A World Cafe for fellow Fielding doctoral students and faculty

My friend and fellow doctoral traveler Bart Buechner hosted the November San Francisco Fielding Cluster meeting at the VA center in Yountville just north of Napa Calif. We had two faculty that came in to deliver a workshop on Critical Theory and I was to host a World Cafe after lunch. I did make it down but it was an arduous trip. I got to the airport in Redmond Oregon at 5:30 am and the plane was delayed and did not leave until 9:15. I got lots of reading in at least. I did make it down to the Bay Area and after picking up a car made it to the meeting at just after 1 pm, 4 hours late. But I did make it in time for some of the workshop, lunch, conversation, and then the delivery of the World Cafe. Most of the participants, 14 in all, had not experienced The World Cafe and one of those who had did not have a good experience so I was excited to introduce the fantastic dialogic process to the group.

We as a group came up with a question which focused on power differentials and the Obama election and whether Obama could make a difference and what our hopes and dreams had been in supporting the Obama election. We had a short amount of time so I did a quick philosophical introduction to The World Cafe as a dialogic process and then set 15 minute rounds and a 10 minute harvest. The conversation was outstanding and again based on the results it was clear that the power of dialogue is what can drive the healing of the world. Although it was a short meeting for me, the trip down was invaluable.

At 3:45 I hit the road to go to Woodside to have dinner and visit with my friend Deborah and her husband Stephen at the home of one of their dear friends. After driving in pouring rain the whole way I got there at 6 pm and stayed until just after 8 pm. Wonderful conversations with Deborah and the hosts. Let for the airport and got to the terminal at 9 pm. Noticed that my flight was delayed, thank God, as it had been scheduled to leave at 9:05. I have no idea how I thought that it left at 10. Well it was delayed until 10 and then until 11 and by the time I got home it was 1:30 am and I was exhausted. But it was well worth it.

The trip although a busy, was a reminder of how important dialogue is and how important gathering in friendship is to us. Have wonderful conversations and a great holiday season.


A conversational “ahha”

Every once in a while I realize that I am sliding out of line with my primary conversational practice. I suppose that I could blame my lapse on being a guy or any other excuse but the reality is I discovered a blind spot in my practice of conversation.

Now that I have started my doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University in Human and Organization Systems, our larger cohort is organized into small anchor groups for ongoing support and collaboration. It is a wonderful concept. In a very short period of time, we have shared more than is probable given that we still are learning who we are as a group and who we are as friends, associates, mentors, and confidants. Herein lies the discovery of my blind spot.

Given the stress of starting a rigorous doctoral program and given that we all have lives, work, families, and responsibilities outside of the doctoral program, it is natural that each of us experiences some uncertainty, fear, and doubts. I pride myself on listening, a critical aspect of conversation. What I found myself doing to my dismay was offering solutions to people right out of the shoot rather that just being there to listen and support. I remembered in this setting that offering critique and analysis is pivotal to this level of doctoral work, however I also remembered that I do not need to solve everyone’s problems. Each of us is a professional, intelligent, competent, and accomplished, who am I to try to solve problems for everyone else.

I am now more aware of this blind spot in my practice and will doll out advice more sparingly or when I am asked rather than immediately offering solutions when someone voices frustrations. I will be a better listener and in the end, I will be a better conversational practitioner.

Keep those conversations going.


Conversations framing my doctoral research

I recently started my doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University in Human and Organization Development. Preceding the start of the program and now after I have started, conversation has been at the core of my activities. I am having extraordinary conversations around my work, my research, and my future as a practitioner in my field.

I am reminded that learning does not happen in isolation. In fact as I approach my research and field of interest and work to narrow my interests, I am quite sure that defining my research interest would not have happened without the conversations that I am having. Juanita Brown of The World Café reached out and assembled an initial research group to help me frame my research. Out of that initial group which was formed in July, I have developed several strong friendships. Group and individual conversations have gone deeper and began to focus in on where I can make a difference in this world.

The more conversations that I have, the more clear my research becomes. All of us are in a system of service focused on helping heal our world. My work will focus on The World Café and how we can heal through intergenerational dialogues. A partnership with the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University will be critical as I frame this field of inquiry. I expect that I will use The World Café as a research methodology at the very least and probably as a focus for my research as well. Intergenerational dialogues will be an important piece of this work.

As the general manager that I support says of a large issue, it is bigger than a bread box, and honing in on my research question certainly as an effort goes, is bigger than a bread box. I am blessed to have such wonderful people to talk with as these conversations are going to be at the core of my learning and growth as a scholar practitioner.

Telling stories is the key to behavioral interviewing

Not only are stories the foundation of helping people with new insights that drive behaviors that create improvement in life and work, that are as well the foundation of great conversations. Any time two people get together in conversation around a question that matters, stories enrich and expand the learning in that intimate interaction. An interview is no different.

I am an internal consultant and coach for 850 team members, about 100 of which are leaders on our site. My primary clients are the leadership team members but I am blessed to work with many front line team members when they need help to promote. I am amazed with how many team members I coach on behavioral interviewing, the interviewing style that we use in our company. I have personally coached at least 50 team members in the last 12 months from front line up through the manager level on behavioral interviewing helping them learn how to tell stories as well as conduct internal classes on behavioral interviewing. It is a part of my work as a leadership development manager that I love. My conversations are not dry “how to interview conversations” but a full conversation on leadership, coaching, feedback, and balancing relationships with performance improvement and of course, how to tell your story in a behavioral interview. One of the reasons that this work is so gratifying is the extraordinary expressions of gratefulness that I receive from those that I help. As an INFP, I really do not need lots of public recognition, but a personal thank you, now that is something that really means allot to me. One of the more meaningful notes to me is below. This is what makes my job so fun.

“I am career pathing towards being a SR. After my first interview I took the feedback given to me to John to see how I could interview stronger my next time around. John gave me a lot of useful information both verbally and with handouts. I was very impressed that he would take the time out of his busy schedule to meet with me and even prepare stuff that I could later take with me and read.
He was knowledgeable about the content we discussed, and very passionate about (our company) in general….at times through our conversation I wondered why he was not actually a General Manager. Personally he made me feel like he was interested in my goals and truly wanted me to reach them.
No matter what I do with my career and even in life I will remember the conversation that I had with John, I will take interest in others as he did for me, and have the same passion and beliefs for my job. John definitely lives the (Our company) Values.”

As we use a proprietary process for interviewing and feedback, I can not mention the exact acronym without probably getting sued by the vendor, so I will simply state that the process for telling a story is simple. Regardless of whether or not the question is behavioral based (tell me about a time when…) one answers with a behavioral answer (here is a specific time when…).

  1. Define the situation or task that you were involved in.
  2. Tell about what you did i.e. your behavior or actions
  3. Then describe the impact of your actions or the results.

The stronger your stories, the better you will shine. There is far more too a successful behavioral based interview, but the above is the basic outline.

So why use a behavioral based interview process? Two reasons as far as I am concerned. First past performance is a good predictor of future performance. Second, if you ask blue sky questions, (what would you do if) those people who are good at BS’ing can do well and those who are more reflective do not do well. Why screen out the more reflective people. Not a bright thing to do if you want the best and the brightest. A prepared person (they know their stories at least) regardless of personal communication style will do well in a behavioral based interview and the employer will have the information they need to make an informed decision. The best way to go from my point of view.

I often coach others on the process and if you would like, drop me a line and let me give you a hand. jinman@wetherhaven.com We will need at least an hour and depending on your comfort level, assignments and followups. I use PayPal for ease of transaction. I would be glad to help any time. And I wish you success in your quest for a new place in this amazing and complex world.

Good luck on your story telling.


A Cup of Tea and Conversation…Ahhhh

Over the years one of the great pleasures for me is conversation over a wonderful pot of Darjeeling Tea made in my Tetsubin tea pot. I switched from coffee to tea exclusively about four years ago and I have never regretted it. I buy my tea in bulk and even go to the effort to weigh out just the right amount of tea leaves for every cup of tea making sure that every time a brew a pot of tea it is the perfect pot of tea. I simply love tea and am happy to brew up a pot any time someone comes over for conversation. I cannot imagine a better way to have a conversation with someone that I care about.

And of course reading a book with a cup of tea is a wonderful way to unwind and enjoy life. It is for this reason that I decided to start my own online business, a tea business for fine Indian teas and gifts for friends, family, and clients. As I do work full time and love my job, and am about to start my PhD in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University, I simply do not have time to take orders and do fulfillment and bookkeeping, so I joined an established company as an affiliate. I hope that this works for me and I hope that all of my friends and family visit Tea Reading Room to try some of my fine Indian teas and gifts. Just maybe I can encourage people to sit down with a beautiful cup of tea and have conversations that can change our world or just a little slice of it.

Conversations are healing

My best friend in our company is seeking a new position. During his transition, he kept to himself embarrassed, angry, and humiliated. He finally came to Central Oregon to talk and we talked for eight hours. It was wonderful for both of us. Only through conversation with others that care can we start the healing process. Pulling inward, even though a natural reaction, is no solution. It only creates pain and suffering. We absolutely must connect with others.

I too in the past have pulled inwards feeling hurt, embarrassed, and angry during a transition. I have even sacrificed my families well being by not applying for unemployment because I was too embarrassed to have my prior employer know that I had “failed” in my new position. I wonder if others have done the same thing, pulling back and not talking with those that care. We are a conversational species and are supposed to be in conversation with others. That is what makes us human. That is how we learn. That is how we connect and heal. And that is how we love. So what drives us to abandon what is our most foundational characteristic? I know for myself that when I have reacted this way, I did not trust those that I loved and who loved me to embrace me and my circumstance without judgement.

Considering all that is going on in our world it is easy to reach out without judgement when someone looses a position. Yet do we always open up our hearts and our souls and let others come into conversation with us without judgement? Do we ask ourselves if the person could have done more, something differently, or better? Do these thoughts prevent us from fully embracing those who we love? A simple “What can I do to help?” is sufficient. “I am here to talk with you, listen to you, and bring you into a healing conversation” is what we can do to show love and caring for others.

I just found out that the son of a very dear friend died by suicide. My heart was broken. I can not even imagine the pain that she is going through. It would be easy to ask why others didn’t see the warning signs. But this is not a loving question. We humans are complex and messy. We have messy emotions, messy relationships, and messy lives. There is no way that we can or should judge, we can only reach out and love others and embrace them in conversation. We hold the cards to helping others heal through our willingness to talk.

Go forth my friends and help heal this world of ours. Embrace others and draw them into conversation. Do not let others withdraw in fear, anger, or humiliation. The power is ours. We now need each other more than ever. Thank you for being willing to carry on the work of conversation. You are healing the world.

Your friend John

Conversations and collaboration are the way forward…

if you are interested in creating a sustainable world. This is one of the core messages that I got out of reading Peter Senge’s new book, The Necessary Revolution. This book is a testament to the power of conversation and a must read for anyone interested in being a part of transforming our world. Please read the book review below that I wrote and posted on Amazon.com and on shelfari.com. My message to you? Buy the book and read it. Then act.

This long awaited book fulfills all of my expectations for a manual to help us create the conversations and collaboration necessary to reclaim our world’s health. Over the years there have been quite a few high impact books helping us understand the extent of the challenges we face as we look forward to create a sustainable world. “The Necessary Revolution” steps forward and outlines how to create the partnerships that are needed to unleash the pent up creativity that millions of team members across the world and in all enterprises have been holding back. Peter Senge and team from his organization Society for Organizational Learning come at the subject as world leaders in the austere world of business. It is going to be very difficult for business leaders across the world to read this work and write it off as rantings of an extremist. Peter is one of the top business minds in the world and I do not believe this work can be easily ignored.

For those of us who are disbursed across enterprises and feel like we have little impact on moving our enterprises towards a more sustainable future, this book provides outstanding case studies of work being done across the world by enterprises large and small. Some of the work and the visions of the leaders chronicled in this text are not only enlightening but surprising. After many chapters a “toolbox” is provided to help set the stage for the conversations and collaboration needed to move change forward. And of course, all of this work is set in a framework of systems thinking which is so necessary to be able to see beyond the silos so many are bound by.

“The Necessary Revolution” should be required reading for community leaders of all types, NGO, religious, Government, and corporate alike. As we start to create these critical partnerships and conversations focused on sustainability, I believe that we can quickly change the course that we are on. A must for every person who wants to see a change in our direction. Thank you Peter, Bryan, Nina, Joe, and Sara for this extraordinary work.

Keep up the conversations and let’s work to improve this speck of dust in space for our children and their children and the generations to come. They deserve it.


If you ever doubted the power of conversation, read…

Three Cups of Tea. What a life changing book. Not only is this book about a powerful strategy for healing the world, it is about what we should be doing, being in conversation with others in the world so that we can build bridges and schools rather that attack and demonize those who like us are simply trying to take care of their friends and families the best way they know how. What is absolutely clear to me is that the only way to understand others, to build relationships, is through conversation. As Margaret Wheatley says, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.”

This is indeed the essence of leadership. Simple honest human conversation. When was the last time that you had a simple honest human conversation with your team members, your family, your friends, or those you simply do not understand? This is a question that we must all ask ourselves. Only through conversations will we ever connect and help others grow, learn, understand, and thrive as humans. This is our opportunity as humans. As I read Three Cups of Tea I was struck with not only Greg’s passion and abilities, but his willingness to open his heart and simply be in conversation with others. Because he was able to listen and learn, his heart and the hearts of those he hoped to help were opened to possibilities. He saw possibilities and greatness in the people of Northern Pakistan. What if we all saw possibilities in those from other cultures, faiths, and traditions? Then simply engaged with them in conversation. We too could change the world.

It has been a while since I felt like something was so important that I needed to write about it. So in this post I suggest a call to action. Not simply an intellectual exercise, but a commitment to contribute our knowledge, our time, our heart, and our dollars to support the efforts of the Central Asia Institute and its mission to build schools to educate girls in this part of the world. We can change the world, one child at a time, one school at a time.

Engage in conversations around questions that matter. And then act to help change the world.

Your friend in conversation,


“You can not give away what you don’t own…

…anymore than you can come from where you haven’t been.” This quote by Larry Wilson founder of Wilson Learning and Pecos River Learning is one of the foundation pieces to my work in conversational leadership. If we do not engage those who work for and with us in healthy respectful conversations, how can we ever expect them to do the same with others. It is really quite simple. With the hundreds of books written on leadership you might think that this field is extrememly complex. I just do not see it this way. If we expect our team members to show caring and compassion for our customers and other team members and we do not provide that same caring and compassion for them, we are deluded if we believe they can give away what they do not receive.

Sure some people will simply deliver because that is who they are but we can not expect everyone to have that level of inner peace. And playing the “they should…” game is of no use. Sure everyone “should” have a healthy and robust personal tool kit but just because we wish it were so, does not mean it will be. If we want to be leaders, we must first own our responsibility to those around us to help them grow and develop into the “greatness” they have inside of them. With that level of commitment, our conversations will shift from the “You should have…” to the “I see in you..”. But back to the quote, if we as a leaders have no compassion, no love, no caring, no empathy, no spirit of service, how on earth do we expect to deliver the same to those who depend on us. And for us then to expect these same people to deliver what we can not or will not deliver to them is most certainly demanding of a reality check.

So again this is all quite simple. We need to reach out and engage others in conversations based on compassion, caring, love, empathy, and a spirit of service and once we do so, we just might be given permission to provide insights on performance improvement helping others be successful and helping them help the enterprise fulfill its goals and objectives. This is what conversational leadership is all about. A balance that can only be achieved with a open heart and an open mind. I wish you the best and continue the wonderful conversations.