Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ category

Learning and Working at my Best

April 10, 2013
2013-04-10 20.23.16

Many years ago, I had a fantastically colorful dream. In this dream I had a space of my own that was both a bedroom and a library. Bookshelves stretched into every corner and nook of the room. The room contained all kinds of reading spaces and was rich both in its feeling of safety and its practical conveniences, such as microwave, refrigerator, and bed. The colors of the book bindings  matched even more spectacularly the quilts my Mom had made and all the colorful decorations in the room. I could have stayed in that room reading for days or weeks – without an unmet need – or so the dream went. Then….


Living Your Inner Mirror

September 25, 2012

[I wrote the beginnings of this post in early 2012, and dusted it off this evening, feeling inspired]

In March of this year, I went to a funeral. Steve Strunk was my cousin’s husband: a well-revered DC jazz pianist; also a music theorist, composer, performer, and professor of music for 39 years.

One of the most beautiful moments of the service was a description of Steve – and the phrase used to describe how he was in life was: He ‘lived his Inner Mirror’.

I took this phrase away, empowered to think about my own life and how my own inner mirror would reflect outwards towards the world.

Coaches Siraj Sirajuddin and Judy Rees had started coaching me  around the same time.  I soon realized coaching or some kind of change-agency was my ‘second’ career calling. This would be my way to ‘live my inner mirror’.  I would be helping others to reflect on their own work lives and improvements. With my coaching goals and aspirations as a change agent, I will be more fulfilled and happy in my life and life work.  I have many, many things I want to achieve within this umbrella goal. Acknowledging the power of following one’s calling has been the first step.  Thank you, Steve, for showing us how to live one’s life passion! Bless you!

The Story of Clean Language and the Gecko

April 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

  • And what would you like to have happen?  [launch phrase]
  • And what kind of ‘X’ (is that X)
  • And is there anything else about X?
  • And where is X?
  • And when X, then what happens?
  • And that’s X like what?

Try this yourself. Catch yourself wanting to respond to someone with your own opinions or stories to someone who has just said something provocative. Imagine that they have more to say. Then pick one of the first two questions using a phrase or word of theirs and see what it feels like to let them continue by asking them of these questions. You will consciously be allowing your conversation partner to develop their thinking. Simple. And good! You will become a better listener too.

But a Clean Language facilitated session can be even more powerful. A Clean Language session involves ‘intense listening’ by the coach, and intense discovery by the person seeking Clean Language assistance. As a coach, not giving solutions is quite a mental challenge and takes practice.

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

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

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

A Story from my Past: Adapting to a New Language

February 26, 2012

Recently I read a post by Pawel Brodzinski.  He made the point that people need to strive towards shared meaning of terms, and that it isn’t always easy.  Those who learn a second language perhaps have a greater appreciation of word meanings in general and will dig beneath the surface for shared understanding with more curiosity than those who only speak the language natively. I would like to share a story from my past that may explain why I, too, strive to uncover the shared meaning and context of words.

When I first arrived in Burundi, age 12, I was very excited.  My father explained that since he was a diplomat, my siblings and I had to be on our best behavior and represent the best about the United States. I did not know what that meant, exactly, but I did try to behave.  I also tried to adapt to the new culture at school and to the surroundings. Language was the main barrier.

We arrived in the late summer and I had a few weeks of tutoring to help prepare me for French school.  I have only one strong recollection from the early days. I did not understand much – the instructor was talking about something and I heard him say: ‘leee-on’.  My family had come to Burundi after taking a 3 week road trip through Europe, and we had passed through ‘Lyons’.  When the instructor asked me, ‘Do you know ‘leee-on’?’   I said ‘Yes, it is a city.’  I managed to squeak out: ‘Oui, c’est une cité’.  Everyone laughed.  He had been talking about the animal, a lion, and proceeded to draw it on the chalkboard.  I was embarrassed, but I survived. Context is everything. Respect and patience for those who do not share the same vocabulary, context and meaning is critical.  Building a truly shared vocabulary takes time.  Most are not even aware where there are gaps until there is a failure of great magnitude. While this example is very basic, the lesson learned here applies universally.

When you are in a new environment, whether it be a country, a company, or a relationship, you will not necessarily share the same language, lingo, or vocabulary. If you do share it, you may not share the same meaning for the same words. For example, someone transitioning from a waterfall project to an agile project will understand what the word ‘requirement’ means in a different way. The transition requires that new vocabulary and meanings be adopted (epic, story).   Words are tokens. What those tokens mean has to be learned.  Languages are rich in synonyms and homonyms.  Teams should strive for shared meaning and pay attention to words, verbal cues, and shared understanding in day-to-day work.

The communication ‘distance’ between two or more people is measured by meanings, visions, and vocabulary that are not mutually shared or are shared but not understood in the same way. The closer teams come to shared meaning, the better they will communicate, the better they will perform.  And unlike in French school, where everybody laughed at me, the environment must be a ‘communication-safe’ environment.  My two-year cultural immersion in Burundi helped make me more resilient, but a more supportive environment would have been appreciated!  In the near future, I hope to post more about what I consider to be ‘communication-safe’ environment and how my coaching will enable that to happen effectively.

Thank you, Pawel, for inspiring me to write about this.

How the ‘we’ works in a complex changing world

February 24, 2012

The byline of my new website is: ‘How the ‘we’ works in a complex changing world’. I hope I can explain why I picked this topic and why my blog is called Adaptive Collaboration.  It may take me several posts to elaborate fully.  I have to start. That is the main thing.

For years, I thought it was all about ‘me’. I have spent 20 years in IT in various positions supporting the U.S. Federal government.  I worked hard at my various jobs, woke up each day proud that I could manage raising a family and holding a decent job with pay raises that allowed me a decent living. I didn’t look beyond the immediate needs of the projects, the immediate needs of the family.  I did bring the stress home with me. There wasn’t one project that I didn’t complain about. Some were better than others. Most issues were related to the people on the teams, the teams themselves, or the barriers that kept people from communicating.  None of these teams had a coach. None was agile. All struggled with complexity, technical debt, and separation from the end-customer.  I was a bystander to the larger systems dynamics at play. I simply did not see the larger issues very well, I did not hear the grumbling as a message to do something.  I just went home stressed.

After I went to Amplify Your Effectiveness Conference in 2010, and 2011, I began to see and perceive system dynamics more clearly.  I began to read. I read a lot. I learned about Virginia Satir and human interactions.  I read Gerald Weinberg’s Quality Software Management series and most of his other books.  I added the booklist on Yves Hanoulle’s website to my reading list and just kept absorbing. More importantly, I started connecting with a lot of people in the agile community and started using Twitter.  Right before my last contract ended, I went to AgileDC 2011 and met a lot of dynamic leaders in the DC community who are now encouraging me to live my dream.  I know I can do this. I know who will support me. And I know why I want to do it too. It is a perfect time.

To inaugurate this new website, I have decided to come straight out in the open. The journey I am embarking on to become a coach is one I can’t do alone.   I will ask for help and I will give a lot in return.  I will also invest in me so that I can help the ‘we’ and the future collaborations. I have hired an awesome coach Siraj Sirajuddin.

This will take time, connections, belief, and persuasion. It will take, reading, training, blogging and practice. I know others who have done this. I have been inspired by the stories I have read in the ‘Who Is agile?’ book that I am editing with Yves Hanoulle.

The future perfect has started to form, and I want this blog to show how I get from here to there. Thanks to all of my supporters everywhere, especially these people:

Paul Boos – supporting volunteerism for a worthy cause (GLASSCon)

Siraj Sirajuddin – reminding me to consider my whole life, not just work, not just now; pulling me forward, not letting me slip.

Peter Stevens – teaching me community building and commitment to one’s ideas and ideals (by example)

Yves Hanoulle – teaching me how to accept being completely trusted while editing ‘Who Is agile?’

Johanna Rothman – teaching me how to accept praise (with Yves)

Gerald Weinberg – reminding me to stop mind-reading and stay congruent.

Before I end my first blog post, I have to add one more thank you and recognition. Without the support of my husband, Adam Chiou, who has sustained our small consulting business for over 10 years, I would not be where I am. The ‘Adaptive Collaboration’ name for this website is not just about how teams and projects can improve. It is also represents the fact that couples that share a business and a business that shares a couple must adapt as they collaborate as well.  It is sometimes messy, but it cannot be ignored.

And, by the way, nothing can shake that up more than one person wanting to switch tracks mid-career.  Thank you, Adam, for your support and patience.