Framing the Antimatter Principle

How we choose to frame things makes our communications more or less easy for our listeners to understand.

A recently published study suggests that, for most in the workplace, framing an issue in terms of its moral dimension elicits a more positive response that framing that same issue in terms of simple utility.

In other words, if we choose to justify a proposal as the “right thing to do”, we’re more likely to carry folks with us than if we attempt to frame that same proposal in terms of its effectiveness.

I have been conscious of this choice for many years, both in the context of Rightshifting, and more recently in terms of the Antimatter Principle.

For me, the Antimatter Principle is a great example of a proposal that can be framed either way. My personal preference is to talk about the moral dimension, about how its the “right thing to do” to attend to folks’ needs. But I’m also conscious of there being a variety of different audiences, with likely a variety of different responses to the question of utility vs morality.

Arguing The Case In Your Own Organisation

If you’re a proponent of the Antimatter Principle, I guess you’ve started some conversations about it with other folks in your workplace. And everyone is an individual. Social Styles (Wilson Learning) tells us that we can do well to remember different people like to receive information in different ways (see: Driver, Expressive, Analytic and Amiable styles). In different frames.

So, depending on who you’re talking to, maybe it might help to understand their social style, and choose the frame best suited to that?

My bottom line is that I try to understand someone’s needs – in terms of the style of communication they receive best – and then adopt the frame that’s likely to be most helpful.

This generally breaks down into:

  • Executives and managers: Utility
  • Workers: Morality

The nice thing about the Antimatter Principle, for me, is that both frames complement each other. Neither frame is a disingenuous attempt to motivate, coerce or persuade.

The Antimatter Principle is both practically highly useful – and the right thing to do morally.

What conversations have you had about the Antimatter Principle recently? And which frame do you find yourself more drawn to?

– Bob

Further Reading

CEOs Perceived as Moral Rally More Support ~ Association for Psychological Science

Attending To The Needs Of Others

Picture of a giraffe's head

Following on from my previous post, some folks may be wondering just how to go about “attending to folks’ needs”. As the brevity of my previous post seemed to find favour, I’ll keep this one (kinda) brief, too.

Giraffe Listening

For me, it all starts with learning to listen with giraffe ears. “Listening to get in touch with what’s alive in a person” as Marshall Rosenberg puts it.

And there’s probably no better place to start learning to listen than with oneself. I mean, listening TO oneself. You can do it in secret, without anyone knowing, until you’ve found a little confidence in the practice of it. Confidence which may help in listening to others.


Empathy is “the ability to be wholly present with someone”. It’s not what you say, and certainly not what you think. It’s the ability to just be present, non-judgmentally, with someone.

Again, I’d suggest practicing on yourself first. It’s particularly tricky to empathise with others if you haven’t quite found the knack of empathising with yourself.

Learn To See Your Own Needs

Even with listing to oneself and empathising with oneself, it can take some reflection and further practice to begin to understand one’s own needs. Nonviolent Communication suggests that our needs derive from our feelings about things we have observed. Things someone has said, or done.

Identifying these triggers, objectively (like a fly-on-the-ewall, without judgement) can lead us into exploring the feelings they trigger.

And thence to the needs that the trigger has met – or failed to meet.

And ultimately to making a refusable request of ourself – or another – in an attempt (experiment) to get those needs met.

Experiencing this four-step process for and with ourselves puts us in a better place to begin to do the same with others.

Moving On To Others’ Needs

When you’ve built up a little reservoir of confidence in listening to yourself and empathising with yourself, then it might be time to engage with others.

Ike Lasater suggests it can be helpful to negotiate an explicit agreement with each person you might want to engage with. At least, if they know you and your “habitual” ways of communicating with them. Adopting a new way of relating to people, with new words, can come across as weird or clumsy at first. Even with some self-practice under your belt. So to minimise freaking out your colleagues, and nearest and dearest, making a refusable request of them to allow you to try out you new moves can assuage early confusion and angst.

And a word of caution:

It’s sooo easy to “put yourself into someone else’s needs”. By which I mean, saying to yourself “I just know this person needs…[x]”.

It can be helpful to guess what they might be feeling (we can never know with any certainly) – and try that guess out on them to see if we guessed right:

“I guess your feeling [bewildered]?”

The other person is then free to confirm or deny that feeling. If they deny, we might choose to guess again. And if they confirm, then we might guess what need(s) they have (if they don’t volunteer this information) that are or are not getting met:

“I guess that’s because you need [some kind of consistency between people’s words and actions]?”

Again, the other person is free to confirm or deny your guess.

And we can even invtie them to make a refusable request:

“Would you be willing to ask something of me (or another) that might help in getting that need (of yours) met?

In summary, when you’ve got a handle on helping yourself identify your own needs (and making refusable requests of yourself, or others) then you’re in a position to begin doing the same with and for others. I take this to be what Marshall Rosenberg meant when he said:

“Empathy gives you the ability to enjoy another person’s pain.”

I find much joy – and enjoyment – in being able to empathise, and attend to others’ needs. Especially when they’re in some kind of pain. The Antimatter Principle is founded on the belief – and confirming science – that every human being does.

– Bob


My thanks to George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie) for suggesting the topic for this post.

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike Lasater
More Time To Think ~ Nancy Kline

Changing Ourselves

When I wrote, back in January, about my New Hope, I had little idea that it might prompt a blogging hiatus. But I find myself in the midst of a confusion of thoughts about just how my own perspective, assumptions and beliefs have changed, and continue to change, over time.

I’ve have been thinking about it though, more or less often, since that post. And not wanting to remain silent on the subject, and not wanting to have something fully-formed before sharing it, I’ve chosen to write this post as some kind of peg on which to hang some random musings. Maybe sharing something this tentative might encourage others to join a dialogue of mutual exploration – in a way that sharing of full-formed ideas may tend to dissuade.

Learning vs Changing

One theme upon which I’ve been reflecting has been the nature of learning vs changing oneself. When we learn things, the thing(s) we learn tend to change our actions, our behaviours. But although I love learning, and many things I have learned over the years have cause me to change my behaviour, I have difficulty in seeing this as a change in who I am – in my essential perspective, assumptions and beliefs. In my identity.

The latter kind of change, what we might call transformative change, seems much less common, at least in my own life’s experience. (Neuroscientists have a term, self-directed neuroplasticitywhich may have some bearing on this).


I see a range of qualitatively different things open to change:

  • New information, adopted and then influencing our decisions.
  • New strategies for living (e.g. for getting our needs met).
  • The way our brains are wired (I’m guessing the training of Kahneman’s System 1 is of interest, here).
  • Behavioural “dysfunctions” (e.g. OCD, phobias, etc.).
  • Aspects of our “personality” (example, from avaricious to generous, or from jackal to giraffe).
  • “Who we are” – e.g. our own self-image, a.k.a. identity.

I guess these various things overlap, to some extent. And I wonder if there’s any mileage to be had in making distinctions between them?

So, there we have it. That’s where my musings have taken me, so far. I don’t know where it’s going, how long it might take, or the sights we may see along the way, but would you be interested in joining me in this journey of discovery?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Neuroscience of Leadership ~ David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz
Can We Change Who We Are? ~ Dr George Simon





“Listening…means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person…. To be with another in this ways means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside yourself…”

~ Carl Rogers

How often do you feel people are listening to you? That they’re interested in how you’re feeling and what you have to say? That by listening they’re connecting with you as a person? How often do you listen well enough that others feel that same way about you?


Whilst in Berlin last week for Agile Testing Days 2014, I chose to avail myself of the opportunity to practise my listening skills.

In the course of this practise, I’ve learned a few things – and had a mini-epiphany – which I thought might be useful to share with y’all.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

~ Henry Miller

Judgmental Listening

I’ve written previously about judgment and its connection with the quality of relationships. I’ve been practising for a year or two now on reducing the (moralistic) judgments integral to my observations. This has brought me to the point where I’m now aware of the judgments I’m making – and have been making all my life – whilst listening to things people are saying. You know the kind of thing. Someone says something and you immediately start evaluating what they’ve said, and, incidentally, the speaker themselves: “That’s cool”. “That’s dubious”. “That makes no sense to me”. “They must be mad/bad/stupid/awesome”. And so on. A whole host of judgments.

Hierarchy of Listening

Various researchers have written about hierarchies of listening skills. The hierarchy I have in mind does not correspond closely to the core themes of these other hierarchies. Rather, I’m looking here at the question of listening from the perspective of improving the quality of interpersonal relationships. Listening effectively can help raise the quality of interpersonal relationships, whilst listening ineffectively can actually undermine those relationships.


Fake Listening

Fake Listening describes situations where the “listener” is only pretending to listen. The sounds of the speakers words are heard, but the “listener” does not process those sounds to derive meaning. Fake listening can be accompanied with some or all the signs of active listening, but the speaker, sooner or later, notices that the “listener” is only faking it.

Listening to Reply

Maybe the most common kind of listening in our organisations, workplaces and working relationships today. Here, people listen just enough to detect when it’s their turn to say something, and to be able to say something seemingly relevant to the thread of conversation. Nancy Kline in her work with the Thinking Environment contrasts this with “listening to ignite thinking [together]”.

“To be an effective Thinking Partner is to proffer alert, present, non-judgmental and attentive silence to another while they are thinking. The person being listened to, the Thinker, is held in a benevolent field of attention, free of competition, in which the quality of the listening, is a ‘listening to ignite thinking’ not a ‘listening to reply'”.

~ Michael Heuerman

Active Listening

Active Listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.

“Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.”

Active listening not only means focusing fully on the speaker but also actively showing verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. Generally speakers appreciate listeners demonstrating their ‘active listening’ by the listener responding both verbally and non-verbally to what they are saying.

NVC Listening

I’m calling this state of listening “NVC listening” because it draws on the Nonviolent Communication work of Marshall Rosenberg. Specifically, Rosenberg invites us to “empty our mind and listen with our whole being” whilst “focussing on what’s alive, right now, in the other person”.

Other have described similar states and labelled them with terms such as “Therapeutic Listening” or “Empathetic Listening”. I choose not to use these terms, primarily because I use what I’m here referring to as “NVC Listening” as a practise technique for raising my awareness of my own judgmental listening, whilst actually trying to “empathise with what is alive in the person” to whom I am listening.

The noted Psychotherapist and creator of Client-Centred Therapy, Carl Rogers, defined empathy as:

[the perception of] the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition (Rogers, 1959, p. 210-211).

Active Listening vs Compassionate (NVC) Listening

There are many places on the web which explain Active Listening, its benefits, and how to practice it. But the outward signs of Active Listening can often belie our inner judgmental filters through which the speaker’s words are passing.

Compassionate listening, in contrast, need not have any outward signs. Although that might be disconcerting or unhelpful for the person speaking.

In practising NVC Listening, I try to combine the visible signs of Active Listening with internal aspects of compassionate (empathetic) listening. I try to notice myself whenever I’m beginning to start an evaluation or form a judgment, and short-circuit // override that in favour of getting in touch with what’s alive in that person.


The epiphany I mentioned at the head of this post is this:

We can notice our natural tendency to judgmental listening if we have something else to focus on. In NVC Listening I focus on what might be alive in the other person. Where they’re coming from. What’s important to them. Their possible feeling and needs underlying the things they’re saying.

I believe that we can improve our listening skills, and that skilful listening can have a deep impact on the quality of our relationships – relationships essential to working effectively with each other in knowledge-work settings.

Appreciating What’s Alive In People

Positive Psychology studies have revealed the positive effects on happiness, life satisfaction, energy, etc., that come from appreciation. Nonviolent Communication suggests we look for what’s alive in people.

“[Some people] have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.”

~ A.H. Maslow

Whenever I’m practising NVC Listening, I’m not only also trying to sense what’s alive in the person to whom I’m listening, but also I’m trying to appreciate that aliveness. To value it. To savour it. To give thanks for it. When it’s working for me, this appreciation gives me the energy I need to continue.

“Whenever we are appreciative, we are filled with a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy.”

~ M.J. Ryan

Listening to Ourselves

All of the above not only applies when we’re listening to other people, of course. It applies at least as much when we’re listening to ourself. To our own thoughts, feelings and needs.


And the irony of writing about listening – absent any immediate opportunity to listen to the thought and reactions of the reader, and connect with them as people – is not lost on me.


I invite you to have a go at “NVC Listening” when you find yourself with a suitable opportunity. I’d be delighted to hear how it seems to affect the quality of the relationship with the person – maybe even yourself – to whom you are listening.

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall Rosenberg
More Time To Think: A Way of Being In The World ~ Nancy Kline
Active Listening ~ Skills You Need
It’s Not Enough To Listen ~ Jessica Grogan, Ph.D.

No Need To Learn


How much does it bug you, working with folks that don’t or won’t learn? Folks that keep banging the rocks together, churning out crap code or following old myths and status quo policies, rather than exploring, experimenting, and thinking for themselves?

If we accept, as I do, that people’s behaviour is always based on getting their needs met, then it’s easy to explain this kind of situation.

The fact that it bugs you means some of your needs are not getting met. And the fact that they’re not learning means they have no needs that might get met by them learning stuff.

Actually, that latter assertion is a little too brassy. If they’re not learning, it could mean that they have do some needs that are not getting met, that learning could help with, but they don’t see learning as a viable strategy in their context.


Of course, if they don’t see learning as a viable strategy, then they’re pretty much unlikely to learn to see that learning could be a factor in a more effective strategy for getting their needs met. We might call this a predicament.

What To Do?

Is there anything we can do in this kind of situation?

A couple of things come to mind.

Empathy Earns The Right To Dialogue

Empathise with them and their predicament. Not in a snarky “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t learn anything” kind of way. Rather, something like “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t move forward.” Chance are, patient empathising along these lines might earn you the right to talk with them about your own needs, your needs which are not getting met. The ensuing dialogue may benefit both parties. And lead to both parties better getting their needs met. Maybe even some joy will come of it.

Experience Can Be A Great Teacher

Alternatively, see if you can create a situation where their learning something would help them better get one of their needs met. This experiential, or normative, learning may help them see – perhaps for the first time – the value of learning. This can be the gateway, with reinforcement, to their choosing to replace one or more of their existing strategies for getting their needs met, with strategies that involve learning.

No Perceived Need, No Change

Remember, many people see absolutely no need for learning stuff.

Unless they choose to connect learning with more effective strategies for meeting the needs they do have, learning will remain conspicuous by its absence. You’ll continue to be bugged by it. And nobody wants that.

– Bob

A Prayer For Effective Discussions


We all dread unproductive and ineffective conversations, discussions, and meetings. Stuck in a room, feeling one’s life force ebb away, frustrated beyond measure that we’re not accomplishing anything useful, and with a mountain of other more useful things we could be doing inexorably bearing down on us. We pray for it to end – and end swiftly – so we can get back to our lives.

But before feelings of angst and frustration set in, I often have high hopes. This prayer resonates:

“As we prepare to spend this time together, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people here to day, and for those who could not be here with us.

Grant us the wisdom, the patience and the skills to use our time here well, to find meaningful human connections, and to learn together, for the benefit of all.

In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better understanding, to know more, to find shared insights, and joy.”


When I was working with S.W.I.F.T. in Belgium some years ago, I came across Russ, a no-nonsense Australian. Amongst his many engaging attributes, I found his approach to meetings quite refreshing. If a meeting offered him nothing in the way of addressing his needs, he’d simply not attend. And if, during a meeting, it seemed unproductive or of little value, he’d get up and walk out. I often find myself wishing for the courage to do the same.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a conversation, discussion, or meeting that’s fail to meet your needs? What actions do you take? Who do you blame?


As an organisational psychotherapist, I have a particular stance on group discussions. I choose to listen, to try to sense the group’s feelings, and to stand with the group in its discomfort and frustrations.

If, by some twist of fate, others expect me to facilitate their discussion, I state that I prefer to listen, rather than talk or direct. This can occasionally result in an impasse, for example where a group is unable or unwilling to “facilitate” its own discussions. This in itself can be a learning experience, albeit a disconcerting one.


Maybe the biggest source of folks’ frustration in e.g. unproductive discussions stems from our natural tendency to blame others for our own emotional responses, our responses to not getting our needs met. God knows, unsatisfactory discussions and meetings can be a huge trigger for negative emotional responses.

“One of the core milestones on the path of consciousness transformation is the moment when we can fully integrate the radical awareness that our emotional responses to the world and to things that happen to us are never caused by another person. This awareness stands in stark contrast to our habitual speech, which states that we feel what we feel because of what someone else did. Instead, we learn, if we apply ourselves deeply to this practice, that our emotions are only caused by the meaning we assign to what someone did, and that meaning is generated from within us, not by their actions.”

~ Miki Kashtan

Positive Emotional Responses

Discussions can serve to meet our needs, though. Maybe that’s why we find unsatisfactory meetings so frustrating. As social animals, our discussions and meetings, if done well, can provide us with deeper and more meaningful personal connections, better understanding, useful new knowledge, shared insights, and joy.

Amen to that.

– Bob

Further Reading

Blame, Responsibility And Care ~ Miki Kashtan


What An Effective Group Workshop Looks Like

I have this theory, based on long experience, that folks in most every organisation have little or no understanding of what “effective” looks like. From concept-to-cash product development, to simple workshops and meetings, and even one-to-one conversations, people lack a “standard” against which to compare their own efforts and experiences.

Absent such a standard, many folks seem to assume that they’re doing just fine. And absent an awareness of the scope for doing better, they seek little in the way of techniques or knowledge about how to be more effective. Nor do they often realise – beyond a certain low-key, nagging discomfort – just how much time, energy and opportunity they’re wasting through ineffective behaviours. Of course that’s not the whole story, what with systems that lead inexorably to disengaged people, and collective thinking patterns – a.k.a. mindsets – that underwrite systemic ineffectiveness.

My work with Rightshifting started from the premise that if folks acquired some simple understanding of their organisation’s relative ineffectiveness, they might choose to look, just a little, into the matter of effectiveness. I see few other practical ways to humanely advance the effectiveness of knowlede-work organisations everywhere. And to reduce the egregious waste of human potential we see in most every workplace today.

[Note: This is a draft. Some elements of the following story are not yet complete.]

A Story

This post is a story about what an effective workshop might look like, from the perspective of those folks participating in it. How much is it like the workshops you’ve participated in over the years?

The Newbie

Sandra was feeling apprehensive. The email had been brief. “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Sandra, We’d love for you to join in the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. This one-day event will be held in the Marcus Suite of the Brocade Hotel, near our offices. RSVP to reserve a place. You can always cancel later if the details make it appear unsuitable. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

She’d not been with BaCo long, and didn’t know quite what to expect. The date was still a month away, though, so she made a mental note to talk with some of her colleagues about things.

Over coffee later, she broached the subject with Dave and Rasheeda. “So, I’ve been invited to next month’s Product Development workshop. Have you been on these kinds of thing before?”

Rasheeda smiled. “Yes. I was in a Skilled Dialogue workshop last month. And I’ll be attending this Product Development thing next month, too.” Dave nodded his head as if to say “And me.”

“Did you have the orientation around workshops as part of your induction?” “Oh, um…yes.” said Sandra, recalling that part of her induction week, but not quite remembering what the workshopping section has covered. “I’ve got the notes. I’ll check and remind myself about what we covered.”

Dave laughed. “Yes. They pack a lot into Induction Week, don’t they? Not much of it sticks, I guess. Still, back when I joined we had to figure most of it out for ourselves as we went along. It’s only been for the past six months or so that newbies have had the advantage of a formal Induction Week.”

Sandra couldn’t help but reflect admiringly on the way BaCo had grown its staff support services as its business had grown. She’d not seen that kind of care and attention to fundamentals in the other companies she’d worked for. I gave her a warm and fuzzy feeling, and strengthened her belief that she had made the right choice in accepting the job.

Back at her desk with a second cup of coffee, she browsed through the material from her Induction Week. Ah. Here it was. Workshopping. And her notes on the topic.

“At BaCo, we thrive on folks collaborating. But we’ve found that few folks know how to collaborate effectively. Exploration of the experience of working together, and opportunities to develop skills through both classroom practice and application in real situations can all help. We have regular courses in Skilled Dialogue, which you’re welcome to attend. And you will note in most meetings, workshops and other group sessions within BaCo a certain style of interactions, born of people wanting to see that everyone gets the very best out of the meeting or session.”

She skip-read a few paragraphs until she found the heading “Workshops”. She began reading more intently.

“When you accept a place in a workshop, you’ll receive a list of references – books, articles, videos, and the like – which might help you start thinking about the workshop topic, and give you some entry points into the subject matter. Most often this will include a few general, standard references to workshop-related topics as well as references directly relevant to the topic of the particular workshop at hand.”

“Presently, for all workshops in BaCo, we invite you to have read ‘More Time To Think’ by Nancy Kline and ‘Crucial Conversations’ by Patterson et al.. And more generally, many folks in BaCo are familiar to some extent with the work on e.g. Skilled Dialogue of folks like Argyris, Bohm and Isaacs, too. (See specific references at the end of this section).”<

This was a lot of information in a few paragraphs. No wonder it hadn’t really stuck during Induction Week. Sandra wondered if there were any courses on Skilled Dialogue scheduled soon. It seemed like an idea to attend one, if possible, before the Product Development workshop.

She began typing: “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Loma at Subject: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon? Hi Ellie, I was just wondering if there were any Skilled Dialogue courses scheduled before the upcoming Product Development Workshop you’ve invited me to? Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,” and hit “send”.

A few minutes later, a new email mail popped up her Inbox: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Re: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon?” She was about to go for lunch, but opened the email to read. “Hi Sandra, unfortunately our next Skilled Dialogue course is not until. 24 October. I was already in the process of inviting you to that as a new starter.  You’ll be receiving your invitation next week.  Here’s a list of upcoming course, including those for Skilled Dialogue. [Elided] Please note you can also find the live list on our intranet at <link>. Please also note that the syllabus for each course is included in the course details, to help you decide how relevant it might be to your needs. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,


Walking down to the company restaurant, Sandra considered her quandary. Would it be better to decline the Product Development workshop invitation until she’d had the chance to learn something about Skilled Dialogue? Or accept and just go along anyway? She didn’t want to look stupid in front of her new colleagues, nor waste their time stumbling to participate without the necessary skills.

“You’re looking a bit pensive” said Rasheeda, as they walked together into the restaurant. “Penny for them?” “I’m just wondering whether to accept the invite to the workshop next month, given how little I know about BaCo workshops in general, and Skilled Dialogue in particular. Oh. You said you’ve been on a Skilled Dialogue course recently. What do you think?”

Rasheeda thought for a moment then smiled reassuringly. “Remember one of BaCo’s mottos: ‘There’s value in implementation and taking action. There are many things one doesn’t understand – why not just go ahead and take action; try to do something?”

“Ah, I kinda remember that from Induction Week”, said Sandra, still wondering if she could risk imposing on her coworkers’ time. “I guess you’re worrying about wasting people’s time? Don’t be. People understand that newbies need to find their feet. Everyone’s going to make allowances, and help you out” said Rasheeda.

“And don’t forget, there’s a lot of self-study material, and pointers to resources about Skilled Dialogue, and many other topics, on the BaCo intranet.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Guess I’ve not got into the BaCo ‘taking the initiative’ way just yet. It’s hard to throw off old habits”, said Sandra. She sighed, but felt excited too, about the prospect of taking an active part in learning something for herself about Skilled Dialogue.

The Learning Starts

After lunch, Sandra dug into the intranet and searched the web, looking for materials and resources on Skilled Dialogue. The intranet had some pointers to some intranet forums where BaCo folks discussed related ideas and topics, shared articles, and generally explored the subject together. She recognised some of the names of forum posters as nearby co-workers.

She also spent some time on Twitter, asking her communities about Skilled Dialogue – and received some helpful-looking references. One in particular caught her attention: “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” by someone called Chris Argyris. She downloaded the PDF to her tablet, making a mental note to read it on the train home.

At the end of the day, she was feeling tired but energised, having made a start in understanding the whole subject of Skilled Dialogue. She was already beginning to see how it could make meetings and workshops go smoother. She had one last thing to do before putting on her coat.

She found Ellie’s email from earlier in the day, and hit “reply”. “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Lomas at Subject: Re: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Ellie, thanks for the invite – and your help with Skilled Dialogue course schedules. I’m delighted to accept the invite to the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,”

The next morning, over breakfast, Sandra found a new email from Ellie waiting for her: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop – Acceptance and Informations. Hi Sandra, Happy to hear you’ll be joining the Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Here’s the advance information going out to all attendees:

For: Sandra Hardy

Specific to this workshop: The topic for the one-day workshop is “Product Development”. In this workshop, we’ll be covering the future direction of Product Development at BaCo – that’s to say, how we believe we can most effectively take new ideas – for whole new products, for little incremental additions to out existing products, and everything in between – and turn them into things which our customers will love – and love to pay for.  We know we’ve a ways to go, and that there’s much scope for making this kind of work work better. Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Note: All books are available via our BaCo company credit account at

Relevant authors include: Bill Deming, Russell Ackoff, Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Donella Meadows, Allen C Ward, Michael Kennedy, Tom Gilb, John Shook, Jeffrey Liker, Don Reinertsen, John Gall, Douglas McGregor, Taiichi Ohno, Eliyahu Goldratt, John Seddon, Eric Ries, Steve Blank.

Relevant disciplines include: Systems Thinking, Lean Product Development, TPDS, Lean Startup, Theory of Constraints, Product Development, basic Queuing Theory, Hoshin Kanri, Scenario Planning, Value Streams, Value Stream Mapping, the Kano Model.

Relevant links include: <links>

Also please note that you can share in advance, with other attendees, topics and ideas you feel might be useful to explore together on the day. We suggest Twitter as the medium for this, the hashtag is #bacopd17.

General: Attendees at previous workshops have found that a working knowledge of and practice in Skilled Dialogue makes BaCo workshops more effective, a better use of everyone’s time, and results in more insights, actions, mutual exploration and learning.

Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Relevant authors include: Chris Argyris, Bill Noonan, Patterson et al., William Isaacs, Nancy Kline, Patrick Lencioni, Sir John Whitmore, Nonaka & Konno, David Bohm, Peter Senge.

Relevant disciplines include: Skilled dialogue, thinking together, team-building, team coaching, ba.

Relevant links include: <links>

You are registered for this event. Also registered are: Steve Wilson (Facilitating), Dannie Jones, Uppad Misra, Claire Leeson, Rigali Mussolo, Dave Walbrook, Nick Carty and Ken Prather. You can find the live list of registered attendees here: <link>

Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

“Jeez!” Sandra gasped to herself. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. So many books. So many authors. So many disciplines. Almost all of them she’d not even heard of before. And I’m an experienced Product Owner?

Comes The Day

By the day of the workshop, Sandra was feeling all read out. She’d studied Lecioni’s teambullding model and his ideas on better meetngs, Noonan’s book on discussing the undiscussable, and Nancy Kline’s work on Thinking Environments. Coaching For Performance has opened her eyes to the potential in people. William Isaac’s stories had inspired her with the power of productive dialogue. But she felt like a total novice, even so. So many more references to follow up. So much knowledge yet to explore. She didn’t know how she was going to cover it all in a lifetime, let alone in the months or years she might be working for BaCo.

And there was the whole other domain of Product Development to cover. She’d believed she knew lots about that. And now, she wondered if she knew anything about that, either. But she knew one thing. She knew she’d found something she loved. At school, study had seemed dry and pointless. But now, to her utter amazement, she had discovered she did have a love of learning. Was this some kind of BaCo conspiracy? Did they know this was one effect of their encouragement to learn? Was it a deliberate and cunning ploy to exploit the workforce? It sure didn’t feel like exploitation.

She bumped into Dannie on the walk to the hotel. “Morning.” “Morning, Dannie.” “Looking forward to it?” Sandra thought about that. “Excited. And daunted.”

They’d reached the revolving door at the entrance to the hotel’s lobby. The conversation paused as they separated to go through the spinning glass and steel. “Ah, I can remember that feeling” said Dannie, taking a deep breath and smiling. “Quite a challenge.”

They followed the BaCo signs to the conference room. Half a dozen other BaCo folks were there already, hanging their coats and stashing their bags. One of the guidelines for BaCo workshops was to avoid using laptops. Several folks already had their tablets or smartphone out and were connecting to the hotel Wifi. The large screen showed the BaCo logo, the title of the day’s workshop, and a clock ticking in the lower corner.

“Welcome”, said “Bruce” – Sandra guessed, a hotel employee, by his badge and his dress. “Tea or coffee?” “Thanks” said Sandra, moving to take a cup, tea bag, and hot water from the urn on one of the side table.

While she was adding the milk to her tea, Ellie walked in, carrying a box under her arm. “Stationery and stuff!” she exclaimed, putting the box down on a side table towards the front of the room. “Get it while it’s hot! Everybody help themselves, as you need to.”

Sandra guessed most of the attendees had arrived by now. Most were chatting in groups of twos and threes, some animatedly, some more relaxed. She walked over to where Dannie was chatting with a dark-skinned woman. “Sandra, you know Uppad? She’s working on the Logix product at the moment.” They exchanged greetings. Sandra was unsure as to how to continue the conversation, but Uppad helped her out. “So you’ve been here a month now? Getting into the swing of things?” Sandra thought about saying no, about sharing her awe at the amount of stuff she now knew she didn’t know, but was cut short by Steve, the facilitator, tapping the bell for the room’s attention. “It’s two minutes to Nine, so who’s for getting started?” Everybody took their seat and most opened their Twitter apps. Some tweeted what Sandra guessed as a few words about the start of the workshop.

“Ok, how do we want to start?” asked Steve. “Do we want an amanuensis stroke cybrarian?” asked Nick. “If so, who’d like to do that?” Sandra had read about this role, and spoke up. “I’d like to do it. Except I don’t know much about it. Would it be OK to have a newbie?”

“Ah” said Nick. “All you have to do” he said, tilting his head down and looking up at her with a wry smile “is to tweet things that might be interesting for the group here, and maybe for other folks across BaCo, too. Our hashtag today is up there next to the Wifi code. He pointed to an A2 Post-it stuck to the wall with “#bacopd17” written on it. Tweet things like references to any key ideas that get mentioned, or any insights that emerge. Saves us all each writing our own notes. Also, we’ve found it’s handy to have topical images, book covers, quotes, notes, etc. visible on the big screen. Oh, and you might find using that laptop – with its keyboard and screen – more convenient than your tablet. Being our amanuensarian might help you pick things up quicker than just sitting quietly and listening?”

“Anyone else burning to do it?” asked Steve.

No one seemed keen to deny Sandra the opportunity, so she moved over to the vacant seat at the laptop controlling the big screen. Once seated, she called up a browser in one window and projected it onto the screen for all to share, whilst opening twitter in another, shared window, showing the live #bacopd17 hashtag stream.

“Ok.” said Steve. Do we want an agenda? “How about just throwing some topics onto some post-its, and choosing as we go?”

“Everyone nodded.” The Lean Coffee – like format was well-know and well-liked amongst those present.

“First – standard – topic is ‘Why are we here?’”. How about we make a start on that whilst we have some time to note what we’d each personally like to cover today?

Steve wrote something on a Post-It and stood to place the note on the flip chart. “Why are we here?” Sandra knew enough about this format of meeting to start the timer counting down the eight minutes they’d spend on the topic. The countdown appeared, discreetly, in one corner on the big screen.

Each person in turn shared their reasons for attending the workshop, speaking about how they were feeling being there, what they thought they needed to get out of the day, and any requests they had in that regard. Each also spoke to their shared common purpose for the workshop. Sandra noted how everyone appeared to have spent some considerable time thinking about these things in advance. She had been using the #bacopd17 hashtag stream as a window into such thinking for a week or two previously.

As each person talked, the others listened intently, looking down occasionally to make a note or two. And Sandra, as amansuensarian, trawled through the hashtag stream for more candidate topics – those that had been tweeted over the past few weeks.

Although Sandra has been at some dozen BaCo meeting since her first day, she was still very struck by the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way in which everyone in BaCo meetings just got right down to it. Idle chat, off-topic conversations and pleasantries were conspicuous by their absence. Everyone listening carefully, processing what they heard, and only so very occasionally speaking in response to something said. She could clearly see the influence of Nancy Kline’s work in action.

Choosing a Topic

[Choosing a topic – tbd]

Every time someone mentioned an idea or reference that she felt deserved special attention and sharing, Sandra would google for it and display some likely helpful information or image on the big screen. All the while, the twitter stream was updating in near real time with tweets from within and without the room.

[Illustrate engagement and constructive conflict – tbd]

And the Day is Done

“It’s a wrap!” Steve exclaimed. Everyone smiled. And sighed. It had been a long day. And the workshop wasn’t over yet. Everyone stood, gathered their possessions, bags and coats. As they filed out of the room, a few lingered to discuss this or that.

On her train home, Sandra reflected on her first BaCo workshop. It had been a good choice, volunteering as the amanuensarian. She’d learned a lot, through having to look up references, thinking about what to display on the big screen, and keeping abreast of both the twitter stream and the conversation in the room. The amanuensarian role had helped in making more of it stick.

She took her smartphone and scrolled back through the day’s twitter stream. Plenty there to catch up on and delve deeper into over the next few days. And folks not present in the meeting had contributed some interesting stuff too. Even some folks outside of BaCo. She followed everyone who had contributed something.

She replied to or retweeted a few of the day’s tweets, before relaxing into her seat and listening to some tunes, as the train rocked along, homeward.


A Model

The above story illustrates a range of features of an effective workshop:

  • Certain shared proficiencies in e.g. Skilled Dialogue, Lean Coffee, etc..
  • Pre-reading (shared), including “standard” texts – here including Nancy Kline and Chris Argyris.
  • Clarity of purpose “just why are we here?”.
  • Shared purpose “we’re all here for the same things”.
  • Folks tweeting and googling continuously during the workshop.
  • Amanuensis / cybrarian to facilitate shared learning in the workshops.
  • Democratic agenda-setting.
  • Mutual exploration of topics.
  • Active curiosity.
  • “Essentiality” – avoidance of rabbit-holes and extraneous discussion of details.
  • Focus on impacts (as compared to busyness, or outputs, or even outcomes).
  • Post-reading – following up new references.
  • Follow-up conversations, actions.
  • Feedback.

– Bob


In writing this story, it seemed to me that a video of a workshop in action would be a great addition to the resources available to BaCo staff to help them appreciate the nature of an effective workshop. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to write and/or direct such a video.

Further Reading

What is Dialogue? ~ Susan Taylor (pdf)


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