November 11, 2014


I've been paying more attention to contempt recently. Noticing others expressing it, often in small ways, and catching it in myself.

So this article about the work of John Gottman caught my eye. It gives chapter and verse on his work showing how contempt is strongly correlated with the failure of relationships.

On one level, this isn't so surprising - as many people exclaim in the comments to that article, often contemptuously.

Contempt often gives the person expressing it short-term satisfaction, but at considerable cost to relationship and long-term satisfaction. Contempt can be addictive.

I'm especially interested in "micro-contempt": the small signs of contempt that we exhibit, either without realising, or thinking we've got away with it. Often though, we don't get away with it: the other person picks up the contempt and responds in kind.

And this tit-for-tat will tend to escalate: we tend to underestimate the impact of the insults we deliver... but we feel the impact of those we receive more strongly. This can lead to vicious circle of escalation (See this post on how this happens in physical fights)

It's quite the challenge, I reckon, to create ways to respond to contempt that aren't themselves contemptuous. We can probably articulate theories about how to do it, but I suspect what's really needed is practice. In my case, lifelong practice!

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 08:40 in Facilitation
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July 17, 2013

Creating more productive meetings

I've just recorded a half-hour interview with Kristi Casey Sanders of

We talked about some of the ideas in the book and focussed on some of the simpler things meeting organisers can do to bring life and humanity to meetings. That includes getting rid of tables, letting daylight in, and changing the way we deal with food.

Click here if you can't see the embed.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 14:56 in Facilitation
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July 15, 2013

Doing "nothing"

Stuey the Coach introduced me to a nice piece of jargon from the sports world: in-task silence. That's where the coach watches his player(s) but doesn't actively intervene.

Whilst this may initially seem counterintuitive, there is a growing body of research that suggests that this method can develop players’ decision making skills, creates empowerment through enabling players to take more responsibility for their actions, results in players being less reliant on coaches during game play and encourages players to communicate more with each other.
This maps across pretty neatly to facilitators too. I remember Chris Corrigan explaining the best way to "train" an open space facilitator is to put them by the agenda area (usually the busiest spot in the room at a certain point) and instruct them to do nothing. That's because this point of busyness and apparent confusion is exactly where facilitators feel so tempted to be helpful. And where it's nearly always best to just let people get on with it.

Stu is curious to know more about what exactly is going on when this "nothing" is happening. Me too. It's not that the coach/facilitator doesn't care or isn't engaged; in fact holding space in this way, managing all the internal impulses to interfere, can be quite hard work.

I think we're talking about presence. It's my experience that we all signal our engagement and interest in all sorts of subtle ways, things that are picked up unconsciously or semi-consciously. When we're not frantically waving our arms about or giving directions, it's possible the bandwidth for this more subtle engagement actually increases.

At the moment, I'm really interested in experimenting with subtext games. These come from improv. In that context, you might get two players to do a simple scene. Two additional players then add a second voice to each of the first two players. For example, they might play the main players' inner demons, or guardian angels, or subconsciouses.

These scenes can be pretty exciting as performance pieces. I'm interested in using them to explore all the less obvious signalling that goes on in relationships. If you watch Lendl's in-task silence you know there's plenty of that going on.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 09:07 in Facilitation
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June 24, 2013

The perils of conviction

David Gurteen has an excellent post on the dangers of speaking with conviction. As I started to read it, I thought to myself, "oh, this is like the stuff Ellen Langer writes about". And then I saw David had made that link too. The basic point is this: far from encouraging learning, certainty tends to undermine it.

This is really worth reflecting on. I remember years ago learning a little exercise in which we tried two things. First, we tried telling people something true but very mundane: what our name was, or that the sun rises in the east. Then we had a go at telling them something we believed fervently.

Then we compared how we'd held ourselves physically during the two statements, and of course we'd been much more intense for the latter one.

Also, if someone challenges a mundane truth, we're quite likely to feel relaxed in refuting them, it needn't escalate into a fight. But for something we're fervent about, we are much more likely to feel it's an attack on our status and escalate.

If we maintain a certain amount of doubt or vagueness, I think we offer more chance for relationship with the other. When we're fervent, it's more like we're in a feedback loop with ourself and cut off from everyone else. It can be very intense and very isolating and it can feed delusion... and in the end, also, despair...

Bonus links to earlier posts:

Some stuff I wrote about Langer back in 2006 - the perils of rote learning and another one about hyper-vigilence

Here's a post about that connects these ideas to how insight (and quotes Ben Franklin)can't be taught from outside.

And Keith de la Rue has some good reflections on David Gurteen's post.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 07:53 in Facilitation
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June 22, 2013

Complicated and later?

Hugh Macleod sent an email today on the difference between complex and complicated. I liked this bit:

The idea of simplicity in business has in recent years taken on a whole new significance. Our friend Robert Cooper likes to say that the brain loves 'complicated and later', the idea that we are hard wired to enjoy making things hard and this helps us justify postponing decisions.
Ah yes, if things are complicated and later, then high status players can talk about them for hours in concerned tones. Shades of marshmallow challenge.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 14:00 in Facilitation
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June 18, 2013

June 10, 2013

Training, lists and that sinking feeling

I've been reflecting on the training business a lot lately. Partly because I've been experimenting with some ideas at Edges of Work.

So much training seems to lure us in with offers of highly structured content. I get it. There's something very alluring about that promise of "You will learn..." followed by several bullet points. It's a sweet poison. On one level, we are being comforted by how useful this course will be and how much we will benefit. But what's that slight feeling of discomfort, that sense of our pocket being fingered?

I think it's that these reductionist lists also intimidate us. Oh, we didn't know how little we actually knew. If we don't go on this course and learn the seven secrets, what chance do we stand of survival in this cruel world?

But these lists are a bit of a con. They are really reductions of the truth, not the real thing, and their inauthenticity is what, I reckon, accounts for that sinking feeling. When knowledge is reduced to content, the real life goes out of it.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 09:21 in Miscellaneous (everything is)
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Spiders and spying

It's been quite frustrating following the coverage of the PRISM scheme to monitor internet activity. I see again how people at the top of any hierarchy seem to think the answer to all issues is for them to have more power and control. The foolish objections of the citizenry are met the with almost contemptuous disdain: why can't you just trust us to take care of this? These people can often talk the language of networks and freedom, it's just that they walk the walk of something altogether different.

The trouble with having centralised power is that you just can't see how corrupting it is. The answer to the inherent defects of centralised power is... to centralise more power. All very spider vs starfish.

Posted by Johnnie Moore at 08:23 in Miscellaneous (everything is)
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