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Strengths and Clean Language Workshop write up #2

14066249_515711648626681_8301159928151854476_oWe have a regular group sessions at the University of Nottingham,  in the calendar as ‘Strengths Workshop’. We bring topics and situations to discuss using Clifton Strengths Finder, Clean Language metaphor modelling and Non Violent Communication. We also cover the Viable Systems Model, eastern and western philosophy, cognitive biases, complex adaptive systems and other bits of experience and knowledge we have.  

Tuesday 6th September 2016. Mike, DavidVH, DavidR and Eleonora.

To start today I offer a connection I’ve made that looks like a practical use of philosophy. I show the School of Life Wittgenstein Video, that summarises his work as wanting to help us use language more effectively. There is an especially interesting bit about the ‘games we play with language’.

Wittgenstein examples

When a parent says to a frightened child everything will be OK they can’t know that, they are not playing the “Rational prediction from available facts game”, they are playing the  “words as an instrument of comfort and security game”

“If ones partner says you never help me you are so unreliable” they are not playing a “stating the facts” game, so respond how you got some vegetables yesterday, and put petrol in the car may not work. They are playing the help and reassurance game.

A similar example from Marshall B. Rosenberg’s NVC book would highlight the judgement in the “you never help me” statement, look at the facts and emotions, and then try to understand the needs – again help and reassurance.

Wittgenstein’s (and Marshall’s too maybe) point is that all types of misunderstands occur when we misunderstand which kind of game someone is Involved in.

Rosenberg’s NVC book seems to have lots of examples of the author understanding the games people are playing, and systematically putting the understanding into  ‘observable facts’ feelings, and needs .

In the group David asks about the goal of Non Violent Communication? Is it to avoid issues by doing all the mental work to understand someone who is perhaps not being clear? Will this just encourage bad communication?

We’re unsure that doing the mental heavy lifting for people may foster bad patterns, with people not needing to explain themselves, when they get what they need by triggering the other person to do the work of understanding.

We divert to work and home issues – and suggest a few areas where NVC and clean questions would be helpful.

An example from a recent holiday offered for discussion:

Family on holiday

Mum : I’m feeling a bit peckish.

Dad : OK (Thinking: that’s not really hungry, right)

30 mins later…

Mum: I’m really hungry and the café doesn’t look very good.

Dad: OK. There’s that place down the road we saw yesterday. That’s nearby.

Get to restaurant 10 minutes later, and 20 people just got there in front of us……

Child: It’s Ok, just 20 mins walk to town, we’ll get something there.

Mum : I’m not walking into town. I’ve already walked for over an hour before you were all up.

Dad: We could get the bus if that’s too far.

Mum: You know I hate buses. You didn’t listen to me! You’re all shits……

We asked “what is the game that Mum is playing”. It’s maybe the ‘I’m hungry now, but I don’t want to have to tell you all we need to eat now. But that’s what I’d like. Then ‘did you not hear me the first time’, then – “I’ve told you 2 times already”.

In the group there we discussed  a lot of different cultural and family differences to food. These included

  • not ever saying you’re hungry in certain company (and taking lots of snacks to eat when visiting)
  • “kids always finish what you’re given” / “kids only eating what they choose” in two groups of the same family, with tension and crying at mealtimes when they meet.
  • hangovers from childhood about not always saying you’re hungry  – especially passed down from grandparents who lived though WW2 in Poland and Mainland Europe.

What would a ‘language games’ / NVC analysis say. Can we break down ‘Mum is saying she’s peckish. To say that, she’s hungry enough to mention going for food, but we know she doesn’t ever like to suggest eating, so she’s saying she needs to eat really soon.

We also discussed the sterility of NVC communication. How it’s normal and healthy to be angry, vent a bit and be passionate sometimes. How cathartic it can be, and how suffocating NVC can be.

Misunderstanding Needs at Work

If we put the food conversation into a work perspective, we’re often asked – ”

  • can you squeeze this work in
  • no rush, whenever
  • when you get time

Is this the same as ‘I’m a bit peckish”, and is there a similar short amount of time from “can you just do this work, no rush” to the business version of “You’re all shits!”. Much laughing in the group, a nerve was hit.

So there were a few threads coming together in this workshop.

  • How should we react when we need to do the “mental work” of understanding?
  • Can we use clean questions if we don’t know the person enough to understand the language game they are playing?

Sometimes, just understand peoples needs 

In the food discussion, a immediate  response to “I’m peckish” of “OK, lets get something to eat” – cutting out the unnecessary NVC –  would have been best. No need to explain that you have unpacked their communication.

The passionate response to “you shits” perhaps, “yeah, well you ate the last Weetabix and didn’t pack me enough underwear” may not work so well. If you’re on holiday with someone, do the mental work.

At work though, do you want to set up unhelpful patterns? Would you like people to say what they mean and understand when communication is not working? It sounds a bit odd but “what sort of moment is the moment you want me to do this work in?” is a clean question you may want to ask, or at least have an answer to.

Maybe to be continued, we seemed to cover practical uses of philosophy, NVC and Clean Language quite well this week.

 

 

 

 

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Strengths and Clean Language Workshop write up #1

We have a regular group sessions at the University of Nottingham,  in the calendar as ‘Strengths Workshop’. We bring topics and situations to discuss using Clifton Strengths Finder, Clean Language metaphor modelling and Non Violent Communication. We also cover the Viable Systems Model, eastern and western philosophy, cognitive biases, complex adaptive systems and other bits of experience and knowledge we have.  

 

Tuesday 30th August  – Just Mike DavidVH and DavidR, Bank Holiday week.

Notes compiled afterwards from memory.

Start with no agenda as usual, so this is messy and emergent, even if you were there…..

We start taking about new hobbies, no handed rock climbing, longboard skating, and get into talking about being happy about not knowing the future. And we’re off.

Is being happy with not knowing based on strengths / personality and worldview? What does the cognitive dissonance feel like to someone who is not happy with complexity and needs to reduce the situation to knowable? Is it possible for right wing Americans to realise an issue “may be more complicated”, or can they only reduce the dissonance when presented with a solution. There are no longer any small c conservatives it seems? On the right there are simple solutions that are received by people looking for solutions, either because of strengths, upbringing or whatever. It makes their brains happy.

 

What is required to, for example like Boris  Johnson  post Brexit – “it is the governments idea to have a plan – not ours”. Assuming that he is consistent, what does his life experience, his patterns, his understanding and his strengths need to be to not have dissonance? Is this perspective any less correct because we find it had to understand? Knowing this, how would you have dialogue with him?

 

Reductionism is the spherical cow – how fast will a cow roll downhill if you push it? Assuming gravity and friction to be constant, and a constant gradient, and a spherical cow we can do the maths! Maths and science are given respect that ” it’s more complicated than that” is not. But the things we do to make the maths work loses the complexity.

Clean questions?

Started with “When you cope with complexity it looks like what?”

then “So when you deal with complexity, you are like what?”

Initial metaphors about complexity being like the TV sales area in John Lewis – lots of tvs on different channels, some you can’t see, some you may not know exist. Seeing all the information from “24hr news channels” to “Lion King” and needing to understand it all. – but a description of complexity – and how we need to talk about how to act.

David:

Dealing with complexity is like having a beginner mind – and not being an expert. Being open to what happens.

It’s like a globe, and understanding parts of the globe that stick out. Taking those bits and understanding them.

There are some more questions and answers but we don’t go very deep into clean language questions today.

We then discuss two cases of dealing with complexity.

1) Donald Trump – George Lackoff describes a patriarchal figure – able to talk problems and reduce the complexity and provide simple solutions to people who are used to patterns of patriarchy, and/or have strengths that require them to have an analysis & plan, to be in control. Complexity is dealt with by reduction, and many people are disenfranchised.

 

2) Do I have agency? Why worry if I cannot change things? Is dealing with complexity inherently good or are there times when it is best to try not to ‘deal with it?’

 

Examples with Musicians – grade trained musicians often require sheet music to perform. Non grade trained often don’t and can improvise. DavidR plays in a brass band, and recently ended a piece on notes A F G. These are notes that apparently should not work, but do because of the context and build up.

But sheet music reduces the variety/complexity of what you could play. Even so, getting a tune to end on a A F G is hard.

Improvisation is dealing with complexity within the available option, by using what musical niches you know. If you only know AC/DC then any improvisation is going to sound like them. Knowing theory allows you to improvise more, and improvisation is reacting “ooda loop” style to other people.

The more you know, and the better you will be confident to play less. Just a single note fully in context, that may sound wrong out of context could be the ultimate goal. The A-F-G improvised.

Like the complexity metaphor, it’s like having a lot of personal “expert minds” (like musical styles you can play, and knowledge of theory) but engaging beginners mind, and being open to understanding and emergence.

Strengths and Clean Language Workshops

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robinjakobsson/This article is part of a number of posts about a how I’m learning about tools to understand how I think. It doesn’t really fit into a an easy narrative, because it was an emergent process. Here goes.

Starting off

I learned about Clean Language in course TU811 from the Open University.. I read ‘From Contempt to Curiosity’ by Caitlin Walker, who produced the Clean Language elements of the Open University course. I was still unsure about using Clean Language with others.

A year later I saw a recommendation for Clifton Strengths Finder from Tobias Mayer.

Strengths Finder is a test that asks some questions online and give you your top 5 strengths, and explanations how they are used.

I took the test, read the results and moved on to learning about other things. Sounded cool, and great for understanding my skills, but that was it. This was about the same time as I did some clean language modelling of myself.

Two ways to Model

A few weeks later realised that these two models gave different perspectives on a similar thing. I don’t like understanding something with only one perspective. Two perspectives gets interesting. (see this post by me about needed more than one model). The Strengths Finder model already existed, and we get fitted to it with our top 5 strengths. Clean Language reveals our own models that explain things back to us.

Strengths Finder is not very emergent – categories already exist, but there are 30+ of them and they have good and bad traits, or balconies and basements in their language, so it is quite rich.

The models that emerge for Clean Language really are the individuals models, although group models are possible. They can also develop and change over time, reflecting how a person develops.

The combination is quite powerful.

Starting a group

I’ve spoken about systems at work with colleagues, and there are a number who I think ‘get it’ intuitively – I’ve got individuation as one of my strengthens, so maybe it’s unsurprising I can understand people who see things in a particular way.

(My strengths are Strategic, Ideation, Individualisation, Learner, Arranger. These probably explain a lot about my actions 🙂

I asked the next 8(ish) systems-y colleagues I saw in the staff kitchen if they would join me for a lunch hour to watch some videos and I’d talk about the two approaches. I think they all agreed to come. I have awesome work colleagues. Tomasz later noted I was asking people to do a peer review of the techniques, I may have used the phrase – “Help me see if this is boll$”*! or not…..”.

First Meeting, all positive

We started the first meeting by watching Caitlin Walkers Clean Language TED talk, and a great video kind of about strengths that I included it in this post about strengths .

And the next few weeks we met and talked. A few people dropped out for other commitments, and new people joined. We had a core group of about 6. We all took the Strengths Finder test, and talked about our strengths. We were surprised that what we saw as a weakness was a positive. Others got validation when they we’re really glad they had a particular strength. Ian noted that none of us had any top5 strengths in the “influencing” domain.

I think the biggest impact was had because all the strengths are totally positive. So we could see that our strengths and approaches were not the only ones, and actions of others that we had not understood, was their strengths applied to the problems they had. With their strengths and the problems they had to face their approach made sense. We began to have empathy with people we didn’t necessarily agree with.

We then tentatively and self-consciously tried some clean modelling. Sarah volunteered to talk about working at her best and I led the questions. It worked well, despite our lack of experience, and some non-clean questioning creeping in.

At each weekly session we either decided to do some clean modelling, or talked about insights we’d had, or things we’d thought about and usually ended up tying it back to our metaphor models, strengths or cognitive biased and traps.

We modelled how we work and learned at our best, how we used our strength finder strengths at our best, and for a month or so we modelled how we reacted to challenging situations, when our emotions can take over.

Talking about our monkeys

David introduced us to  Steve Peters model of the brain containing a chimp, a computer and a ‘human’ to begin with. This was of course someone else’s metaphor model, but we worked with it.

I did have some success extending this metaphor. I thought that normally there is a conductor who controls what I say and do. But in challenging situations my brain fogs up, and the ‘monkey’ can run in and start banging the drum without me seeing him in time. So I need to stop my brain fogging, as I can’t stop the monkey once he’s banging the drum.

Although this was not really clean modelling, some simple practical ideas about stopping ‘brain fog’ developed. Not surprisingly, enough sleep, preparation of material (ie facts!), understanding how other approach issues from reverse engineering their strengths from their actions all helped. I could write another post on this, and we  all got a lot from this.

NotSafeForWork

During the sessions I also introduced some ideas from complex adaptive systems theory, and the viable systems model, helped by David in the group who’s also studied at the OU. The group became more competent in talking about work issues, and understanding decisions and outcomes. Often with a sense of “uh-oh” when we saw problems being ‘solved’ with strengths that were, from our perspective, not entirely suited. We referred to this ‘Not Safe for Work’. We’d created a safe space to talk about things that needed to stay in the room.

We’re still meeting every week, struggling to find time to devote to Clean Language modelling, and bringing our learning and experiences to the group.

For me, dyslexia is great!

dyslexia

Image: Huffingdonpost

I’ve just written and recorded a video about dyslexia, after I was send a link asking for contributions for National Dyslexic Week.

Here is the script. I should be able to find it here 🙂

 

 
I’m can be quite disorganised, all information goes into one big bucket in my head, rather than being sorted in some way.

But because Dyslexia puts everything in one big bucket I can see patterns and similarities and connections between things really easily.
I can model complicated systems in my head, and see the differences between the models and what must have happened for a situation to occur.
It also makes me great at problem solving, I tend to look at every problem using all the information in my head, not just a limited selection.

So what I lack in organisation, I make up for by being able to think about organisation in a unique way.

I naturally see things from many conflicting perspectives, and understand that the perspectives are all real. This allows me to make sense to situations where other struggle. Dyslexia allows me to dissolve difficulties by thinking solutions around them. I’m always looking for a better way to do something,
For me, it’s a positive.

 

Why we need Models, and why it’s hard to change them.

  •  It’s 460BC. Your job is a map maker, and your maps show the world to be flat. You’ve a lockup garage of flat earth maps to sell. But you also like astronomy, and understanding the planets.
    • Is a model of a flat earth of any use? Is it good?  It was good enough for me to get to work, and to drive a cart to London.
    • But it’s not good enough for astronomy, you need another model.
  • You hear of the model of the earth as a sphere. Hmm, this fits simple astronomy, but does it make your lockup full of flat earth maps worthless? Which model do you believe? How hard is it to change your mind to a new more complicated model?
    • Is the model good enough? It’s great when thinking on a global scale – like where is Australia relative to where you are.
    • But maybe it’s a bit complicated for driving to London. A flat earth map will be fine for that.
  • From the international space station, is the model of the earth as a sphere good enough?
    • Maybe not. Gravity may be affected by the shape of the earth, and the movement of planets may need more complicated models. But perhaps you don’t need a model of the earth that shows the Himalayas.
  • Is that enough models?
  • What if you are cycling to London? A flat earth map won’t show you the hills, but a spherical model with enough detail is far too much information. You like to avoid hills, so you need another model.

Using the examples above, I think we can learn:

  • We need models. A model is a synonym for an understanding
  • Multiple models of the same thing exist at the same time
  • New models should compliment existing ones
  • We should use the simplest model we can, but no simpler
  • We need awareness of other models
  • Believing in one true model is an Anti-Pattern
  • If you have an interest in a model being true (like a business selling flat earth maps) it could be hard to learn a new model. The greatest resistance against a new, different model may be those who currently benefit from an existing model.
  • All models are wrong, but some are useful. Is the only up-to date model of the earth the earth itself?

This cartoon shows Calvin explaining his simple model to his toy tiger.

Calvin-Toast

This model of how to make toast is sufficient unless:

  • Calvin starts to sell toast in his yard and
    • He may be asked to contribute towards the electricity bill
      • “There is electricity and you have to pay for it?!”
    • He may have to buy his own bread
      • “Can’t I reuse the bread I just put in somehow?!”
    • There is a drought and the price of bread rises
      • “So I’m losing money on everything I sell?!”

Systems Thinkers love models. It’s how we understand the world, and different perspectives and contexts.

We can also see that if you insist on using a simple model, for example one that will fit on a napkin, or can be explained to a 6 year old, then you can only use it in simple situations. More complicated systems need bigger models.

Modelling, not measurement makes things happen

 

Tom DeMarco  wrote  that “you can’t control what you can’t measure.”measure

It depends what you mean by manage. Often management is to have the situation understood with metrics, and improved with targets. That was a neat trick of this argument. It’s “my way or the highway”, and if you’re not measuring, you’re not managing. A highway is pretty measurable though, distances, speed limits, number of cars per hour. So measurement is really useful, but maybe not for managing complicated things.

If you’re not Modelling, you’re not Managing

I believe that you can’t manage what you haven’t modelled. This is much harder than collecting numbers to compare to baselines, standards and SLAs. What modelling means is not always straightforward. Your understanding of an organisation is a model. If you have a incomplete model you cannot understand. Your metaphors about your organisation and your relationships affect how you understand and respond. They restrict how you understand and respond.

toast

Calvin and his tiger have an incomplete model.

 

There are a few types of systems models, that provide different views. There are two I’m current interested in. Whole systems models, show how an organisation achieves its purpose. Some theory behind these models is the Viable Systems Model. Symbolic mental models reveal powerful insights into how people understand and act. Mental models using Clean Language, and use the language of metaphor reveal powerful understanding. I’ll be posting about how I use each of these in the future.