Monday, 28 September 2009

How might you reinforce the negative?

On the Training Journal Digest, that has been part of my daily routine for a few years now,( we have been discussing a thread of "reinforcing the negative", prompted by a recent Radio 4 interview with Robert Cialdini.

In part of the programme (as in his book) he explored the influencing effects of reinforcing the negative. For example reporting in GP surgeries the amounts of people who missed appointments does nothing to improve the situation and creates a social proof that it is acceptable and the norm to miss appointments. The press and media create newsworthy stories by accentuating and reinforcing the negatives.

As so often happens, when unconsciously following a theme, I had a gift of an experience one morning last week...

In the ladies changing room in the gym I go to in the mornings, the recent topic of conversation has been the new routines of children starting, changing and returning to school. As I am past that stage with mine, I smile with nostalgia and carry on drying between my toes. This morning I overheard the best of all:

Mother 1 "How is xxx settling in now?"

Mother 2 "Oh, she's OK. She's had a few more wobbles, but this week it's been a bit better. She asks me every day "Mummy, did you worry about me today?" and I say "yes of course darling - all day."

I was left quietly wondering how it might affect the child's "wobble-ometer" if instead of reinforcing the negative, the answer was something along the lines of "I think about you a lot, of course, but I don't worry about you because I believe you to be a clever and competent person who can take good care of themselves".

Developing a robust confidence about our own competence, capability and coping ability in the world is a vital part of the formation of a healthy self concept. In the scientific research that led to the teachings of The Human Element, Will Schutz identified that our feelings about our own competence and subsequent defences against fears of humilation directly impact our behaviour around our self determination and control of ourselves and others.

I walked home pondering how and in what ways I might unknowingly keep other people captive through my own anxieties  - I really hope I don't, but I am planning to live in the question for a few days - without reinforcing the negative of course!
So my question is:
In what ways might you notice yourself reinforcing the negatives today?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Where are you now?

The second facet of my touchstone cube is a constant reminder to consider the three modes of facilitation: (Heron, J. 1999)

According to Heron, the three modes are:


I am guessing that this facet is fairly straightforward, and most of us will have some sort of theory for the transitions of group dynamics and behaviour. However, the three modes also begin to deal with the politics of learning - which are important in any intervention, but particularly so in consultancy interventions.

The considerations are about the exercise of power, who controls and influences, who makes decisions about what and how people will learn. Essentially it is about whether these decisions and political dimensions are managed by the facilitator alone, by the group alone or a balance of the two. Of course, there is another layer to consider at planning stage - and that is where else the power is invested outside the intervention space - by the Company, employer, boss etc.

1) Hierarchical

In this mode, as facilitator, I take all the responsibility (and the glory!) leading from the front by thinking and acting on behalf of the group, directing the learning process, exercising my power over it, interpreting, giving meaning and managing group feelings and emotions. (I find this mode closely linked to the Control dimension of FIRO - but that's another story and another blog-series for later.) The hierarchical mode may also be a group preference - it can be a safer position to not take own responsibilities for learning! Too much hierarchical control can encourage participants to be passive, or they may become hostile or resistant.

2) Co-operative
In this mode, power for the learning process is shared with the group. As facilitator I am engaged in enabling and guiding, working with group members to make decisions and become more self-directing. Outcomes are negotiated and the facilitation style is co-operative and participative. However, too much co-operative guidance can degenerate into a bland style, or kind of nurturing oppression, as I may unconsciously work to keep the dynamic "comfortable" and prevent them from becoming autonomous in their learning.

3) Autonomous
As the facilitator I do not do anything for the group in this mode, or with them, but respect their own autonomy. They have total freedom to find their own way, exercise their own judgement without guidance, reminders or assistance through the subtle art of creating the space in which people can exercise full self-determination in their learning. It is a subtle art though, as too much autonomy too early on can leave them wallowing in ignorance, misconception and chaos.

However, the modes are situational - so now link this facet to the Six Dimensions and witness what happens!

Each of the six dimensions can be handled in three different ways. By applying the three modes to six dimensions, we can combine eighteen areas for consideration:

Whenever I am in planning, meaning, confronting, feeling, structuring and / or valuing dimension, the next level of question is "and which mode is most appropriate for this activity?"

Am I ...

Planning in hierarchical mode? Planning for the group and making decisions for the learners - I plan everything including time, topics, resources, methods
Planning in co-operative mode? Perhaps planning with the group and integrating their ideas with my own, negotiating and co-ordinating the learning contract, discussing and canvassing views.
Planning in autonomous mode? Delegating the planning to the group and letting them get on with it

Am I...
In the meaning dimension in hierarchical mode? Being the source of understanding, giving meaning and making sense of what is going on for them. I input the theory, concepts and images and interpet and assess what they mean and what is going on.
In the meaning dimension in co-operative mode? By prompting, sharing, inviting participation in giving their own meaning and collaborating with my view in an effort to make sense, stimulating the group to work out "what is happening now?", describing events without interpretation.
In the meaning dimension in autonomous mode? Leaving the group to manage its own interpretation, feedback, reflection and  /or review to reach understanding for themselves.

Am I...
Confronting in hierarchical mode? - I decide when to intervene, interrupt the process and interpret things for the group. I do this directly to participants and for participants in order to bring it to their awareness.
Confronting in co-operative mode? - This is collaborative consciousness raising where I work with the group to surface avoided issues and defensive behaviour. I may describe what I witness and experience, prompting and inviting people to comment and become more aware.
Confronting in autonomous mode? - I provide and hold safe space and structures for peer confrontation and for particpants to experience self-confrontation.

Am I ....
Feeling in hierarchical mode? - I take on the control of the affective dynamic for the group, deciding the process and how it will be handled, judging what will suit them best, switching the dynamic with activities and prescribing opening and closing ceremonies. I think for the group and give permissions for expression.
Feeling in co-operative mode? - We work collaboratively together with me eliciting, prompting and encouraging views and discussions about different ways of managing feelings and how they are being experienced and handled
Feeling in autonomous mode? - Giving space to the group to manage its own life of feeling and emotion - it is managing its own affective process and learning, perhaps collectively or in smaller groups or pairs.

Am I....
Structuring in hierarchical mode?- I take responsibility to structure, design, and supervise the learning activities within the group, managing feedback and supervising the collection of learning points
Structuring in co-operative mode? - We co-operate together in devising activities and structure to progress their learning.
Structuring in autonomous mode? - The group manages its own process, being self and peer directed to complete whatever needs completing, devise and mange its own learning.

Am I...
Valuing in hiearchical mode? - I take a strong lead in caring for group members and demonstrating that I consider their value, I decide the ground rules and direct the group accordingly
Valuing in co-operative mode? - I co-create a community of value and mutual respect with them, giving choices and collaborating as they develop and respecting self-determination.
Valuing in autonomous mode? - I simply choose to let the group manage their own affirmation of self value and give space for them to celebrate their self-worth, identity and emergence in their own self-determining way. I make self-disclosures about my own beliefs, attitudes, anxieties, defences and delights.

Of course, the lines and spaces between these definitions are soft and blurry and all these questions also have a time dimension - Am I asking these before the intervention? At any time during it? Afterwards when reflecting on my own practice?

And, do I only ask myself once? - or continuously and regularly?

Now you can see why the cube is so symbolic - because the model itself is 3D and dynamic - it's simply too much to sit flat on a page.

I love the notion that I can have the whole thing in my hand as a touchstone - and reminder to keep asking these questions. I am mindful that through my own descriptions, I may be displaying my preferences and unconscious judgements.

I am also hoping that people in groups I have facilitated, coached and trained will read this and question me, hold me to account and challenge me about decisions or actions I have taken in the moment and their reactions to the experience - so please do!

I find it helpful to keep asking myself "where are you now?"
Which dimension and which mode?
The next question is inevitable and equally important "and why!"

I can't imagine feeling safe with any facilitator who was not asking these questions on a regular, if not continuous, basis. I also wonder if leaders of teams consider it in the same depth as trainers and facilitators? It seems as relevant to me - especially for leaders of high performing teams.
So, my question is:

Where are you now? 

I'd love to know

We have another four facets to explore...

My big thanks to Pat Young at Learning Edge for the gift of my precious cube.

When do you feel most alive?

I love the gift of coincidence in any part of my life. I think it is something I have got better at noticing and accepting as I have got older - and it seems to obey the natural laws that the more I notice it, the more it seems to happen.

This week's gift was started by Michael Neill and his geniuscatalyst newsletter ( that invariably marks the start of my week on a Monday morning.

In it, he was describing the application of an Ockham's Razor type of approach to coaching questions.  One such question that emerged, stripped down to just its vest and absolute simplicity, was "What would make you feel most alive?"

The concept of "aliveness" is a powerful part of The Human Element teachings of Will Schutz, so this question found a cozy nest in my head while I read the newsletter briefly, then got on with the rest of my day.

Later in the week, I was having an introductory coaching conversation with a client. Things were moving along in an ok direction, but I was feeling that something was missing from the mix. Everything was kind of vanilla, beige and careful and I wanted to see what it could be like with some of the zest and zing of passion.

Apathy and excuses are a form of defence after all and our defences keep us locked in assumptions about ourselves, so I was getting curious about what was underneath. Then, the question popped into my awareness - so I asked it...

"When do you feel most alive?"

There was silence and then ... transformation. Eyes sparkled, complexion changed colour and facial expression lit up. A totally different, vibrant, exciting, excited, energised, colourful, authentic person described the circumstances and the feeling.

The question provided a direction and pathway from wherever he /she was currently and habitually, to where they most want and deserve to be. (And boy, do I want to be there in the cheering crowd when they get there.)

I was reminded, once again, how completely energy-sucking it is to work in a way that doesn't value our individual genius and how feeling alive immediately connects us with our own talented brilliance. It makes things easy, creates energy and feels light, playful and spontaneous.

Surviving is just not the same thing as thriving and existing is not the same as being alive - but we can spend a lifetime kidding ourselves that they are.

Waking up to the difference is the first step to - literally - staying alive.

So, my question is - when do you feel most alive?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Where is valuing in your planning agenda?

The first face on my touchstone cube is the Six Dimensions of Facilitation (Heron, J. 1999, p6) The six dimensions are mutually supportive of each other, interweaving and overlapping, but since a basic NLP premise is that separation precedes integration, it is helpful to distinguish each element.

The different dimensions are invaluable to consider because they answer some questions that require asking about my facilitator purpose, what I want to achieve and what is my intention. I find these questions useful throughout any intervention - before for planning the intervention, during to stay in awareness of intention and afterwards for reflective review.

The six dimensions are:

 1) The Planning Dimension = Prescriptive
This is the prescriptive activity of determining the ends and means of the intervention where, as the facilitator, I may find myself in a position of political authority. Decisions such as the nature of the objectives, the programme, contents, methodology, resources, evaluation etc. are important - and generally requiring visibility with a client.

2) The Meaning Dimension = Informative
The area of cognitive learning for participants. How do I facilitate their understanding of their learning and making sense of what is going on? This is cognition on a number of levels - the task, the process of the group and the learning process and generally I find that the deep this penetrates, the more the learning "sticks" and the more likelihood there is that behaviour will change for the long term.

3) The Confronting Dimension - Challenging
How much do I challenge? When? How? - and why? (back to "what is my intention?" above). Am I brave enough to interrupt things, interpret or hold up a mirror for the group? What blocks will we encounter in each other's anxieties, defences, oppressions? How willing am I to surface the issues being avoided? the "elephant in the room", to mention the unmentionable? What do I know about beforehand and how much is that colouring my view of what is actually happening in the moment? Is the challenge part of my plan or completely off-piste? How much do I want to raise the group's consciousness, and how much do they want to raise their own consciousness? Am I elegantly holding the boundary, tiptoing around it or stamping it into the ground?

4) The Feeling Dimension = Cathartic
How are feelings and emotions within the group to be managed? How will the groups consciousness of feelings be brought into the life of the group? The balance between negative and positive, changing states and switching dynamics, introducing exercises and activities to create a balanced flow, opening and ending ceremonies, honouring feelings within the learning process and allowing space for safe catharsis, celebtration, acknowldegement and moving out of stuckness.

5) The Structuring Dimension =Catalytic
Here, the facilitative question is all about the formal aspects - what methods of learning shall I use? How will I structure the group's learning? What should I take account of in the environment and supervision of it? What exercises, activities, methods and models will I use? What is the group composition? Do I pre-plan or go with the here and now?

6) The Valuing Dimension = Supportive
I love this area of questionning - how do I create or co-create a climate in which people can be their genuine, empowered, real selves? A place of personal value, integrity and respect that honours people for their authenticity and contribution in the moment. The acid question for me is how to do this for myself first as I will then lead the way. If I hide and deny my own vulnerability, if I do not treat myself with respect and integrity, then how do I create a space in which others are able to break through into a new place for their own development?

That is the first purpose of my cube - to act as a reminder to treat these interfaces as a reverse hierarchy and begin at the bottom - with valuing. From there I can work upwards to finish with planning. The quality of my planning improves a thousandfold when I work from the platform of valuing. I spent so many years doing it the other way round.

So - where is valuing in your planning agenda?

In the next blog, I will cover another facet of the cube - the three modes of facilitation and the politics of learning.

Monday, 21 September 2009

John Heron Intervention Analysis - Where do you begin?

Following the thread of  "touchstones for ethical frameworks" from my previous posting and various discussions with colleagues as a result, I find myself drawn to sharing how John Heron's framework shapes my practice. It has been so much part of my operating wallpaper for so long, that it is a real pleasure to disaggregate it and explore it all over again.

In terms of explaining the basis of the model, I can't do better than the explanation on the back of "The Complete Facilitator's Handbook" -  "Originating at the Human Potential Research Project, University of Surrey, and rooted in the realities of facilitator training, this model has been continuously developed for over 25 years and is committed to empowering whole people in highly flexible learning environments."

In the humanistic psychology arena, for me it is the whole enchilada - analytical, structured, theortetical content mixed with aspects such as group dynamics, facilitator roles and authority, experiential and whole person learning, co-operative enquiry and social change.

As a model, it provides a leader's manual as much as a facilitator's guide in that his definition of a facilitator is " a person who has the role of empowering participants to learn in an experiential group".

So, whatever you do, wherever you are, if you are engaged with the idea of helping others (and yourself) to learn from experience, then this next blog series might hold something of interest for you.

I certainly hope so anyway.

We will start with The Six Dimensions of Facilitation and his Six Category Intervention Analysis (1975):

Prescriptive = Planning
Informative = Meaning
Confronting = Confronting
Cathartic = Feeling
Catalytic = Structuring
Supportive = Valuing

My question for now is:

Looking at this list, where do you begin?

We will explore your entry point in the next posting...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What's your ethical framework?

Last week, I was interviewed as part of a research project for a colleague / fellow researcher at London Metropolitan University. Her research topic is "Ethical Practice in HR Consultancy" and I happily volunteered to be a subject of her research, as this is a topic dear to my heart. Ethics in any business is an important enough issue and in consultancy it is absolutely vital to define boundary management, confidentiality and best practice.

One of her searching and well designed questions asked me to explain anything that I might hold as a touchstone for ethical practice. Without hesitating, I fetched a particular item from my desk and brought it into the interview space.

In explaining it to her and experiencing her interest in it, I realised that I am so used to this object and it is so much part of how we do things, that I take it for granted - it has been part of my landscape for years. I have explained it to various colleagues, clients and co-facilitators in the past - and the reaction is always one of interest and reaction at a deep level.  So, I have considered that sharing it might serve as a useful Blog topic.

So - what is this miraculous object?

It is a crystal cube, lovingly and brilliantly designed by Pat Young of Learning Edge, ( to celebrate the graduation of the only 12 Master Facilitators in the UK. I keep it on my desk, it travels with me and it is with me in any room where I am facilitating, coaching, consulting with people.

This is my touchstone.

Each face of the cube has a particular meaning and represents a facet of the underpinning facilitation practice as defined by John Heron in "The Complete Facilitator's Handbook", "Helping the Client" and other works of his particular art.

So - in my next Blog, I intend to introduce John Heron and then over the course of the next six, to disaggregate and explain my understanding and application of the 6 facets or dimensions of skilled and ethical facilitation.
At the start of this jouney, my initial questions are: 
What's your ethical framework?
What is your touchstone for "right and wrong"
What do you hold on to in the turbulent world of business?
How different would our political and business worlds be if our ethical touchstones were public and we were held accountable to them?

I am happy to share mine, and I would love to share yours too.