#barefootwinterconf Reflections

Last week I attended the Barefoot Winter Conference at Prestwold Hall (beautiful location – and yes I’m slightly biased because it’s where I got married!).  This post is a collation of my thoughts and reflections from the day which I know will help me learn and absorb, and which I hope will have some nuggets of interest and insight for you.

On the practical conference front, it was a brilliantly run event with good amounts of time for each workshop – all of which were interactive, learning sessions – no sages on stages chalking & talking.  And a good long lunch for quality network time.  A definite focus on quality not quantity all day.

Keynote – Prof Roger Steare – on values-driven orgs, leadership and ethics

Since the 2008 crash stories have continued to emerge of unethical practice in organisations.  Read about Roger’s keynote in my Storify and how we helps organisations back to ethical decision-making.


Workshop 1 – Clean Language – Revealing Mental Models through Metaphor 

This session was with Sue Sharp and Tamsin Hartley from Clean Learning.

I chose this session for what might seem odd reasons.  I’d once been coached by someone who’d just done a Clean Language course and I really hated it.  So, because I believe it’s good to challenge our assumptions, I went along with the intent to learn more and open my mind to the possibilities of how I could use it in my practice.

What was great was that the session was involving and interactive from the start.  Lots of play with the approach, group discussion and conversation.

To give some context, the purpose of Clean Language is to find out how people work and think to raise their awareness to that and understand themselves (and others if a team thing) better.  Its purpose is also to remove assumptions from our own language which could (inadvertently) influence a client’s response.

A (made up) example of a clean language interaction could follow this flow –

  1. For this meeting to go as you would like, it will be like what? > It will be fun and interactive and we’ll get through everything on the agenda.
  2. And you will be like what? > I’ll need to keep an eye on the time while also checking everyone’s OK, and I’ll need plenty of energy.
  3. What kind of [energy] is that [energy]? > It’s the kind of energy that bubbles away. It doesn’t spike up and drop down, it’s infectious and consistent.
  4. Bubbles. Infectious. Consistent.  And is there anything else about that [energy]? > It’s natural.  It’s not forced.  It’s a natural result of wanting to be there in that conversation with those people.
  5. Natural. Not forced. And where is that energy? > It’s in my heart and my head.  A sense of happiness and a buzz.

And so on…..

When we practiced in the room I found it OK asking the questions and found the flow helped my buddy go deep into his stuff fairly quickly.  I found the same when the roles were reversed and liked the simplicity of the questions for keeping cognitive noise out of my head that might otherwise have been there if I was having to process what the question actually was!

The bit I’m still not so keen on is the way you play the client’s words back to them.  They used the phrase Parrot-phrasing rather than Para-phrasing.  You can see it above with the words played back as individual words.  I believe in using a client’s own words as much as possible, again because it avoids a cognitive hurdle having to be jumped over.  However I find with Clean Language it’s very easy to sound patronising or condescending by saying the words back in their pure sense rather than in a ‘normal’ sentence.  A discussion in the room landed on the belief that it takes practice to hold an authentically curious place with this Parrot-phrasing approach, to avoid the patronising.

A great benefit of this approach is that it can enable people to get into metaphor which helps them give form to the intangible and connect them more strongly into their subconscious mind – the part of our brain that really makes us effective or not.

It can also be used with teams to enable them to describe how they want to be together – spotting the different ways people think and whether they stay with the conceptual or go into metaphor is itself a great team awareness and valuing difference exercise.

In fact, Sue and Tamsin have used it in many contexts for many situations, including with their kids, and find it to be very effective.  If you’re interested in learning more, they run training events – more info on their website.

Workshop 2 – Theatrical Approaches in Coaching

 The session was run by Sam Chittenden who owns Different Development and, with her experience in theatre, brings fun energy to her work.

To begin with Sam talked about how actors, to give a great performance, learn their lines and get into character for who they need to be on stage.  In doing so, all they’re doing is bringing a different aspect of themselves to the fore.  We are all a mixture of many different facets but we tend to fall into habits of certain versions of ourselves in certain situations.  In organisations we don’t often stop to think who we need to be in a particular moment or for a particular meeting.  Sam invited us to explore different aspects of ourselves to see what we might be missing by always playing the same role, or to discover whether our comfort zone lies somewhere we didn’t expect.

All with the intent of raising self awareness and emotional intelligence for improved performance.  Sam also talked about how her creative approaches help clients get from a place of feeling stuck into a place of action, and transferring what they spend time on with Sam into the real world.

First we did an energiser called the Fruit bowl.  Worth a go if you want to have some fun – and to learn a bit about yourself.  Everyone sits in a circle.  One person stands in the middle and says a truth about themselves e.g. ‘I have brown hair’.  Anybody else with brown hair has to stand up and swap seats (including the person who was in the middle finding a seat).  One person will be left in the middle again to share a truth about themselves.

From this we made observations of our sense of comfort or discomfort with standing in front of others, the impact on us of having to think of a truth with everyone watching – and one that we wanted to share > and therefore the different levels of open-ness that people displayed.

Next we played some roles from a classic fairytale story – the Mother, the Child, the Devil, the Crone, the Hero, etc.  For each character our energy was in a different part of our body and we had a phrase to say as we walked around acting it to each other.  Yes, we felt a bit daft and there were lots of giggles but it was really interesting – and heartening – that in a room full of coaches there were quite a few of us who felt quite uncomfortable being the soft, understanding Mother and that in fact we felt more comfortable being the empowered Hero.  A helpful place if we’re to move to a world where coaching isn’t seen as a soft ‘tea & chat’ activity.

Then we sat in small groups with a card each that had an image of a person on it.  We had to talk about an issue as ourselves and then talk about it from the perspective of the person on the card.  I found it desperately uncomfortable talking about my issue from my character because it was so untrue to how I really feel (or ‘felt’, given that my wonderful partners then did some speedy coaching with me to reframe my challenge).  One of my partners had a similarly uncomfortable experience as his card was displaying anger which is an emotion he doesn’t display and doesn’t feel comfortable with .  This led to an interesting conversation about the emotions we’re taught to suppress as we grow up because they’re ‘wrong’ and because we believe we can’t control them (“I’ll lose my temper” – really? How could it be lost, you can’t even see it? “if I start to cry I won’t be able to stop” – really? Ever??).  Our emotions drive every action and every decision we ever make.  We can’t ignore them.  Sam used a great analogy for anger – if anger is petrol then if you carelessly chuck it around it can be very dangerous but if you put it in a petrol tank it will get you from A to B.

All in all a great day!

And next one will be 26th April next year if you’re interested.  You can sign up for the Barefoot newsletter here so you’re the first to hear.

This is me………www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

WFS Tree


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