, I’m there to guide you and it’ll be a very, very pleasant ride.

Initial contact time: 4 sessions of 2-4 hours each depending on group size.  Ongoing monthly refreshers as needed.  

For more background on how Clean Language gets such amazing results when used by teams, do listen to this excellent radio interview with Caitlin Walker, the inventor of Clean for Teams.

Please contact me  at andrea@connections-at-work.com or call me at (571) 437-4815 if you want to learn more and especially if you have leads on a team that is willing to invest in learning this amazing technique.

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.  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 want another fantastic article about the relationship of coach/facilitator to client from the Symbolic Modeling perspective, this article is worth a read.

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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.