Archive for the ‘Conversational Circles’ Category

Circle in a storm

Jul 06, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Conversational Circles

Center of Circle - ConversationCircles

Center of Circle - ConversationCircles

What do they have in common?

A Harvard undergraduate in his 20s with a career in financial management

A senior HR manager in her 30s with a manufacturing firm

A certified tour-guide in his 50s with years of experience in the construction industry

A pre-university graduate in his late teens awaiting national service enlistment

A business development manager in her 30s with a multinational consulting firm

A professional facilitator in his early 40

A financial controller who has live and work in Singapore for the last 7 years

A friend and I. Nothing in common perhaps, and most do not know each other before last Saturday.

We gathered in a circle on a Saturday morning despite the overcast weather and started talking.

IMG_3940I started the conversational circle with a poem, shared the Intention – We agreed to gather for circle experience and practice with no personal agenda and motives, no practical and extrinsic goals, no discussion and understood that this was no ordinary meeting. With some intense frowning and worried look, the Checked-in calmed nerves and released inhibition. Someone volunteered to be Guardian and smiles returned to the social gathering level and suddenly conversations started to flow…

IMG_3958The phrase “speak my mind” was placed in the center and Talking Piece was passed round to galvanize maximum listening and speaking. Not to my surprised, the power of circle enable thoughts and listening to flow deep and wide. As I was hoping that time stood still except for the conversations…an unusual storm (in Singapore but not till lately) gathered pace and starts raining down unto our circle space. We shifted our seating arrangement twice to avoid the rain but the storm seems to challenge our intention ever more fiercely…and to avoid being drench, we have to disband our circle to look for sheltered cover.

As I was wondering how we will regroup and realized that nothing I have read in the circle work so far prepared me for such an emergency…I panicked. What heartened me was that despite the threatening storm and chaotic moments, no one in the group shows the intention of abandoning the circle conversation. Everyone was trying to encourage one another and help out in making sure that the circle is ready to reconvened whenever opportunity arise.

I stood there enthused “But they were strangers before…?”

Eventually, a friend asked “Do you WANT this to continue?”

“Yes, I DO” came my firm reply but still not sure how…

“Then lets find a way to make it happen!” a response more assuring than mine.

IMG_3982The friend went to the visitor center at HortPark, asked for room availability, paid with his credit-card and in no time the circle continue in a safe, enclosed and comfortable room with the Talking Piece regaining its momentum. As the storm continue to rage outside…the conversations flourished within. We realized that while the sharing got deeper, the listening got fonder. It was a pity that someone has to leave early while others craving for more…but what’s important was that we persevered when the storm thought our intention would crumbled under its rage. We Checked-out with everyone sharing their personal reflections and learning. When the Guardian rang the bell to close the circle conversation, I sensed that most were glad that they answered the circle’s call…

I hope that we gave as much as we received.

What the Chinese Classic teach us about the Center?

Jun 17, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source: ziad_1 via Flickr

Picture source: ziad_1 via Flickr






The Three-Character Classic or San Zi Jing 三字经 (Find out more about the classic from this translated SITE) is one of the Chinese classic text probably written during the 13th century.  For many centuries, Chinese children were taught to recite the classic even before they could read or write through which the Confucianist idea of society being one big family has been programmed into young minds.

Unfortunately, living and growing up in my era of education system in Singapore, I was never given the chance to learn or expose to such classical Chinese text. It was only when I was older and living in Taiwan in the late 80s that I began to be very interested in many things Chinese…though sad but true.

Recently, a friend shared with me his observation of San Zi Jing and told me how he was so captivated by its depth of meaning and philosophical implication. An example is the basic book of the 16th verse:


It reads: “We speak of north and south, we speak of east and west, these four directions depend on the center.”

Center and DirectionI was relating the verse to PeerSpirit Circle process – a highly adaptable modern technology that I am learning and adapt as a principle of Conversational Circle process. One of the key components of the circle structure is ‘the Center’ - a conscious placement and use of the center is one of the primary contribution of circle to conversational methodologies. I found that the four direction when distributed in equals and proportion and with direction and energy – which always begin from the core of its center. The space created between the rim and the center become the common ground for exploration, a placement for respect and responses and an intangible third point between people.

We may also begin to see the Center or the core as a sacred placement where we take directions from. In all that we do, see, decide or believe begin with core values. At ConversationCircles, at the core of our belief is collaborative conversation, the WHY of thinking and acting together.

Do you or your organization have a core beliefs and values? How have you or your organization live up to the values?

Is it time for you and your colleagues to come together for a conversation and to re-visit the ‘center’? To ask questions and seek answers collectively?

What if they sat in a circle?

Jun 09, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Leonardo da Vinci - The Lord's Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci - The Lord's Last Supper

What if The Lord’s Last Supper was arranged and seated in a circle instead of the framing that Leonardo da Vinci has famously depicted the world over…

I was keen to know because I am sure the experiences will be quite different for Lord Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles on that faithful evening where He began by washing His disciples feet and ended with breaking bread and drinking wine as a new covenant of His blood and body – in accordance to Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Last Sunday, as I was at our church worship service and the dedication of Holy Communion; the above question suddenly impressed upon me. I went home searching the scriptures in the bible and asking a few friends and found no explicit record of actual events until I discovered some information from the Wikipedia.

Picture Source: Simon Ushakov via Wikipedia

Through the not so thorough research I found Acts of John – a 2nd-century Christian collection of narratives and traditions, well described as a “library of materials”, inspired by the Gospel of John, long known in its fragmentary form. It contains the episode at the Last Supper of the Round Dance of the Cross initiated by Jesus, saying:

“Before I am delivered to them, let us sing a hymn to the Father and so go to meet what lies before us”. Directed to form a circle around him holding hands and dancing, the apostles cry “Amen” to the hymn of Jesus.

This is a story about council and circle. Do you have one to share?

The Circle Way

Jun 07, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

A conversation with an experience management consultant over breakfast sometime ago after an exchange of business card…

“ConversationCircles, interesting! What is it about?”

“It’s about people having conversation in a circle…creating ‘space’ collectively and thinking together.”

“But what’s so new about meeting in a circle?”

“You are right, it’s not new. In fact, it has been around possibly since the discovery of fire. But we may have forgotten…”

“You mean we don’t know ‘How’ to have conversation in circle?”

“There’s a possibility we might have forgotten ‘Why’ to have conversation in circle, and how to ‘Be’ in circle.”

“So do you think people will ‘pay’ you to teach them how to talk??”

“We hope to help people to begin seeing their conversations beyond the technological and conventional structure. The possibility of changing the position of their chair so as to change their perspective…”

We have not met since the last conversation.

When I left my regional corporate role last August and took a sabbatical till late last year, a dusted old book titled ‘Calling the Circle’ resides in my book-shelve for the longest time caught my attention one evening…and the last eight months has been a wonderful journey.

Through the book, I was introduced to Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. Together with PeerSpirit, Inc. they have been teaching the circle practice for about two decades now. I sensed the calling of doing the work they have pioneered and wanted to know more and got in touch with PeerSpirit in January 2010. This November, I will be heading to Melbourne, Australia to meet them and spend five days with other circle colleagues to share stories, explore possibilities and create synergies. Last month, Christina got in touch with me via my website and I was very encourage by her comment and feedback on the work I have been doing so far…

The Circle Way

Their latest book entitled “The Circle Way – A Leader in Every Chair” was published in April this year and I have since started my second reading…you may get hold of a copy HERE. You may like to visit PeerSpirit and check out the many resources available to host a circle. ConversationCircles will also be hosting a circle (yet to be titled) sometime end of June so do subscribe to our bi-monthly CC Touchpoint and write to me directly to find out more.

Next month, I might be sharing the work of circle with the staff of Singapore General Hospital titled “Conversational Circle – Creating Space…Thinking Together” in their monthly ILearn session. It will be a privilege for me to introduce the circle work to the staff and help them to see meeting beyond hierarchical structure. So stay tune for more exciting stories coming up.

“Bottleneck” and “Dilly Dallying” – What do they have in common?

May 04, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles | Leadership Infusion

Picture source: cscotte via Flickr

Picture source: cscotte via Flickr

Over the last weekend, labor chief Mr. Lim Swee Say and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew were at different public setting giving speech on entirely different topics and scenarios – Lim was at May Day Rally urging unions and workers-at-large to be prepared for global competition and probable economic storms ahead. While Lee was guest at Inter-Pacific Bar Association Annual Conference addressing climate change and legal practice. While reading the reports on paper, I found similarity with both sharing their thoughts on interesting terms such as “bottleneck” and “dilly dallying”. Let me explained:

Mr. Lim argued that all parties in labor movement should ride on this time of ‘upturn’ to identify “bottleneck” that limits productivity growth. He went on to emphasis that the “bottleneck” may go beyond the issues of just work processes and stages, working smarter and worker’s skills and knowledge; it is in the mind of the ‘bottleneck beholder’ that lurks within organizations that are unable to ‘see’ problems – which in itself is a “bottleneck” problem.

When asked what’s the key challenges facing the fights against climate change globally, Mr. Lee noted that the problem with fighting climate change is governments themselves. While he would not say that the Copenhagen Summit was a failure as it led to a meeting of world leaders’ minds on the issue — Mr Lee was pessimistic about future meetings securing a breakthrough in setting commitments on cuts in carbon emissions. He said: “There will be more dilly dallying internationally as every country focuses on its own internal problems.”

Both have different context, issue and scale; but I see of same problem – a problem of not ‘seeing’ I (or we) have a problem. In the same way, it could be that of ‘why not let’s hear your problem first before I tell you mine’ (in condition that the problem that you tell me is more serious than mine). Mr. Lim emphasis that the biggest “bottleneck” is in the mind of people – which is more difficult to identify than systems and processes.  Mr. Lee using the term “dilly dallying internationally” by country leaders focusing on internal problems also has a connotation of “self-preservation”.

Are you in a position to help someone ‘see’ the problem that they have but are not able to ‘see’?

Or could it be you that are not able to ‘see’ the problem? Or you that are ‘dilly dallying’ so that ‘change’ only happens when it ‘starts’ with others first?

What a weekend of learning for me!

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: