Posts Tagged ‘Conversational Circles’

A Circle in Conversation

Jun 14, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Conversational Circles



A leader flagged-out his concerns with me regarding one of his director whom was faced with people and team challenges; she is not able to command respect and lead the team in a way that this leader expected of her.

“I am very concerned with her ability to lead the team and enable them to move in the right direction.”

“How do you arrived at this conclusion?” I asked.

“Well, for a start she just don’t seemed to be able to get the best out of her team members…she kept telling me that her people are afraid to speak up and do not have the capacity to present themselves well. She is convinced that many would benefit from an intensive training program in presentation skills and ways to get them to speak up…I don’t know that’s why I would like to hear your opinion.” lamented the leader.

I requested and met with the director the same day afternoon. After the formal and informal chat, I asked:

“Tell me a time that you are proud of your team effort.”

“Definitely! There are about 11 of them and some of them have many years of experience in this profession. A few are still very junior and I will coach and mentor them as frequent as my time permits…”

“And your frustration is…?”

“Umm…like many managers I faced the same problem in getting them to speak up and contribute their ideas during meetings and group suggestion. They are very poor in presenting their opinions and thoughts especially in client meeting…Do you have any training program in presentation skill to help them?”

“Would you let me have a conversation with them tomorrow for about 45 minutes of their time to find out more…?” I suggested.



Next morning, 10 of the team members showed up at 9.15am for a quick informal coffee before we adjourned to a small room with 11 chairs in a circle. I was not surprised by their surprises written on their faces but some were already very indifferent in their disposition.

I started with a welcome and quick story about the circle council. The flow of session was shared using a flip chart stated the agreement and guided intention so as to give us some direction.

A talking-piece was introduced as a way to garner respectful way of speaking and listening. Though it took them a few minutes to get use to the flow of things but the magic of circle enable most of them to have their voice heard; even for those who hardly speak the local languages…



Here’s some of the emails I received after the conversational circle which overran by 30 minutes:

“I noticed that I am more relaxed and more willing to listen to people to understand them, rather than being so busy reacting to them. I’ve made it a point to slow down when I speak so I can think it through.”

“Thanks for holding a great session and providing us a place to express our thoughts and feelings.”

“Being a good listener is more difficult than I ever imagined…thanks!”

May I invite you to pick up the talking-piece and start listening

How far would you go for a conversation?

Nov 30, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles | Stories Retold

Friends of ConversationCircles. Kit and Kimberly (on my left)

Friends of ConversationCircles. Kit and Kimberly (on my left)

Approximately 700 kilometers, 10 1/2 hours of travelling time, and waking up at the wee hours to catch an early train to the coach-bus station at Novena Square. That’s how far I went recently to have a conversation and thought I would like to share this story with you.

Last Friday, I travelled north on a coach-bus from Singapore to KL to meet with Kimberly Ong, the Learning & Development manager of Fuji Xerox Malaysia. It all started from a friendship forged with Paul Lim, whom I have never met, he is the husband of a friend based in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. He also happens to be the General Manager – HR of Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific Pte Ltd (Malaysia Operations). He is one of the biggest supporter of ConversationCircles in the past year. He subscribed and followed  CC Touchpoint since June this year, reading and commenting on my blog posting and sending encouraging emails periodically. In September, I wrote to thank him for his support and encouragement and began a conversation. Paul asked how ConversationCircles might help in his organisation training plan for next year and a meeting was duly set up for November.

When the meeting date draws near, Kimberly – who has since taken over the training matters wanted to know the agenda and specific outcomes of the meeting. She asked to have a call three days before to confirm some details of the meeting and here’s my respond:

“My intention is to have a conversation and meet with your good self and of course Paul if his schedules permit…”. I responded to Kimberly’s well intentioned.

“That’s nice but we wanted your trip to be useful so if we can have some sort of agenda that will help…”. Kim seeks my approval.

“Kim, the agenda evolves with the conversation. Trust that process and we will enjoy each others company.” I thank and assured her.

After an almost 6 hours bus ride and 350km later, I was at the technology and industrial corridor of Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. A 15 minutes taxi ride took me to the spanking office cum product showroom amidst many industrial giants such as Honda, Honeywell and Colgate. I was met with a beaming Kimberly and quickly led me to a boardroom style meeting room and was soon joined by Paul. He is a stoutly build man with a attention gripping voice, proudly wearing his company colors on his sleeve with the latest slogan on ‘green technology’. Our conversation quickly went from brief introduction of ourselves to overview of organisation setting…and much more.

Paul spent about 30 minutes with us and left for another meeting. Kimberly and I continue the conversation for more than an hour and a half and we both end with some plans and intention to help the people.

I am grateful to be embraced as a friend and confident in the challenges that is facing the organisation. The conversation did not entail promises and solutions but useful questions that help us to be careful in taking the next step. I could be back again soon to have another conversation – and hopefully this time with a larger group than before.

In my six hours bus trip up north, I met a Singaporean businessman whom is going to KL to attend a wedding reception. When he realized that I am taking this trip without any promises of economics or business benefits, he was surprised. But after we shared and learned about the intention of conversation itself can be richly rewarding, I sensed that he understood my purposed and wishes me well.

Once again, a big thank you to Paul, Kimberly and Kit (whom has assist in my travel plan).

See you all again soon!

PS: I returned on the same evening after dinner with a friend also based in KL – to my sleepy family at 2am the next morning.

Our Circle in Daylesford Melbourne, Australia.

Nov 29, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Conversational Circles | Stories Retold

Friends of ConversationCircles

Friends of ConversationCircles

A circle was called from 12th to 17th of November at a beautiful country side of Victoria, Daylesford. Together with Christina and Ann, we were called to be in a circle, listen, responded and reflected at a deep level that is beyond the description of words. For me, the five days has open my hearts to the meaning of conversation…

I wrote this just a few days before my 7 1/2 hours flight to Melbourne, Australia.

To end, we must have a beginning.

But there is no end to the circle.

How can there be if there is no beginning?

But we can pause, adjourn, stop or even digress…

We don’t need an agenda, objectives or even so often prized ‘outcome’ to help us start and end a conversational circle.

We do need intention, choice, respect, curiosity; and the ability to embrace and celebrate differences.

Indifference among us will deplete the energy within the circle that holds the wisdom of those called to the circle.

Our circle

I am still not sure what I actually meant but I did wrote to help me raise a question;

How can the circle help those who are indifference?


I got a glimpse of what’s install for the rest of the five days when we came together in a circle on the first evening on Friday, 12th November. A beautiful setting of 22 chairs in a room full of arts and decors, awaits us all amidst the green surrounding of gump trees, ponds, birds and bees…a sight to behold for a city dweller like me indeed. This was what’s written on the first page of my note book that accompanied me throughout the five days:

We do not ask what others may speak…until we inform them how they will be listen to.

What are the conditions that allow the soul to show up?

I held my breath…and the only reminder of my being was to be opened.

That night I couldn’t sleep (in fact, for the rest of the nights). I wrote this;

The Courage to try; is the Courage to fail.

The Courage to express feeling; is the Courage to be vulnerable.

The Courage to think; is the Courage to be thoughtful.

The Courage to ask; is the Courage to seek.

The Courage to respond; is the Courage to be responsible.

The Courage to love; is the Courage to give.

When I checked-in my luggage at 6kg on the day of my departing flight from Singapore, the smile from the counter staff seems to suggest that I am in for a cold chilling trip to Melbourne. I thought I know my geography and its supposed to be end Spring and sunny Summer…how wrong I was and the second day was getting chiller. But warmth was my experienced in the circle when jumpers and winter cover were offered even before I asked for…More warmths were being felt throughout the few days with Story Councils, Appreciative Circle and role-plays of actual life-cases. These interactions were given new life not just in the act but in our hearts. This was what I wrote on my third sleepless night:

The intricacy of the circle is limitless. Every details of its processes have such great impact on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of all those presence in the circle.

Therefore, it is of utmost care and responsibility of the circle host to make caring choices in inviting, involving and evolving the process for the greater being of the whole.

I suddenly felt that I am truly honored to be called a steward but at the same time burden with responsibility.

I also felt a sensed of being born into the circle family – that I can and I will hold its rim, learn, practice and evolve this art form so that someday it will ‘live’ unto the social fabric of our cultures and values.

Centering our Intention

Centering our Intention

Like a story shared; “If you start the fire, others will come.”

More practicum from the third day onwards. The circle continue its charm with simplicity and beauty. The value of sharing and learning from others continue to hold the rim together. I was constantly reminded of the very quote that caught my eyes on the first night when I walked into the room:

In every journey there is a secret destination of which the journeyer is unaware…

Welcome to the mystery!


It spoke right into my heart from day one. It still do till now…

We were given a glimpse of The Art of Hosting which comprises of social processes such as the PeerSpirit Circle Way, Appreciative Inquiry, Word Cafe and Open Space; which all has a common archetype of gathering and having conversation in circles. As the days of sharing coming to end soon, the question in me continue to cry out silently:

“How can the circle help us in Asia which is so culturally diverse?”

“Aren’t we have enough of the ‘western’ medicine that so often promised to cure all but actually created many ills amongst us?”

“Is there a circle way that is principly-centered to our own value system?”.

I did not get answers to all above…

But I know where to find the answers…within the hearts of those that will heed the call of circle.

Christina Baldwin

Christina Baldwin

It seems a long time I have known Christina and Ann. Having read their books, visited their website, heard their stories and followed their work, I was taking in their friendships in the way I am fond of – quite, demure and unassuming, I supposed. In the five days we spent time together, the close encountered has given me a glimpse to their passion, wisdom and above all humanity. We shared intimate conversations, spoke with our eyes and hearts, felt the energetics of love, walked the Australian bush and went for Kangaroo sightings at a nearby golf park with charming child-likeness – Thank you.

Ann Linnea

Ann Linnea

Here’s our little conversation we had periodically throughout the five days:

“I am unsure when to sound the bell as a guardian…would I undermined the intention of the circle host if I did so?”. I asked.

“Allen, I want to thank you for your wisdom in asking the question.”. Ann assured.

“I am burdened with responsibility to carry the work of circle…”. I shared in the story council.

“We want you to know that we are a team now. You are now a steward of the PeerSpirit Circle and we will support in the work that you do in Asia…and beyond”. Christina whispered with conviction.

See you both in Asia in 2012!

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.

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?

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?