Double Listening

I am interested in the coaching possibilities opened up by Winslade and Monk’s mediation technique of “double listening”. Drawing on the work of Michael White, they make note of the “absent but implicit” story of hope that sits alongside the voicing of a story of conflict: “Mediators can give this story of hope for something better a chance if they first of all hear this absent but implicit hope and then begin to inquire into the story that it is a part of. The story may often by subordinate to the story of the outrage and pain, but it perhaps speaks to the person’s better intentions in relation to the other party. If given the chance for expression, these better intentions can give rise to a different story of the future” (Winslade and Monk 2008:10-11). The expression of pain and suffering through remembered events and feelings can become a seed for hopeful reflections, not as a utopian aspiration, but as an awareness of the desire for a more positive experience that the pain and conflict reveal. I think the lessons of this “double listening” are not just relevant to formal mediation, but are also helpful in invitations to transformation more

Gentle Method: from actor training to culture-change leadership

Draft, please only cite the published version in the May 2015 edition of the International Practice Development Journal (  when it comes out. Last September I presented a keynote on healthcare and culture change at a Practice Development conference in Toronto. On the day before I left I spent an entire day auditing a marathon six-hour session at Miriam Laurence’s Integrated Acting System studio. I was grateful to experience a working studio before setting up my own, which I did in January 2015. I established the Hummingbird Actors Studio in Bangor, Northern Ireland, because I love acting, theatre, and film. Another reason is because we need to start experimenting with new ways of thinking about leadership training for long-term culture change. As I’ll explain, actor training is for me one of the best places to start reimagining what helpful training might look like. What strikes me while watching actors in training is the emotional courage they bring to performance, their commitment to vulnerability in the cause of learning. I taught for 17 years at university level, and the height of expectation for students was always that such levels of courage and vulnerability might be a destination for them. Possibly. Occasionally. Hopefully. For

The He(art) of Care: Changing the Cultural Climate Equation (full text)

This is the text of a keynote address for the Enhancing Practice 14 conference for Practice Development in Toronto in 2014.         The audio recording of the talk is available here: *** I’d like to thank Nadine and the organisers for the invitation to speak here today. If keynotes are anything like giving a speech at a wedding, I suppose I’m obliged to start with a joke. Two fish in a tank. One turns to the other and says, “How do you drive this thing?” My relationship with healthcare goes back a long way. I was born in a hospital. And I wouldn’t have been born at all if my Dad, a young seminarian training for the priesthood, hadn’t fallen in love with the good-looking nurse that tended to him while he was waiting for an operation. And on behalf of my family, thanks to all of you who work in hospitals as nurses and doctors. You’re awesome. My wife is chronically ill and lives with a myriad of complications that come with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, and epilepsy, and we have two kids under two. Without the support of health workers our

Supermarkets, Shopping, and Discernment

It is an overlooked truism to say that many of the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel, and the things we do come from other people, other times, and other places. Back in the 1980s I remember that visiting a supermarket tended to be a fairly unthinking activity. We would take down cans of food, or what approximated to food, and place them rather carelessly in the shopping trolley, before carting them home and eventually consuming the mysteries within. These days we tend to be quite a bit more discriminating about what we buy. Checking the ingredients list on the side of a can or a packet has become almost automatic; we now seem to have developed a keen sense that what we eat has an effect on our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our quality of life. And we don’t stop there; we also check where our food has come from, in light of anything from airmiles to sweatshops to the policies of nations. Sometimes when I think of the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel, the doings we do, I think about shopping in a supermarket. In mind of the spirit of Karl Marx who

8 ‘First Principles’ of Culture Change

At Hummingbird, there are eight First Principles of Culture Change which provide the dynamic bedrock upon which all else builds: 1. Hereness: To understand the dynamic patterns within a situation, it is important to acknowledge your own place within those dynamics. Grounding yourself in “being here” is a crucial starting point. 2. Withness: It is impossible to make true sense of the culture of a situation unless you acknowledge that “being here” is also “being with”, whether with people or in relationship to the context or environment in which you find yourself. Acknowledging the cultural context of interrelationship provides a strong basis for cultural change. 3. Subtle Power: This refers to “the ability to vary the experience of oneself or another”. This is the most effective understanding of power with which to enact culture change. Subtle Power allows anyone within the situation to occupy a “position of power”; power becomes ever-present – no-one can ever be thought to work from a position of powerlessness. 4. Nearness: Each person’s experience of the culture of a particular environment is always local, specific, and personal. Through what a person experiences as near-at-hand, subtle power combines with hereness and withness, as each person is invited to an acknowledgment of their own agency, or