Archive for April, 2010

Why Am I Here?

Apr 30, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source: Sheri Madrone via Flickr

Picture source: Sheri Madrone via Flickr

For those have been into local news and current affairs; I am not about to promote our President S.R. Nathan latest book launch of the same title of this blog. The title caught my attention while watching last evening news bulletin  and I thought “Hey, that’s one of my favorite question in conversational circle check-in and I wonder what’s S.R. Nathan thoughts about that…”

Back to the question. I always find it fascinating to listen to participant’s thoughts when confronted with this question: “Why Are You Here?”. You see, there is a fundamentality to this simple yet thought provoking question when asked. From the most simplistic respond of “I am here because I was told to be here.” to “I want to be here to know what I don’t know.” There are so many layers of thoughts and desires that unreeled underneath compliance, willingness and making choices.

But the purpose of asking this simple yet thought provoking question is not about unveiling the thoughts and feelings of the respondents per se; in contrary, the question may help them ask and seek their deepest most desire of their purpose in many things they do in life.

Hence, the next time when you are facilitating a conversational circle and trying out “Why Are You Here?”, ask with your heart and with more practice, I am sure the heartfelt asking may arouse heartfelt connection.

Happy asking.

会话圈 – Conversational Circle in Beijing

Apr 26, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

This is not the first time I have been in a circle with the Chinese…and I am sure this will not be the last.

It never fails to surprise the Chinese every time they arrived at my programs to find the seats arranged in circle. It also almost always embarrassed me when the Chinese will respectfully addresses me as “Teacher”or “Master”; a term which I blatantly declined in the beginning but grow to accept their culture of respect for the ‘elder’.

Beijing – the capital of Mainland China; a city of cultural and political sensitivity. I have been there three times and yet I know very little of her. Mind you, I never get the chance to visit Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. But what I did experience are the thoughts of the participants and their stories, concerns, confusions and skepticism of concepts and theories from the West; how can you not with five thousands years of cultural evolution and wisdom.

After introduction to the program proper, I invited the 12 participants into the circle, we checked-in and I asked:

“Do you know why are we in a circle?”, followed by a long pause…

“So that we are able to see one another?” a brave lady breaking the silence…

“Sitting in this way so that we can hear one another clearly”, shared another.

“But who is going to take the lead in decision making?”, a senior looking gentleman voiced his concern…

I allowed a moment of silence and said: “May I suggest that leader will be in every chair, every moment and thoughts, every stories and reflections. For this program, there will be no need for decision making but practice thought leadership.”

I realized some heads nodding and also concerned expressions. But everyone continue to remain in the circle whenever it is being called and showed enthusiasm throughout the two days program.

As one of the participant commented at the end of two days:


In brief, the Circle enable this participant to observe, listen and speak as a way to know oneself by reflection.

The Circle empower the participant to trust the process and take courage to pass the learning forward.

The Circle encourage the participant to search the way most meaningful for oneself.

Have you been to a conversational circle lately?

Schadenfreude: Das ist Gut!

Apr 23, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source:

Picture source:

No, it’s not the computer unicode setting. I am not into German language either…the term caught my eyes and I thought it is interesting to share it here with you.

Schadenfreude is “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.”

How ‘wicked’ I thought…but I asked deeper;

“Have I ever experience that sort of pleasure?”

“Is there somewhere deep down in my heart when things doesn’t go well with others I feel some kind of fortunate that’s not me?”

The Buddhist concept of mudita, “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune”, is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude. Alternatively, envy, which is unhappiness in another’s good fortune, could be considered the counterpart of schadenfreude. Completing the quartet is “unhappiness at another’s misfortune”, which may be term as empathy, pity or compassion.

The Book of Proverbs mentions an emotion similar to that now described by the word schadenfreude: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17).

I had the priviledged to learn the concept Self Deception from the Arbinger Institute some years ago. The concept explains there are two ways that we are being with others:

“The Responsive Way – To see others as they are – as people. Seeing them as people, I am responsive to their reality; their concerns, their hopes, their needs, their fears. Others are as real to me as I am to myself.

The Resistant Way – To see others as I choose to see them – as objects. Seeing them as objects, I am resistant to their reality. If I see others at all, they are less than I am – less relevant, less important, less real. Seeing people as less than they are, I am deceived about their reality.”

How do you see your fellow colleagues?

Are you able to connect with yourself and them and they connect with you?

Are WE able to connect and see one another clearly – the hopes, anxieties, wishes, tears and joy?

Have you ever ask these questions?

Apr 20, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles | Leadership Infusion

When I first saw this trailer in the Autumn of 2008, my immediate reaction was “I must watch this movie!”. I am not sure is it because of the controversial theme or because of its unorthodox genre, but it never reach our shore. But thanks to online shopping I managed to get hold of the DVD last year.

I am gauging the response using this blog-post of anyone interested in coming into conversational circle to share your view about this topic. If there is enough interest shown, I would like to hold a conversational circle in middle of June 2010 to watch this movie and invite you into the circle to share your thoughts. (More details in CC Touchpoint)

Everyone know that the ability to ask question is one of the most critical skill in contemporary workplace. When was the last time you have asks questions or for that matter, allow to ask question? When did we last heard the notion of ‘It takes two hands to clap’?

You may want to get hold of this movie/documentary titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” from your local video outlet or online at iTunes store.

悟 - A gift from Beijing

Apr 15, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source: TaylorMiles via Flickr

Picture source: TaylorMiles via Flickr


欣 - 北京的学生领悟性高,思考力强,警觉性深,非常考我的培训技巧与能力,所以能再次回来培训非常开心。

慰 - 小时候对华文的兴趣,还有师辈们的灌输与栽培确实让我万分感激。我对学生们说如果不是资政李光耀的政策,我可能没机会在这跟他们分享学习。

第一天结束前的Conversational Circle,大家分享了所学心得。当中的分享有:











Mastering the art of ‘Agreed to Disagree’.

Apr 12, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

Woody Allen – Acclaimed Screenwriter, Film Director, Actor and Comedian (not in that particular order of merit).

Billy Graham -  American Christian evangelist, is best known for his worldwide evangelistic crusades preaching the message of Christianity to more people than anyone in history.

What can we learn from them about  the art of agreed to disagree? Quite a fair bit I thought after chanced upon this interview video clip on YouTube. A few excerpt to highlights:

Woody (0:10) – “Whether you agree his (Billy Graham) point of view or not on things…extremely interesting to talk to…I don’t agree with him on many of great subjects…”

Billy (0:40) – “It’s very nice to be with you Woody and I like to say there’s some things that I don’t agree with you on…”

Woody (0:46) – “Yeah…but the question is which one of us will be converted by the end of this conversation…”

Alright, I hope this is enough to wet your appetite for this clip. But the point I would like to bring across is not really about the interview per se but the manner both gentlemen carried the dialogue with strong disagreement and conviction of certain values and assumptions and how they brought their thoughts across yet with space for each other to be ‘touch’ and listen to. I thought there was much ’learning’ from the dialogue.

David Bohm (1917 – 1992). Renowned physicist and theorist who was one of the most original thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century says this:

“…people can share the frustration and share their different contradictory assumptions and share their mutual concerns and stay with it – if everybody is concern together, and looking at it (the concern) together – then you have a chance of common consciousness.” (On Dialogue, p38)

ConversationCircles’ vision is to enable organization and community the ability to create meaningful, collaborative and authentic conversation. We are only at the beginning of this dream and we hope that YOU are in this journey with us.

I have also included a facilitator guide for an experiential activity titled “Fall Out Shelter Problem” that help team to work on learning the skills of agreed to disagree.

Download HERE. Do feel free to drop me a note if you need further help on the guide.

Note: if you really enjoy the clip, go to YouTube and catch the part 2 and see how they end the conversation…Have fun!

Same but Different – Helping team to unearth differences.

Apr 09, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles | Team Intervention

I first learned the phrase “Same Same but Different” many years ago from my friend and mentor Francis Tan (Principal Consultant – First Touch Consultancy). I loved this phrase so much that I have been using it many times in my facilitation session.

Through the years, I have observed that one of the key struggle for most team relationship is their inability (or reluctance) to identify and acknowledge differences in the comfort of sameness. We are more comfortable when others shared the same opinion and thoughts, arguments are not stretch beyond personal convictions. We wince at the slightest disagreement (though we are mostly good at concealing it), disapprove unorthodox ideas and course of action.

A strong team-base relationship has to be built on the bedrock of respecting differences; not at coddling sameness.

If you would like to facilitate an experiential activity that could arouse your team members to start thinking about the above, you may like to download it HERE.

Do give me your thoughts about the above topic or email me any questions with regard to the attached facilitation guide.

Serendipity – A discovery journey.

Apr 08, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source: Itsgreattobehome via Flickr

Picture source: Itsgreattobehome via Flickr

Word Origin & History

The word derives from Serendip, the Persian name for Sri Lanka. The Persian word itself has been derived from Sanskrit name for Sri Lanka viz. Swarnadweep (Swarna meaning golden and Dweep meaning island) and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754.(source: Wikipedia

Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.

One of the joyous moment in facilitating conversational circles is guiding group in discovering potential meaning, ideas, stories and renew connection that may remove judgement and reconstruct trusting relationship.

By serendipity, the journey of going from known to unknown and sometime to known again, is the essence of why I will encourage YOU to give a thought to be invited into a circle soon…Will YOU join me in the Circle?

360 Eulogy – How would you want to be remembered?

Apr 07, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles | Leadership Infusion

Picture source: James Neeley via Flickr

Picture source: Gone Fishing by James Neeley via Flickr

“This picture is dedicated to the late Mr. Koh Kong Boo. Mr. Koh passed away at the age of 82 while fishing on 3 April morning…his all time favorite past-time. May you rest in peace (and fishing) with our heavenly Father!”

I was at a friend’s father wake service last night. He lives a good and simple life – God-centered, Friends-focused and Purpose-driven. What struck me deeply was the eulogies given by three different generations of friends and love ones; his grand-daughter, his son, a close friend and a senior paster that worked with him closely in church ministry. I believed that when he eventually stand facing his eternal Father, he will received his crown with flying colors. As I listened intently to how he was remembered; though importantly what he has done in his living year, but most significantly for who he was to them.

That reminded me of the similarity to 360 feedback and appraisal most organization used to evaluate leaders in yearly basis.

I recently asked a friend whom assume a leadership role when posted to Shanghai.

“How would you want to be remembered?” I asked.

“That’s a good question, I did thought of it lately but I am always so busy and tied down with things…” came an almost apologetic respond.

“Why do you think this is important?” I sensed a possible personal realization.

” Well, I think at the end of the day is not what I do that matters, but who I am in relations to them does…” she revealed.

Who are you in relations to your colleagues?

What matters to you at work?

When was the last time you have connect with someone intentionally? Listening…really listen.

At ConversationCircles, we aspire to bring authentic conversation back to workplace environment. Helping YOU to find time and space to connect in safe and purposeful conversational circle. Do feel free to email me at to find out more about what we do.

What’s in it for me?

Apr 06, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights

Picture source: Pulitzer prize winner_Kevin Carter

Picture source: Pulitzer prize winner_Kevin Carter

Many have heard the story of this Pulitzer prize winning picture “The Vulture Photo” and of the late Kevin Carter; a South African photojournalist whom by framing this fateful picture in the South of Sudan in March 1993 won the most coveted prize for photojournalism. Two months later, he committed suicide apparently was overwhelmed by the paradox of joy and guilt – many have asked him the question about the fate of the starving girl in the picture…and he has no answer to it.
His suicide note reads: “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”

I wonder when he was there with the girl (and the vulture) did this question come to his mind (WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME [to help]?).

“It found that only 19 per cent of Singapore workers are willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them while the remaining 81 per cent show only a little or no ‘discretionary effort’.” – The Straits Times, 26 March 2010.

It didn’t come as a surprise for me when I read the above on ST online breaking news headlines. “What’s in it for me?” – A question that seems to bog the minds of employees across many industries and apparently at many levels across the organisation.

Of course, the question can be disguised from the fundamental concerned, such as:

What’s in it for my job/role/performance?

What’s in it for my promotion/career/livelihood?

What’s in it for my company so that my job/role/performance will..?

What’s in it for us so that my promotion/career/livelihood will be..?

Are your people ready for commitment? Are your people stopping at PRODUCTivity or stretching towards VALUEtivity?