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Conferences

Codes of Conduct

As a proponent of nonviolence, I see a lot of violence being employed in the hope of reducing the frequency and severity of interpersonal violence at e.g. conferences, community events or in team settings. This strikes me as ironic, and ultimately self-defeating.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t dispute for one moment that there’s an issue. Folks do get hurt. Sometimes egregiously. And not doing anything is no option for me. The question in my mind is, what to do?

Codes of conduct seem to be the approach of choice for many in this situation. I reject this, and its implicit violence. Here’s my (nonviolent) contribution:

This is not a code of conduct. That’s to say, it’s not a set of rules or mandated behaviours to which we would like you to conform.

We’ve heard stories of the hurt and pain that some folks have felt in a conference environment. We’d like to do what we can to reduce the chances of that happening at our conference. We’d also like to do what we can to to provide a space – literally and metaphorically – where people can get in touch with what’s alive in each other.

We don’t believe that obliging certain behaviours, and precluding others, contributes much, in a positive way, to the kind of space we wish to provide. And actively undermines getting in touch with what’s alive in us.

An Invitation

We simply invite you to be aware, take care of each other, and to have courage in supporting each other in all things. If you choose not to do that, that’s OK, too. We don’t want to tell anyone how to behave.

Despite our vigilance, fellowship, and active participation in taking care of each other, there may be a time where someone feels hurt. We will pass all potentially criminal acts on to the relevant law enforcement bodies. And medical situations on to local medical specialist. Short of that, we invite you to take care of all parties involved in the situation. And invite you to try to find a peaceful solution which meets everyone’s needs. We have skilled mediators on hot standby to help with that, if and when you choose to call on them.

What to do if you personally feel uncomfortable or hurt

We invite you to seek support. If you’re unsure just who to ask, your conference pack contains a list of folks that you can get in touch with directly for support.

What to do as staff or volunteer

We invite you to be aware, to take care of each other and the attendees, and to have courage in supporting each other in dealing with any conflicts or other issues that may arise. If you choose not to do that, that’s OK, too. We don’t want to tell you how to behave. We also invite you to become familiar with these guidelines, and with the names on the support contact list, in case anyone asks you.

See also
Nonviolent Communication
Restorative Justice
Due Process

Maybe the hardest thing is to empathise with, and, yes, to love, those folks who we see as the cause of hurt. That requires us to change our behaviours, not mandate theirs.

“When we listen for their feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

– Bob

Expectations

In preparing my recent session at Lean Agile Scotland (on “Theory of Change“) I decided to try a different format from the usual conference thirty-minute “push stuff at the audience” presentation. I generally prefer to encourage interaction and help improve learning amongst all present. In fact, my key aim is always to help more learning happen. On this, I very much share Russell Ackoff’s viewpoint:

“You see, everybody recognizes immediately that teachers are the ones who learn the most. School is absolutely upside down. Students ought to be teaching. The faculty ought to be learning.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

I believe conferences are as much upside down as our schools. My Lean Agile Scotland session was conceived within this frame.

So I chose a topic of which I have little direct experience myself, but with much relevance to my work at present. This afforded me an opportunity to learn about it through preparing to teach something about it.

And I also chose to include a significant block of time – ten minutes – for the audience to discuss issues pertinent to their own situations. I.E. The Theory of Change prevailing in their own workplace, and the assumptions underpinning their current or planned change initiatives. This, with the belief this would afford the audience a better learning opportunity through some aspects of teaching each other what they knew.

In a nutshell, I chose to hold the space so that some mutual exploration of the topic could happen. This was, admittedly, something of an experiment.

Marmite

The session turned out much like Marmite. Some loved it. Some hated it. (Some 100 attendees; 14 green feedback cards, 20 orange, 9 red). The haters shared one thing in common, as far as I could tell. The session did not match their expectations. In particular, some shared their frustration that there had been little “content” pushed at them.

As this had been my deliberate choice – to eschew pushing content at folks – I was not too surprised. But I did feel some sympathy for their reaction, given that they had little chance to know in advance that this would be the format. And thus little opportunity to make an informed choice whether to attend, or go to another, parallel, session.

I’ll be writing a companion post to this one in the near future, with suggestions for improving the information available to attendees prior to a session, and with the aim of reducing the chance of disappointment through mismatched expectations.

Now might be a good time to help me with those suggestions. Would you be willing to?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Purpose of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching ~ pp. Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg
Students should be teaching. Schools should be learning. ~ Educamp blog

Holding The Space

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is “Think Different”. Some kind folks over the years have remarked upon the insightfulness of one or more of my posts. Some have gone so far as to ask me whether and when I might be holding a workshop, conference, or other such event on the topics touched-on in this blog.

Well, the time has come and October 7 is the day. This first one day event is titled “The Think Different Experience”. Maybe it’s even the first in a series. We’ll see how it goes.

From my perspective, I feel happy to share in exploring what thinking different means, how to go about it – deliberately and intentionally – and the value it offers to individuals and organisations both.

Busy Busy

I work with many folks, and often I get the impression that everyone’s so busy, busy thinking inside their own little boxes that they rarely have any opportunity or, indeed, inclination to spend some time on reflection, introspection and thinking outside their regular tramlines.

I’ve created the Think Different Experience event to afford some time (a day) and some space (Nutfield Priory hotel) for some interested folks (max 10) to come together and explore what Thinking Differently might mean for us.

Ba

With this event, I see my role first and foremost being to “hold a space” which – in itself – has some value for the folks participating. This is not too far from the the idea which inspired Falling Blossoms some fifteen years ago:

*One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him.

“We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the gods whispered to Subhuti.
“But I have not spoken of emptiness,” replied Subhuti.
“You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the gods.
“This is the true emptiness.”
The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

The Outcome Is In Your Hands

The event will stand or fall on the quality of your participation. Do you feel happy about that, and about the opportunity to contribute to the joy and well-being of not only yourself but your fellow participants?

Don’t Come Along If

There are some aspects to the event which may cause some folks a bit of grief. So, in the spirit of fair warning, don’t come if:

  • You want to be spoon-fed ideas
    I’d describe my hopes regarding facilitating this event as “pull-driven”. That is to say, folks will be invited to pull ideas, feelings, and – ultimately – value from myself and the other folks present. Don’t expect – or hope for – others to “push” ideas at you (although that may happen, inadvertently, now and again).
  • You want to sit back and let others create your meaning for you
    I have some hopes that the folks attending will want to participate actively in exploring and creating their own meaning, and in creating shared meaning too. We’ll see how that goes.
  • You have fixed ideas and assumptions which serve you well enough that you have no wish to examine them, or consider possible alternatives
    I suspect some awkward questions might get asked,. and some tricky subjects – undiscussable to some, at least in their regular workplaces – might come up.
  • All your needs – in work and in life – are presently being well-met
    According to the precepts of e.g. Nonviolent Communication, every human being has needs, needs which each person is trying to get met the best way they know how. Sadly, many folks have chosen means to getting their need met which, by their own terms of reference, carry some pernicious or negative side-effects. Or even, sometimes, have chosen means which actively work against getting those needs met – even though they feel like the best or only means available to the person employing them.

Do Come Along If

  • You want to experience a different kind of event.
  • You’re curious about the value of play, therapy, Bohm dialogue – and similar principles underpinning the event.
  • You’re keen to spend time in the company of like-minded people (I can’t guarantee just how like-minded folks are going to be, though <wry smile>).

What you might come away with

It’s my hope that we all come away from the event with some of our respective needs having been met. This might include:

  • Meaningful connections – with self and with each other a.k.a. “fellowship”.
  • Play – “Do nothing that isn’t play”.
  • Ideas and pointers for getting one’s needs better met (i.e. alternative strategies / means).
  • An appreciation of the bigger picture – whatever that is.
  • An opportunity to be more human – however you may define that.

For what it’s worth, I share Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of “being more human”:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

Would you like to be part of that?

Some places still available.

– Bob

 

Antimatter Workshops

No, this post is not about workshops on the topic of the Antimatter Principle – although I’m happy to discuss with you the possibility of conducting one with your team, group, or company.

And it’s definitely not about workshops on the topic of Antimatter.

This post is about using the Antimatter Principle to create better workshops – on any topic.

I’ve been to more than my fair share of workshops and the like over the years, and I’ve never been to one that was worth even the time it required to attend, let alone the cost in terms of hard cash. No, wait. Let me restate. I’ve never been to a workshop that was worth the time for the learnings it provided. I have been to many workshops where the social dimension – getting to meet people, doing things in concert, sharing a common interest, etc. – has been wonderful.

I don’t think it’s just me, either.

Aside: This post is about workshops, that is, events where groups of people come together, bounded by time, space and subject matter, ostensibly to learn together by doing. I contrast this with “training”, where the doing element is mostly conspicuous by its absence. I have no enthusiasm at all for the idea of training per se.

Workshops, at least, I feel may be redeemable as learning events, albeit with some major overhaul of the basic framework.

Here’s some of the problems I have with workshops as they currently exist:

  • The expert
    Most workshops get led by a subject matter or domain expert, eager to share their knowledge and experience.
  • The agenda
    Most workshops follow an agenda laid down by the “facilitating” expert. This (detailed) agenda is derived from the broader agenda of the sponsor. For in-house workshops this generally means a senior manager. For public workshops this generally means the expert, or the organisation for which he or she is working.
  • Passive engagement (i.e. little to no engagement)
    Many folks attend workshops with little interest in the subject and little enthusiasm for being there. The reasons for this are various but can include being told to attend, having spare training or professional development budget, and wanting to accrue CPD credits.

All the above lead to workshops having a low correlation between the needs of the participants and the content of the workshop. And to outcomes which fall short of expectations, and way short of what might be possible, given a different approach.

What is a Better Workshop?

For me, as a facilitator, a better kind of workshop would be one where folks had a real opportunity to meet their own individual and collective needs, be that for learning, for social interaction, or for other things.

And for me as an attendee, much the same criteria seem relevant too.

Applying the Antimatter Principle

So, to the application of the principle:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

 

Firstly, do the prospective attendees have needs which correlate with the headline subject matter / topic? If not, maybe it’s better those folks don’t attend.

Then, there the agenda itself: Does it include a list of expected “learning outcomes”? Maybe it’s better not to do that. At least, unless the prospective attendees have created the list themselves prior to the event. And in those cases where this prior work is problematic, maybe it’s better to defer creation of the list until the event itself.

Yes, I suspect many people would prefer to have someone else set the agenda, structure the workshop, list the outcomes. And yes, it’s harder to sell workshops absent an outline, agenda or list of expected outcomes.

I do wonder if better workshops that no one gets to attend are any kind of improvement over what we have already. Maybe you’d be willing to share to view on this dilemma?

– Bob

Further Reading

Conferences That Work ~ Adrian Segar
Training From the Back of the Room! ~ Sharon L. Bowman

 

Vital Conversations

Two chaps having a vital conversation

I was keynoting on the Antimatter Principle at Agile Adria 2014 this week. As at all of the other conferences I have attended in the past year or so, I found myself feeling impatient with e.g. the hallway and dinner-table conversations, because I was feeling less connected with people than I would like. I also often feel that, amongst so many energised and experienced folks, we could be having great conversations of mutual exploration and import. Vital conversations – conversations full of energy, and life, and mutual joy. Yet we don’t seem to be able to make that happen.

At each conference, I’ve shared my feelings with one or two folks, without much in the way of ideas coming to mind.

This morning, I find an oh-so-simple idea has been staring me in the face, unrecognised, for months.

I’m speaking of this passage from an interview with Marshall Rosenberg:

SARAH: I was interested in an example you shared in one of your workshops about a group of teachers who were having a conversation that wasn’t feeding you spiritually.

MARSHALL: “Well, I was sitting around with a group of teachers who were all talking about what they did on vacation. Within ten minutes, my energy had dropped very low; I had no idea what people were feeling or wanting.

“In giraffe, we know it’s not being kind to the other person to smile and open your eyes wide to hide the fact that your head has gone dead. The person in front of you wants their words to enrich you, so when they aren’t, it’s helpful to be kind and stop them. Of course, in the jackal culture, this isn’t done.

“After listening awhile to the teachers, I screwed up my courage and said, “Excuse me, I’m impatient with the conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying the conversation.” All nine people stopped talking and looked at me as if I had thrown a rat in the punch bowl.

“For about two minutes, I thought I’d die, but then I remembered to look at the feelings and needs being expressed through the silence. I said, “I guess you’re all angry with me, and you would have liked for me to have kept out of the conversation.”

“The moment I tumed my attention to what they were feeling and needing, I removed their power to demoralize me.

“However, the first person who spoke told me, “No, I’m not angry I was just thinking about what you were saying. I was bored with this conversation.” And he had been doing most of the talking! But this doesn’t surprise me. I have found that if I am bored, the person doing the talking is probably equally bored, which usually means we’re not talking from life; we’re acting out some socially-learned habits.

“Each one of the nine people then, expressed the same feelings I had – impatience, discouragement, lifelessness, inertia. Then one of the women asked, “Marshall, why do we do this? Why do we sit around and bore each other? We get together every week and do this!”

“I said, “Because we probably haven’t learned to take the risk that I just did, which is to pay attention to out vitality. Are we really getting what we want from life? Each moment is precious, so when our vitality is down, let’s do something about it and wake up.”

 

So, I now have a new avenue to pursue the next time I find myself feeling frustrated, impatient or disconnected. I’ll just have to remember to say something like:

“Excuse me, I’m impatient with this conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying this conversation.”

Do you sometimes have the same feelings? How might this approach help you in similar circumstances? Could you find the courage to make such an interjection? How might you feel – and react – if someone else said something like this, to you?

– Bob

 

Nonviolent Conferencing

Photo of some folks in a nonviolent conference

OK, not so many Agile or business conferences end up in a brawl or other such overt violence. But I have been at several conferences where violent language was rife.

In any case, this post is not about that.

It’s about the use of the principles of nonviolent communication in making better conferences.

“The number one rule of our [NVC] training is empathy before education.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

So, how to encourage and maybe even assure empathy as the primary objective for a conference? Well, having it as the explicit objective might help, for starters. I’ve never been at a conference (of any format) where empathy has been the declared goal.

Of course, many folks in the Agile community are quite close, like family almost, so I note Rosenberg’s caution:

“It may be most difficult to empathize with those to whom we are closest.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Having been practising nonviolent communication with my nearest and dearest recently, I can attest to the truthiness of this caution.

What is Empathy?

According to Rosenberg:

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”

I’m thinking here more about sharing an understanding about what folks are experiencing in their at-work situations – although what they’re experiencing at the conference itself has some relevance and interest, too.

The Four Steps of Nonviolent Communication

So, if we take empathy as our primary goal, how might we address the question of a suitable format or structure of a Nonviolent Conference? I suggest the four steps of Nonviolent Communication can guide us:

  1. Say what you saw, or heard (a simple evaluation-free statement)
  2. Say what you felt (it can help, initially, to pick from a list)
    “I feel…”
  3. Say what you need (again here’s a handy list)
    “…because I need/value…”
  4. Make a request (the concrete actions you would like taken)
    “Would you be willing to…?”

How can we convert these steps into a conference format? Here’s my take.

  1. Folks share with each other their observations (things seen, heard or otherwise observed at their places of work, free from judgements or evaluations).
  2. Folks then share what they felt about these things observed.
  3. Folks state what they needed, needs which caused them to feel that way.
  4. Folks make requests (non-demanding, positive, actionable) of the other folks gathered together (i.e. their fellow attendees), in the hope that someone (or some number of those folks, together) might be able to meet that request.

To recap, this is suggesting that:

a) Someone states a context for a request
b) They then make the relevant request

Rinse and repeat. Easy as.

Of course, this might be new to most if not all the attendees. And identifying one’s own feelings, and the needs which cause them, is a skill that develops only with practice. It would be great to have Dr. Rosenberg there to facilitate, of course, but given his busy schedule, maybe we could find some other experienced NVC practitioner(s) to help things along. And the day could open with a demonstration of these four steps by someone who had either rehearsed or was practiced in them.

As to format, I can think of several options:

  • One large room, with everyone taking turns (or drawing straws) to share their context and request.
  • Several smaller rooms or areas, each with some means for serialising access to the “speaker’s” slot.
  • A goldfish-bowl or park-bench setup, with a small self-selecting queue of folks in line to “share and request”.
  • A World Cafe arrangement, where each table is seeded with a “share and request”-er and the other three people at the table attempt to meet the request. This may need some coordination to improve the odds that the three have the wherewithal to meet the request.
  • A series of Pecha Kuchas, with each 20-slide presentation setting the context and closing with a request, subsequently responded-to by members of “the audience”.
  • I’m sure you can come up with other ideas too. Would you be willing to share?

Some Other Pertinent Advices

Other aspects of nonviolent communication have relevance to conferences too, I believe, including:

Play

“Never do anything that isn’t play.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Which may appeal to the Legoists out there, but let’s also remember Rosenberg’s definition of play. “Play” is any activity where we

“make choices motivated purely by our desire to contribute to life, rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, duty or obligation.”

Aside: I have myself experienced too many “play” sessions where judgement, fear, guilt, shame, duty or obligation were writ large in the proceedings.

Absence of Judgement

“When we judge others we contribute to violence.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

How to give feedback to e.g. speakers and yet remain true to this advice? See the Fours Step of NVC for guidance on that, too. As well as my past blog post “How to Give Feedback“.

“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”

 Absence of Coercion

“Learning is too precious to be motivated by coercive tactics.”

And I’d include “making” people sit and listen to speakers (through social expectations, politeness or lack of alternatives) under the soubriquet of “coercion”.

Fellowship

Not particularly a concept from nonviolent communication, but congruent, and an idea I’d like to see more in conferences everywhere. It’s been my experience that some Open Spaces and Unconferences have scratched the surface of creating a sense of fellowship amongst the folks involved. And I think we can all do so much more in this regard.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

~ Rumi

– Bob

Further Reading

Beyond Good and Evil: Marshall Rosenberg On Creating a Nonviolent World ~ Dian Killian

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