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Creating an Agenda on the Fly


This morning I ran a session for the Sydney Clean Language Practice Group. No, this did not mean I took a trip around the world - the group meets online, on Zoom. It’s organised by Des Lowe and meets every Tuesday from 8pm to 9pm (Sydney time). Recently Des reached out to Penny Tompkins to see if different ‘clean’ trainers would be willing to lead a session for the group and I know several of us are taking part.

The ‘cleaner’ I become, the more difficult I find it is to pre-plan a session for a group I don’t know. I can think of plenty of good ideas but I also know that my ideas may not be suitable for some reason. So, as I often do in situations such as this, I started by asking everyone in the group, “What would you like to have happen?” and then created an agenda ‘on the fly’ to take the various needs into account. There were six participants and this is what they asked for:

  • I’d be happy to practice or to have a conversation where we can ask you questions. The challenge I’m facing right now is whether to work with notes or without notes and I’d welcome your views on that.
  • I am similar. Practice or conversation. And I find if I don’t write notes then I lose people’s information. I’m in a bind.
  • I’m deliberating on using Clean Language versus using other methodologies. What happens at those choice points for staying clean or breaking out? And working with polarities, where the client wants two things that are seemingly at odds with each other.
  • I’d like to practice and have some realtime feedback from you. I would find that valuable. And, we’ve been getting used to the questions. Now it would be good to up the ante and try to find specific areas to practice. What kinds of exercises would it be useful for us to do? What do you do in your practice groups?
  • I don’t have any expectations; I just want to get on board and learn something.
  • One thing I’d like is to master how to introduce Clean Language into a normal conversation, when I am trying to help someone, but it is not formal coaching.

When I work in this really open and clean way, pulling a suitable agenda together can be a challenge. By the time we had heard from everyone, there were now fewer than 50 minutes remaining, and quite a lot of requests…

So, how do I go about creating something that will meet as many of these needs as possible? I have been thinking about that since this morning and realised I have some ‘operating principles’ in mind as I think:

  • As far as possible, give everyone’s needs equal time and attention. Apart from this just seeming like a fair thing to do, it also arises from David Grove’s principle of being an ‘equal opportunities employer of information’. In his work, this meant giving different symbols in a landscape equal attention, not favouring one over another. Caitlin Walker then carried this principle into Systemic Modelling. It’s embedded in the practice of asking each person in a group the same number of questions or giving each person the same amount of time.
  • Look for patterns in what people have requested. If more than one person requests the same or a similar activity, then going with that activity satisfies two (or more) needs at once.
  • Resist the urge - again as far as possible - to share my own expertise. Of course, it is lovely to be thought of as an expert and the whole session had begun with people saying how much they liked my book, but in the spirit of clean I trust that group members also have expertise and can figure many of these questions out for themselves. So I try to create a balance between ‘telling’ and ‘facilitating’ that is appropriate to the situation. In this case, everyone in the group had some clean experience and I knew they wanted to hear from me.

There may be more operating principles at work than I am consciously aware of, but I am hoping that these three have piqued your curiosity and that you are now wondering what we actually did in the remaining 50 minutes…

And I am going to keep you curious for a couple of days. That’s because another thing I have been doing today is reading a bit about neuroscience. And I’ve discovered that when we are curious our brains are stimulated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that works on our internal reward systems, so being curious gives us a buzz, like the one we get from eating chocolate or playing a game of tennis. Furthermore, I’ve learned there is research to suggest that having an opportunity to guess the answer to something increases our retention of information, compared with simply being told the information.

So in a couple of days I will write again and share what we did in the remainder of the session. And in the meantime you may want to guess what that was. In this case, of course, there is no right answer. One thing ‘clean’ teaches us is that everyone will have their own ideas; we would all do something different with this information, so I am not suggesting that what I did was the ‘right’ thing to do. It is just what came to my mind at the time. I just thought it would be fun to have a gap and see what you say. And I am just as interested to know what you would have done. So please feel free to comment with your guesses and ideas below.

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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