Pivot 2, 2020: Congruent Communication

Posted April 2, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Leadership, Listening, Personal Growth, Systemic Modeling, Teams, Training

Since my last post, I was let go from the company that had hired me to help facilitate and manage soft skills trainings online.  As sad I was about that, what this frees me up to do is to continue on my own to train people remotely in the specialized soft-skills and leadership training I’ve been learning over the past decade… at least while I seek my next full time gig or employment.

The course I am planning is called ‘Congruent Communication’. It is geared to those in high stress jobs or families where personal or leadership development is desired. This course derives from my decade long learning journey with a few outstanding mentors and trainers.

From taking this course, you would: 

  • Become a better observer and listener
  • Get curious as well as to help other people extend their own thinking with coaching questions
  • Suspend judgement when others are acting out or not doing what you would do – a.k.a. become more empathetic
  • Offer and receive feedback well so that it is more likely to be effective
  • Learn intention setting, state management, and asking for support
  • Adopt some rules for handling conflict in the moment
  • Practice skills and start personal journaling about your experience
  • Belong to a community of people striving towards improvement in these areas, regardless of context.

One of my mentors was the late Jerry Weinberg, who so ably trained many software developers, coaches and managers in IT.  Jerry in turn was trained by Virginia Satir, the first therapist who included the whole family in the individual’s therapeutic healing process (something we would now call a systemic solution).  Satir (and Weinberg) used  the term ‘congruence’ to describe the ability to match inner feelings with outward communication. 

Another of my mentors is Caitlin Walker, whose Systemic Modeling work with groups has been a huge inspiration and source of my own personal growth over the past 5 years.  

The training focus with Caitlin involved my learning how to become self aware of both positive and negative emotional or ‘brain’ states as well as drama positions (persecutor, rescuer, victim);  learning a way out of incongruent negative states via curiosity and listening (using Clean Language);  adopting a desired outcome;  developing awareness of patterns in self and others; learning effective ‘clean’ feedback and knowing your ‘contract’; and developing metaphors, embodied awareness, among others. 

These two lineages of soft skills training in congruent communication are complementary.  Observation, awareness of self and other, curiosity, neutrality, and feedback are cornerstones of both.  I am perhaps the only person who has invested in learning in a sustained manner from both Weinberg and Walker.  Many have studied from one, but I can’t think of anyone else who has studied from both. 

Expressions of interest and inquiries can be made here:  andrea@connections-at-work.com or on my intake form.

Better Conversations and Connections From Where You Are

Posted March 17, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Experience Report, Listening, Personal Growth, psychology, Systemic Modeling, Teams

Are you new to isolating yourself at home?

I have been living alone and working remotely since late 2017.  Just as the Coronavirus virus was exploding in China in January 2020, I had coincidently decided to get out more by volunteering and taking up a few in-person activities.  I had finally admitted to myself that not seeing people in person regularly was a severe hit to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Well, that is now flipped back again to almost constant physical isolation,  I notice I am even more aware of this than before.  My lived experience is that it is not mentally good for humans to isolate. Yet, for some of us now, Zoom and remote working are the best we can do. We have to adapt. We all need support in this.

A few weeks after I was laid off from my job and as the Corona virus started spreading world-wide, I received an offer to train and facilitate online courses in Better Conversations with trained facilitators from the Clean Language community. I was attracted to this opportunity because it was similar to what I had done in 2017 on my own, while giving me the chance to work in a great team again. So I said yes.

Training people in these skills (listening, self-awareness, curiosity) fills my need to make a difference – a difference that will outlast this global economic and health crisis that we face. The key will be to find people who need it and ensure that they are able access it.

Today, the other facilitators and I were discussing the effect on us to be launching the program during tough times.  Are we ourselves too distracted by the events around us? How will participants be? Can we handle any stresses we or they bring into the class?

Learning to manage one’s state (self awareness and self-management in any stressful situation) is a cornerstone of the course from the first session on. So of course, as our conversation unfolded, the answer to whether we should plan a launch was a resounding YES!  We had already run a number of pilot courses and received excellent feedback, so we are encouraged to stay the course.

While we haven’t settled on the final prices or dates yet, we have decided to find out more about who would be interested.  Thus, I encourage you to express your interest at  http://www.betterconversations.online  Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.14.14 PMThis will help us to organize a great experience and we can invite you to be the first ones to register when we do launch – hopefully next month. If you have questions about the course before registering, email me at andreac@amphora.solutions.

Bless you and stay well!

Thank you.

Reading and Listening to….

Posted December 15, 2019 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Book Review, Personal Growth, psychology

I’ve decided to just post what’s on my mind from time to time – from links to podcasts or references to books I am reading. Here are some of my  November/December explorations.

How Words Kill, You Are Not Human, Simon Lancaster.  I had an exchange with someone on twitter who argued that Words Don’t Kill. Literally he is correct.  You’ll have to read the book to make your own judgements as to whether words influence what happens as a result.  I liked this book a lot, even though it confirmed things I already knew and believed from consuming George Lakoff’s blogs, videos, and books.

The Clown, from Heart to Heart, Ton Kurstjens – this one I bought from Amazon’s UK website as it wasn’t available to me in the US. Recommended by Marian Way after I went on a Clowning training in England, I am TRULY enjoying this lovely read. Learning to clown is a path of personal development that I enjoy. There are several follow-on courses in 2020 that I’m looking at.

Why is That so Funny?
John Wrigglers – A book about human interaction as it occurs for actors, improv artists and clowns – and why their interactions might be seen as funny.  Fascinating read. I experienced some of the exercises in the book in my introductory clowning class at Emerson College in September, 2019.

What You Do Is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz – I subscribed to audible again but really didn’t like the narration of this book. It has a powerful message though about culture change. Leaders must have strong ethics and show congruence between beliefs, words and action. It dives into a handful of historical situations to bolster these views.  It seems compelling.

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Russell A. Barkley  – a public library audio book, this one my daughter recommended so I could be more empathic and understanding of her ADHD symptoms and need for treatment. Not sure on this one, as I’ve only just started.

Deep Medicine, Eric Topol – listening to this one – it’s a fascinating recent book that explores the intersection of AI and medical reforms that would enable doctors to be less ‘burnt out’ and more attentive/empathic with their patients. It seems accessible by and useful for a healthcare  consumer who is interested in self-advocacy within the current (broken system). Putting the ‘care’ back into health care w/ Artificial Intelligence to help gain better outcomes is the overarching gist.  However, counter examples to relying on AI are given, which gives this book more credibility. The author is both a doctor and a patient with his own story.

Earthing, Oben, Sinatra, and Zucker – After an amazing clean coaching session with Marian Way on her last visit to DC, she pointed me to this book. I had no idea there something called earthing, something I might experiment with, along side other alternative treatments for a chronic health issue.

Landscapes of the Heart, Juliet Grayson – What does it take to heal a broken relationship – can a really good therapist reach both parties?  I heard about this book via social media networks as Juliet has also been exposed to the Clean community and training of David Grove. She has created her own unique practice for couples’ counseling.  Excellent resource for those wanting to heal their relationship and don’t know what couples therapy done well might look like.

Podcasts
I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes from all of these podcasts.

The Muckrake Podcast

“Political analysts Jared Yates Sexton and Nick Hauselman tackle the news of the day but go beyond the stale and tired narratives to provide historical context and alternative perspectives.”

Unprecedented
Unprecedented tells the raw and emotional stories of ordinary people who, as they pursued justice all the way to the Supreme Court, defined the limits of our First Amendment rights.”

Team Coaching Zone
All kinds of episodes about Team Coaching. I have only listened to a smattering, but have really liked recent episodes 102, 106, and 108.

Modeling How a Business Coaching Intervention Unfolds

Posted October 23, 2019 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Experience Report, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling

OutcomesActionFeedback

Karma Cycle of Systemic Modeling

My instinct (rather than a rich data set) tells me that most of the people that are achieving excellence in organizational change and coaching are first and foremost excellent practitioners – that is, they did not earn their mark of excellence from book theory though some may have started there.  Rather through applied practice, review and improvement over many decades of trial and error, they excelled. Eliciting their unique knowledge is key to long term community growth and sustainability of their unique skills across time and continents, especially when their gifts are unusual. Establishing a learning cohort of trainees with clean language/inquiry skills (or the requisite curiosity to elicit somebody’s ‘how’ without being suggestive) seems a real win in this type of situation.

Here is one example that might illustrate this.  In 2019, 10 Systemic Modeling trainees and I joined in an advanced online training in which we were allowed to follow a current intervention as it unfolded.  Led by Caitlin Walker, the cohort has met frequently over 3-4 month period during an intervention that Caitlin had contracted for to reduce conflict in a small organization.   We have met online for regular updates on the progression of the intervention and for the opportunity to interview Caitlin on how she does what she does. She has both challenged us to think about what would work best next, and then shared what she actually would do herself as an intervention.  We compare notes, ask her questions to discover her logic and intuition.  Additionally we review what actually unfolded the following time we meet.

We have portions of the class where we can elicit more in depth from Caitlin how she:

1.) interviewed and shaped the intervention with the sponsor
2.) interviewed the group involved in the change/transformation
3.) coded (meaning interpreted against some models) the interviews
4.) decided what next intervention to hold at each step
5.) decided at each step whether to continue with the intervention.

The cohort uses clean questions (non-leading questions) to help reveal how Caitlin progresses in the moment as well as in the larger intervention as a Systemic Modeler.  Some of the answers to our questions revealed insights new to Caitlin (consciously) about how she makes her choices.  The output or the course becomes a way to generate material for her to share in her next book, or in formal training for advanced practitioners.

I felt inspired today to write this up after meeting with Siraj Sirajuddin, another person with a high level of skill in his executive coaching practice. He faces similar challenges to the ones Caitlin faces in growing his community of learners/followers to adopt his level of competence in coaching.  When I was explaining to him about the cohort, he became quite interested in this model.  
When someone reaches such a high level of unconscious competence through years of practice, it is not trivial to

1.) unpack how those unconscious decisions are made
2.) make them explicit in the form of heuristics that others can begin to understand and use, and
3.) train up a new set of people to start working (dipping their toes in) at that level. 

The unique skills of clean language trained group are a good way to do that.  And we have learned a tremendous amount along the way.

__
Some of you may be interested in how the Systemic Modeling community has been developing. In 2019, I have witnessed exciting growth including:

1.) increased depth of understanding of Systemic Modeling with many trainees close to achieving Level 1 Certification.

2.) the growth in the awareness of different principles and heuristics that underpin excellence in these practices.

3.) the ability of practitioners to deal congruently and cleanly with a variety of circumstances in a business setting

4.) the number of people who have systematically applied themselves to learning the above and getting feedback within the community

5.) the number of people who express satisfaction, a sense of personal growth, and a sense of purpose in how they are applying clean in their work

6.) the growth in the number of supportive practice groups outside of formal training programs to give and receive feedback on their practice.

7.) the number of countries with practitioners rising to the level of skills mentioned above (Russia, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Malaysia, France, US – perhaps I have missed a few).

I’m really happy that this valuable facilitation style, and clean inspired toolset for helping business people collaborate is spreading.

Caitlin Walker and Marian Way and all who support them to promote this work have really done a fabulous job over the past several years.  I can only imagine what the the future will bring.

Retrospective Letter to Self on my Birthday

Posted October 17, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Career, Courage, Experience Report, Personal Growth, Systemic Modeling, Weinberg

Dear Andrea,

You’ve had a great year. It’s your birthday today and here is a little reflection from your alter-ego. Let’s admit it – you too need a boost. Everyone does.

Where did this all start?  Last fall, you were a bit dejected about the stress and fatigue and ineffective nature of your agile coaching gigs. You went radical. You wanted more joy in your work and you followed your instincts to deepen in the tools you had been reading about and following for years.

So, you decided to deepen in the practices and philosophies of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  Let’s not forget how you invested in yourself:

Clean for Teams – Sept 2017
Systemic Modeling – Dec 2017
Clean Space – Dec 2017
Clean Convergence – Jan 2018 (included Clean Interviewing)
Systemic Modeling – Sept 2018
Northern Taste of Clean Sept 2018

Way to go for ‘skin in the game’ and the great learnings you got from each of those! You are definitely better equipped from training, but also from putting it to use. Check out the following ways you put all of this to use:

You proposed and were accepted to present/facilitate Clean related topics at many conferences and meet-ups. The list of folders where you methodically keep track spans your whole iMac screen. Hey, you did that!

You hosted events with your mentor Caitlin Walker in the US 4 times this year – with the last one coming up in Boston on Oct 26th. You and she are offering 8 days of training across 4 modules. Two of those are all but sold out! 

You’ve started to build a small clean agile community in the US. You know Clean ways of inquiry and Clean Interviewing can be a super useful skills set to help organizations build anti-fragility into their human systems. Human systems impact products. Products impact humans too. So cleanagilecoaching.com was born. You birthed that!

You conducted a handful of online taster courses validating that people are happy to exchange money for learning (with you, yes!) You overcame your hesitation about teaching these skills online, even learned to effectively use a Flipchart during the Zoom session.

You started coaching agile coaches and trainers. That is huge. You’re getting paid to help some of the best, most thoughtful coaches out there take on these clean and systemic skills. Not just in the US, but in other countries too.  They came to you. Wow!

You invested heavily in technology this year as well, buying backlights, an iMac, a quality Rode Mike, and a new iPad/pen – where you can also use live drawing and share via Zoom. You travelled in Europe for a month with only a SIM enabled iPad. That magic keyboard was barely touched (hint, dictate, when you can for typing).  Everything worked like a charm (well except that your SIM card provider later texted to you that you used too much on their ‘unlimited’ plan, and their plan wasn’t meant for people living in Europe. For you, three weeks isn’t living, but you’ll have to be more sparing of data usage in the future!

You were contracted by a large university to train them for a day in the use of the clean inquiry skills – yay for first big client in the IT space – at the level of Director. They wanted to improve their listening skills, and stop talking over one another, taking time to explore topics. A perfect use for Clean. 

You have been a great volunteer out there in service too.  While you give a lot of free advice, and time to edit other peoples books and work, you also started running a Jerry Weinberg inspired book club on Quality Software Management book series; you were a voice in the Agendashift community for the Clean Language channel. Gladly, there are many there now, who are training or already properly trained in Clean, who can chime in as well, when folks have questions.

You did mourn when Jerry passed away in August – that was a very big loss for you.  So sad – and glad – you are still thinking of his work! Keep that up!

You’ve taken some risks, stayed firm and on course. It hasn’t been easy being independent, but you did that because you gained your OWN life satisfaction and ability to handle any difficult situation with congruence and curiosity using these same skills. You know the value they bring!

Just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to follow your passions and beliefs during the past year. Wherever they lead from here – the world is out there for you to explore. Don’t hold back, bring your riches. The world needs them. And you will shine wherever you go; whatever you do.  [and please don’t get rid of this blog – it may seem dated, and not up to snuff visually, but it’s a great story of your past 7 years…]

Take care Andrea,

Your alter-ego

(Thank you, alter ego!)

Jerry Weinberg, Carrying On His Legacy together

Posted August 31, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Organizational Change, Personal Growth, systems thinking, Weinberg

August 31, 2018 – I had written this post months ago, with an eye to growing a small group of Gerald Weinberg fans eager to read his books, but I had not ever posted it. So now I offer it now in honor of Jerry Weinberg, as he very sadly passed away earlier this month. This has been hard on his whole community of followers and on us in the bookclub too.

JerryWeinberg

We originally started with Volume 3, Congruent Action of the series titled Quality Software Management, because several of the people in the Agendashift community were discussing human dynamics and I had brought up the topic of congruence. They seemed interested, so the bookclub was launched with the Congruent Action book. We are currently on Volume 4, Anticipating Change, and will cycle back to Systems Thinking, and First Order Measurement later on.  You can start anywhere in the series and still learn a lot!

I’ve recruited two fellow consultants, Steven Mackenzie, and Christophe Thibaut, to co-host this bookclub with me and it has been running for the better part of a year.  Even though two of us had read the volumes many years back, we decided that a revisit was well worth our time.  Actually Christophe has read the series twice and run a 3 year book club on this series at his company, Octo Technologies, in Paris, years ago.  Still Christophe states he learns new stuff at each new reading.

What’s in it for you?  If you want to connect with other learners, hone your skills as a manager, understand the systems at play in change work, and/or increase your toolset as a consultant, coach or software developer, do join us.

When: Every Friday morning, at 8 a.m .EDT.  We run a very tight ship with a fairly strict agenda in the way we run it, so that we finish on time.  We read just 1 chapter per week.  The approximate reading time is 20 minutes per chapter. After checking in at the start, we introduce new members, check-in, elicit for our initial high level reactions to the chapter.  Then we display the chapter’s pages from the ebook on the screen annotating it with comments as we go, sharing experiences and our connections to the material.

How: To join the discussion slack group, apply to Agendashift community here: https://www.agendashift.com/slack. Navigate to the #bookclub channel for the Zoom session link and chapter that we are on.   The meeting times are generally 8 a.m. EDT, each Friday and it is posted to the channel each week.

Where to get the books:

The 4 QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT p-Books can be found as 4 hardbacks

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING                   (corresponds to 1,2 below)
  2. FIRST-ORDER MEASUREMENT  (corresponds to 3,4 below)
  3. CONGRUENT ACTION                 (corresponds to 5, 6 below)
  4. ANTICIPATING CHANGE              (corresponds to 7,8,9 below)

The e-books can be found as a whole set: https://leanpub.com/b/qualitysoftware or individually:

  1. HOW SOFTWARE IS BUILT
  2. WHY SOFTWARE GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
  3. HOW TO OBSERVE SYSTEMS
  4. RESPONDING TO SIGNIFICANT SOFTWARE EVENTS
  5. MANAGING YOURSELF AND OTHERS
  6. MANAGING TEAMS CONGRUENTLY
  7. BECOMING A CHANGE ARTIST
  8. CHANGE PLANNED AND UNPLANNED
  9. CHANGE DONE WELL

Jerry Weinberg has been a true hero and will continue to be an influence in the field software engineering – with many books on topics such as quality, management, testing, human interaction dynamics, systems thinking, mental models, giving and receiving feedback, design, and the psychology of programming.  His books are immensely readable and timeless in their subject matter. We never leave a session without some new insights, or connections made to the work we do or aspire to do. We hope you’ll join us on this journey.

RIP Jerry and thank you for writing these wonderful books for us !!

 

The Feedback Loop – Success!

Posted June 22, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Clean Language, Customer Journey, Leadership, Listening, Requirements

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.