No Elephants in the Room!

Posted December 13, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling

Systemic Modelers are Clean Language facilitators for teams or organizations that wish to improve in their knowledge sharing, self awareness, sense-making and curiosity; they help teams gain autonomy, self organize while creating networks of useful information. Beyond those lofty and very likely outcomes, I like to say the end result includes: No more elephants in the room! No more having things bother you internally that are undiscussable. If you or your org need that, my contact info is at the bottom of the post!

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Russia, USA, Sweden, Japan, France, England represented – Systemic Modeling is spreading

 

Just back from a three day training, I’ve chosen a few of the principles underpinning Systemic Modeling which really go towards creating a safe learning environment for participants. These are ones which particularly caught my attention this time.  There are others that I will address in subsequent posts.

Preparation

One cannot overemphasize the need to prepare and get in the right state for Systemic Modeling facilitation. The right state means, knowing deeply why you are there doing what you are doing, aware of your attitude about your client, and keeping out of contempt type thinking.  This is very subtle and deeper than I had thought about before – its about being in a state where you absolutely hold no contempt for anyone in the group or about any aspect of the organization. And you also do not hold particular empathy for certain people over others.  This one especially caught my attention as sometimes I show ‘concern’ for others and have (thus far) considered that to be a positive trait. Yet empathy can lead to a perception of preference which can lead to drama, just like feelings of judgement. Even though it may be subtle, Caitlin Walker noticed it a few times and gave me Clean Feedback.  So, what do you need to get in a good state to facilitate:

  1. Set aside 10-15 minutes before the session you are facilitating to access your ‘at best’ state for facilitating. If that requires meditation, do that.
  2. Use Clean Setup with another facilitator. Ideally you have a pair with you during the session too, to keep you straight on areas you need reminders about. If not, still do the Clean Setup interview with another Systemic Modeling coach over the phone or internet.
  3. Let go of thinking you can improve on everything the next time you facilitate. That can be overwhelming. Pick one or two things max to focus on improving. Have a developmental task that you aim to use during your training or workshop and have someone spot you for achieving it during the session.
  4.  Know who you are facilitating. Interview them before hand, by phone or in person. Give them the clean setup type questions, know about about them and begin to discern the patterns. This isn’t always possible, but give it a try.

During the session itself, be an ‘equal opportunity employer of information’, so that they will do the same later. Be a model – you are holding the space at the center of the room where the information unfolds – and helping the participants to do the same, eventually without you there.  Preparation mentally will help you a lot towards that goal.

Let Partipants Experience It before Teaching It

Try not teach a concept or exercise unless or until the ‘thing’ the concept/exercise conveys is needed – as evidenced by something inherent in the schedule or something live happening in the group.

There is less cognitive dissonance when things are taught as needed, just in time, in context.  Here are several examples:

  1. Clean Language is based on outcome orientation and giving the clients maximum control/agency over their outcomes. When teaching the related models used for teams – (a.k.a. Systemic Modeling) – instead of teaching about ‘outcome orientation’ as a concept first using conceptual words, we instead start trainings and workshops with, WWYLTKBWB (What would you like to know before we begin?).  It is a way of putting in to action the belief that members in a group are capable of being their own agents of learning outcomes. This may be a first experience – some people find the question strange, as they have come for you to ‘teach’ them. If you were to do this in every meeting, you will develop a sense if folks are in the right room, know something about the meeting, or have needs that need to be addressed elsewhere…. And it isn’t that you necessarily answer all the questions they bring, but you’ve name them, gotten any clarifications, written them on a flip chart and thereby honored each person’s needs and sense of curiosity. You will refer back to it and answer them as appropriate now or later.
  2. Clean Setup questions are asked at the start of a day, as it will help launch a training, meeting, or other event cleanly.  You don’t need to teach the model using the words ‘Clean Setup’, just use the clean setup questions naturally. Later on you can name it as ‘Clean Setup’.
  3. Five Senses can be trained in response to some possibly incorrect assumptions or inferences that have been made during the course of normal conversations happening during the training. 
  4. Drama Triangle can be picked up when someone in the group starts to rescue, blame, or defend themselves
  5. And interestingly the Clean Questions aren’t taught per se, until after the facilitator has used them in the course of these other models.  Everything builds up very naturally this way during the training.
  6. These are examples of how to keep the agenda fluid. It doesn’t preclude you from introducing them outside of some ‘live’ context, but it is more effective to do it the other way around. For example, Five Senses comes quite early on, even if the opportunity about ‘assumptions’ doesn’t arise first, because it is very foundational to learning about communication foibles, assumptions and inferences about what other people say.

Adjacency

Almost everything in Systemic Modeling is about exposing thinking and doing it in a way that is respectful to people in the moment.  Adjacency reduces cognitive load, and in that way seems a very humane way to introduce concepts and maintain attention. Any organization that is steeped in knowledge work and wants alignment should cherish this principle. Yet, I hadn’t really thought of adjacency before learning about System Modeling.  Here are some ways in which the idea of adjacency comes up in Systemic Modeling.

  1. We ask for clarification using clean questions, not inserting our own ideas – which are more ‘distant’ from what has just been said.
  2. We ask the same question of others – accepting the last answer and extending the question to another person. We often do this with ‘Who’s got something different?’ because we are looking to surface diversity of thinking. Everyone gets a voice.
  3. We teach things when they are relevant (see prior section for more on this)
  4. We teach members to select Developmental Tasks (personal improvement actions) that are relevant to what we need right now to improve.
  5. We bring awareness in a natural progression – first to an individual’s internal sense making, their physical senses, their thinking process, then to notice what’s going on around them with others, and then to what the facilitator is doing. Starting at the core of self, moving outwards to the group is an adjacent process.
  6. If you are adhering to Systemic Modelling, and have done due diligence with Clean Scoping interviews with managers and higher ups before you take on a contract, and you’ve insisted that they undergo the training as well, you will also be demonstrating adjacency organizationally. Teaching a team in isolation doesn’t build safety in the larger system.

Does any of this pique your curiosity about Clean Language and Systemic Modeling facilitation?  Do you think your company, department, and team could benefit? As always, I am willing to do a FREE  interview with you about what you are looking for. It will give you the experience of being asked some Clean Scoping questions. You will likely come away with some new information unpacked.  Email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com or call me at +1 571-437-4815.

 

Systemic Modeling 101

Posted November 22, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Coaching, Dialogue, Listening, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling, Teams

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

Posted November 1, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Coaching, Event Offer, Listening, Teams

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

Posted October 23, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Career, Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Event Offer, Listening, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling, Teams

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.

England – oh Clean England!!

Posted October 6, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Coaching, Event Offer, Personal Growth, psychology, Symbolic Modeling, Systemic Modeling, Teams

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 

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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

Posted October 4, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Customer Journey, Leadership, Organizational Change, systems thinking, Teams

 

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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

Posted August 22, 2017 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Experience Report, Listening, NVC, Personal Growth, psychology

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.