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a potpourri of mirth and madness

Amplify Your Effectiveness (AYE) Conference: Day 2

Morning Session: How Do I Communicate With You? (Don Gray)

This session explored interpersonal communication, in particular how to identify communication styles and preferences and apply this knowledge to communicate more effectively.

In one of the exercises, we broke into pairs and exchanged stories from recent memory. While one person told their story, the other observed their language, noting the types of predicates used (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory/gustatory and “unspecified”) as indicators of the speaker’s representational system. We used this data as the basis for a discussion about cues which indicate a person’s preferences, ranging from word choice to eye movement.

Another exercise divided the group into two based on personality type (Myers-Briggs “N” and “S”). Both groups were given identical objects (Starbucks paper coffee cups) and asked to write down descriptive phrases. The “N” group’s descriptions were wide-ranging, exploring the possible uses of the cup, the memories and meanings it evoked in them. The “S” group focused more on the physical properties of the cup, and where there were some comments on the ideas associated with it, these were carefully separated on a separate list.

A third exercise had us folding a piece of paper according to instructions read aloud. The instructions were ambiguous, and would be interpreted differently depending on how the person happened to be holding the paper, how they turned it as they folded it, or how they interpreted the sentences. Unsurprisingly, everyone ended up with a different pattern.

There was then some free-flowing discussion about communication styles where people in the group shared experiences of communication challenges. I learned more from these scenarios than from the exercises, which were covering familiar ground. The challenge, for me, is applying what I know about communication theory, by raising my awareness of patterns in real life situations. Practicing this through discussing examples was more helpful to me than exploring more theory.

Finally, the group was presented with a choice of whether to explore a canned scenario (a new executive looking for feedback from others in the organization) or a real-world scenario put forward by someone in the group. The latter option prevailed, but the scenario was a price negotiation with few details, which I didn’t think would be valuable for me. I excused myself and left early, purchasing a copy of Tom DeMarco’s Slack from the book table.

Afternoon session: Beyond the Org Chart Illusions (Jerry Weinberg)

This session alone would have made this conference worthwhile. In it, we explored the structure and dynamics of organizations from a first person point of view. The idea was to discover the tacit structures which make up organizational culture. Setting aside the “objective” description provided by an organizational chart or other such tool, we instead created individual representations of the organization as we experienced it.

To do this, we used an exercise based on Virginia Satir’s technique of family mapping. We each selected an organization we were familiar with, and drew a picture with symbols: first ourselves, then other people (both with no names or words), then physical objects and structures, and labels. We then overlaid the points of pain, pleasure, problems, plans, performance (high and low) and power in the organization.

Unsurprisingly, the diagrams were all vastly different in symbolism, structure, order, level and technique. Jerry focused the group on a pair of diagrams created by two different people in the same organization. The creators explained the meanings of the symbols they used, illustrating the problems faced by the organization. This spawned a discussion about how to address those problems, which occupied the rest of our time.

This discussion really got me thinking, and drawing parallels with my own experience. In particular, i identified with some of the fears and other roadblocks which prevented the people from taking action. One memorable point from Jerry was that you will never convince someone with logic to change something they did not arrive at through logic. I make that mistake a lot.

I also gained some insight on how companies can be successful despite poor management, at least for a time. For example, circumstances may favor the company, such as having little or no competition. Advantages like that don’t last, though, and when things change, the management gap can cripple the company.

I can’t describe here much of what I learned in this session, but I found it extremely valuable.

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

November 11, 2009 at 06:08

3 Responses

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  1. Hi Matt! Thanks for the write-up on the sessions. Where do you end up when you do the MBTI test? One thing that stood out for me in your blog post was your preference for real world examples, rather than more theory. If I’m not mistaken, that’s a common “S” preference Myself, I end up as a strong “N”, which fits well with my experiences. I’m often the one searching for the “system behind the system” so that I can understand better.

    Tobias Fors

    November 15, 2009 at 22:40

  2. I have tested as both N and S on different occasions, generally with pretty low (close to center) scores. Since PSL, I often examine my own writing and try to balance it so that I address both. Usually, my most comfortable writing style is more N, so I tend to sprinkle in examples as a way to make it more S-friendly.

    Matt Zimmerman

    November 15, 2009 at 23:09


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