Connection Before Content – Episode 14

In this episode, Beth talks with Chad Littlefield about designing group experiences for contribution, not just consumption. They explore Chad’s concept of “connection before content” and how to do that particularly at the starts and ends of meetings or learning experiences.

Beth and Chad also explore:

  • how an intentional ‘unofficial start’ helps create real connection with groups
  • connecting with purpose when designing an experience
  • participants’ five states of mind and how to move people towards contribution (potentially from critic or curmudgeon)
  • the importance of listening so that people feel heard

Engage with Chad Littlefield

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth
Hello, thank you so much for choosing to listen to this episode today. This is Episode 14 and in this one I interview Chad Littlefield. Chad is the Chief Experience Officer of We and Me. This is an organization whose mission it is to make connection easy. And we’re going to talk about making connection easy for facilitators, for groups, how do we foster connection before content? This is a phrase that Chad uses a lot and I hope you’re going to see that he starts off the interview with me actually fostering connection with me by asking me a question which helps us go deeper into connecting with each other. This episode has a little bit of a soft start because Chad actually asked me in our pre-meeting when we were planning for the episode if we could do what he calls an unofficial start. So you’ll hear us basically just starting to talk in the episode because our content that we’re talking about is actually how to start off in an unofficial way, so we tried to do that in the actual episode itself. A lot of what Chad and I talk about in this episode is about how we can start off our learning events or our meetings with connecting experiences right away. How do we get groups to turn to each other so that they can work really well together? So if you’re interested in building connection with and between your groups, I think you’re really going to enjoy learning from Chad. Enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Okay, so in the realm of the unofficial start – you call this the Unofficial Start, I call it Start Before the Start, same thing, Chad – what will you normally do with groups as they are coming into a virtual space?

Chad Littlefield
So for me, I think that the first thing is like Priya Parker’s idea, the author of Art of Gathering, the idea of, you know, meet for purpose, not for time. I want to start off really intentionally. And so before I show up to a meeting, whether it’s with one other person and we’re exploring about working together, or it’s a group of 500 that I’m facilitating, I’m thinking about, like, what’s happening in the first 60 seconds that connects to the purpose of why we’re there? And so for our context right now, we’re diving in this podcast, we’re going to talk about the importance of starting and ending and what happens in between, and maybe talk about connecting and building rapport with grumpy people that don’t want to be there in your learning and sessions. And so a question that I just have for you as a little bit of connection before content here is – and I’ll take my own medicine and answer too – but I’m curious for you what’s taking up lots of your brain space lately? And I can share my intention for that specific question after we answer. But I might start off, jump on a meeting. Hey, super good to see you. I’m just curious to ask what’s taking up lots of your brain space right now?

Beth
Oh, so many things. Let me pick one. I think it’s just the balance of all the things I have going on in my life and work, you know? And maybe that’s something that we all deal with is you know, I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I own my own business, I have people working with me. And then I try to have fun in my life. And you know, what does that look like? I think coming off the heels of the pandemic, I’m still trying to figure out ways to have fun again with people in groups. And I spend a lot of time online, but I think I’m still searching for how to get back and do more things in person. It’s kind of like making space for all the things is really top of mind for me right now. And to try to do it, “well”, in a sense. [Laughs]

Chad
And I also heard you say that you have so much stuff going on that part of intent is like beyond fitting it all in, wanting to make sure the stuff that is getting slotted, is getting airtime in your calendar, is fun. And that is like bringing joy to it. And even before we started recording you came on and your unofficial start or start before the start, if you will, was what’s bringing you joy right now? And I think there’s even just asking that question, you can see that that’s like that intention’s living out. So if I’m gonna take my own medicine…

Beth
Yeah, what’s top of mind for you, this week or this moment?

Chad
For me, I have just enough ADHD to keep me moving forward in like pushing and stretching my own, like thinking and bounds. And so, you know, having spent a lot of time thinking about the questions we ask and Will and I put up this book, Ask Powerful Questions, and that’s been out for a long time. And the cards and tools…like got that kind of figured out and it’s working really well. And it’s not like I set it and forget it. But it’s been fully explored. And so I have been, what’s taking up lots of my brain space and I’ve been loving and been bringing me lots of joy, is pushing into this new realm of thinking that right now I’m putting into the like the larger umbrella of the easy future. And so I’ve just been thinking a lot about how oftentimes, even my wife and I were grabbing coffee the other day, and we brought journals, and we’ve been every once in a while, a couple times a week, been journaling together on a specific word. And don’t let that sound overly romantic because we also have a three year old and a four month old and…

Beth
I don’t know, it sounds pretty romantic! I don’t know. [laughs]

Chad
Rarely do we get like really like the these are the 25 minutes that we get a day. [laughs]

Beth
It’s impressive that you’re doing it journalling, you’re spending that time journaling, but go on, go on. [laughs]

Chad
Well, the kid’s watching TV, I mean, I’m literally talking about like Daniel Tiger last 25 minutes, the show. And so that’s how much time we have to…so we’ve just been picking a word, a theme word. And so we’ve done like, notice and wonder and love. And one of the ones we did a few days ago was future. And I realized we both ended feeling like oh, like tired, it was just heavy. [laughs] It was like, it was so cool in some way that we’re like, there’s lots of possibilities scattered down on a piece of paper. But at the end, we’re like, how are we going to possibly make all this happen? And so I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how do we make the future as easy as cracking open a fortune cookie? Like when you crack open a fortune cookie wouldn’t it be cool if the fortune was actually personalized to be like, here’s your next step. Do this little thing and it’s going to have really drastic impacts on your future. Like that would be awesome. But that fortune cookie doesn’t exist. And so I’m wondering like what is the next best thing? And from like a learning design and group development and growth perspective what are the easiest, lowest hanging fruits that create as effortless of a pathway as possible toward a future that we actually want? So I’ve been thinking a lot about that. [laughs] Along with how in the world you raise little people. That’s been taking up a heap of brain space too.

Beth
I bet. I love so much of what you said. And I feel like I could take that into directions unto itself. But I want to take us back to this unofficial start piece, because I think just you asking me that question and me asking you the question, it helped us connect with each other more deeply right off the bat. And I know we’ve, didn’t turn on the recording right away, we had been connecting before this, but you and I have never met before. It’s important to recognize how important it is to do this kind of deep connection right off the bat. So we’re doing that with each other, just the two of us. But how do we do that with our groups? And maybe I should ask first, like, why is that important to do it with groups right awa, right off the bat?

Chad
Yeah. And that’s, that’s the thing that scares most people. It’s not like, you know, if I say you have 10 years to build a relationship with someone. They’re like, Yeah, we’re gonna have some deep conversations at some point. The part that scares people are like, elevates our risk o meter is Wait, you mean, in the first minute? What do you mean, I just dive right in? And this is where I want to add a little bit of a clarification. For the unofficial start a characteristic for me is it’s got to be non-threatening. And by the way, I want to give credit to Mark Collard is the founder of Playmeo over in Australia, who I actually pulled that phrase –  unofficial start – from him. But there are all sorts in the world. Like you call it the start before the start, the soft start, the idea is that typically we reward people for being late by showing up. So we wait until 9:03, to say, Oh, I think so and so is on their way, maybe they’re just restarting their WiFi or their whatever. And so we kind of hang around. And oftentimes that time is either, depending on the context and who’s meeting, it’s either silent and everybody productively doing their email or some whatever, or it’s chit chat, small talk, which is not necessarily bad. But I’m like, you know, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook is also on the board, or at least was, I’m not sure about currently, but was on the board for Survey Monkey. And I have a friend who is on the board for Survey Monkey. And she walked into this meeting one time, and just said, Everybody, this is a really expensive meeting, let’s get started. That is the level of importance that I want to like, raise the start before the start. It’s not like, hey, it’s important to chit chat, to get to know each other, to relate. It’s actually, no time is really, really precious and so can we use it super intentionally and really wisely? And so, for me the question, what is taking up lots of your brain space right now allows two people or a group to get present with each other and acknowledge, hey, this is what’s going on for me right now. This is swirling outside of the context of this meeting. This is what’s in my brain. And guess what? Whether I choose to or not, I’m bringing this into the meeting. I can’t not. And so just knowing that this is present, like even as we’re talking, the fact that you shared this intention toward fun like actually is going to shift my behaviour and what I say and how I frame things in the stories that I choose to pull out in our podcast, in the spirit of creating and injecting a little bit more fun even into what we’re doing right now. And so I think, yeah, for me, this meeting is really expensive. Let’s get started. And that is that is where the start before the start or the unofficial start, that’s where the magic lies in that.

Beth
There’s magic in that deepness. And I’m reflecting on my own practice as I hear you talking about this going, hmm, am I doing things that are at the surface level, chit chat, or am I taking them deeper right away? And I’ve probably have to challenge myself to do the deep connection more quickly than I have been so far. And I think I’m pretty, you know, pretty decent at this. [laughs] But it’s there’s always something that we can learn. And we’ve already been chatting about this offline, that how we approach our work with groups is that we’re always learning, we can always do better next time, and in the future and so on. There’s that future focus for you. But yeah, to go deep more quickly, is so valuable for me to think more and do more on.

Chad
And I want to offer a slight reframe, actually just as much for myself on the word deep or depth. Because I think that word, like if I say deeper connection in a group full of Chief Human Resource Officers, they’re like, whoa, lawsuits, like we can’t talk about this stuff where there’s boundaries, there’s like, this is what starts to get up. And so I would actually replace the continuum of like, superficial to depth, I’d replace it with inauthentic to authentic. And so, or realness is maybe a less charged word of like, No, I want to start off real. And I think, for me, a shortcut or a cheat code to get real quickly is to connect to the purpose of why you’re there in the meeting. The reason that introverts and or extroverts alike get hives when they hear the word icebreaker is because they’re like this is going to be the thing we do before we start the meeting. No, no, no. For me, good connection before content, a good start is the start of the meeting. It warms people up it gets people’s personal experience tied into the the external purpose and intent for that gathering or meeting.

And so I was working with, I work with the Division of Blind and Visually Impaired in the U.S. and they were teaching coding to a bunch of blind and visually impaired students, and they’re like I want to come up with an icebreaker to get these students connecting before diving into content of coding. Like I need people to feel comfortable and psychologically safe to ask questions during. I don’t want people to go to module two without having really learned module one, right? So this is their purpose. And which is getting at your larger question of like, what’s the point of doing all of this? When I was working with a consulting with them, saying, you know, what is an icebreaker that could work here? And the way that I came up with my answer, which I’ll share in a moment, is thinking about alright, what is coding really about? What are some of the core like skills or ideas related to coding, what might attract somebody to coding? And a big core of that is logic, right? It’s like, if this happens then you do this. And there’s a simplicity and a clearness in that world. And so we co-created live in the moment, this icebreaker that I have a video on on YouTube, and you just search “icebreaker for logical people” or something like that. But it’s this if then icebreaker where you have one person come up with an if scenario. So if you lost your keys then – and they call out somebody else’s name – and they just fill in what they would do. And they would have these kind of pairs going ping ponging back and forth, if then if then. But it’s framing the idea. So you’re connecting, you’re ideally peeling off some layers.

Some of the things, that when we actually ran this activity, heaps of laughter came flowing out. And so this idea that, I had a mentor once who said laughter is nervousness leaving the body. And so it’s like, there are some things that you know, if you were gifted a unicorn when you were 16, because these are like middle school, high school, blind and visually impaired students learning coding so there’s some goofiness happening along the way. But then there’s some serious ones, right? Like if your parents yell at you, then, what do you do? But the idea that you can take, go right from that connection and right from that, “start before the start” and fold it right into, we’re going to learn coding. And in order to do that you’ve got to learn if then statements.

Beth
Yes! Yeah. I love it. I call that a win win. It’s like, how do we have that activity a win win for the thing we’re trying to do? It has to be connected, doesn’t it? It has to be intentional and related because you’re right, I actually avoid using the term icebreaker at all costs, [laughs] I think but, you know, don’t just put something in there for the sake of putting it in there. I love that you’re really bringing a lot of intentionality to choosing that activity. Can I share one with you that I did just the other week?

Chad
Please. I would love it.

Beth
Yeah. Okay. So and I was co-designing with a colleague of mine, Anna. And so I must credit Anna with this idea, because I was working with Anna to develop the agenda for a second session that we were going to have with a group. And it was a group process facilitation. So the group needed to come together and agree on something. And we knew from the first meeting that you know, there were differences, you know, as there always are. People were kind of, you know, maybe they hold on to a position quite tightly, some people and then some people couldn’t care less and they let go their position really easily, and whatever. I said, I need some activity to get them started as kind of the check in or, you know, warming up, the unofficial start, where I can help people realize that positionality piece, and how we can use it as a bit of a jumping off point so that we can then talk about Yes, we all do have opinions about things, but other people do, too and how do we work with that? And how do we collaborate when people come with different opinions and blah, blah? So she said, What about the Cilantro, Basil, Mint? Do you know that one?

Chad
No.

Beth
So Cilantro, Basil, Mint. And so it’s kind of like, I knew this game as Pancakes versus Waffles. And in that duality, it was like, which one would you keep in the world while losing the other one forever?

Chad
Ok. [laughs]

Beth
So would it be pancakes or waffles? Like, you know, like, I would choose pancakes, somebody else would choose waffles. So this is Cilantro, Basil, Mint. And so three choices. Which of these would you keep in the world while losing the others forever? And of course, some people say basil, some people say cilantro, some people say mint, and it’s fun, right? It is, people get into it. And there, some people are taking the hard position, and some people aren’t, you know, whatever. And so then I was able to kind of debrief it and go, you know, how many people were really solid in their position and didn’t want to let it go? And, you know, kind of debrief the whole thing and then go into, okay, well, think about that and what happened in that activity and how that applies to our work together in this session. And what are we going to do about that? You know, how do we hold that in our minds, where we have strong feelings, but other people do too. And how do we work together? So it was, it worked so well. It was so amazing.

Chad
Yeah, perfect. [Beth: Yeah.] And I think there’s there’s something, there’s kind of the question of with both those ideas, how much do you front load the purpose and tell them like this is why we’re doing this versus Cilantro, Basil, Mint, go. Choose. [Beth: Yeah] My leaning or my bent is I tend to clue people into the purpose and the intention before inviting them to do something because otherwise it’s activity for activity’s sake, until I finally tell them. And so it’s like, I don’t ever want to trick people or feel like I’m manipulating or guiding them toward a path. And so it’s like, Hey, we’re here to talk about decision making. So we’re gonna, I’m gonna just throw out one of the most difficult decisions a human being can possibly make on planet Earth. Cilantro, basil, mint, you got to get rid of one. Where do you go from there?

Beth
Exactly, yeah. And I hope I did that. I think I did that too. Because you’re right, I was thinking about, especially not being preachy, you know, like, I was worried about that in the debrief. And anyway, that so there, yeah, there are considerations around doing that kind of thing. But to have that win win. Yeah, it’s a nice thing.

Chad
It’s quite beautiful. And we could probably go on for the rest of the podcast exchanging cool ideas. And that would probably be a useful podcast at some level. But I wonder if we can do that under the casing of something we chatted about earlier, which is this idea of like, how do you engage folks that have their arms crossed when they come in? Which you’ve kind of shared, you’ve got the joy of working with a lot of people who are enthusiastic and excited to be there. And that’s not true for all learning professionals or facilitators or trainers. A lot of people, the word mandatory somehow gets included in an email, and then all your attendees show up with that word in the forefront of their brain. So I guess my brain is taking us there and I’m wondering if there’s anything else you want to like, put a capstone on the start, ironically enough, before possibly delving into that, because I do think the start has a really big impact in setting the tone for grumpy and enthusiastic people and everywhere in between.

Beth
That’s exactly where my brain was going, that it’s a great thing to talk about when we talk about the start. Because if you can’t win them over in the start, then you’ve lost them already. Yeah. And actually, Jan Keck was on the podcast not so long ago and said, a very similar kind of thing that, you know, we have to figure out what to do about that. Just assume some people are going to be there not by their own volition. So what do you do about that? And what are some of the things you think about when you’ve you know, you’re gonna have some grumpy people in the room, as you call them?

Chad
One, like a big picture, zoom out, I have 100% of the organizations that I’ve worked with, ranging from like K-12 schools, to the CIA, to universities to like big, big companies, and little tech startups as well. Every single group that I walk into very quickly, you can pick up almost like smell, different states of mind. And three of the dominant ones that when I turn up are like, you’ve got critics, consumers, and contributors, right. So critics, really comfortable pointing out what’s wrong. Totally uninterested, uninterested in doing anything about it. Now, as I’m sharing, these are going to sound like fixed traits or people, but they’re very much for me like changeable states and we alternate between them on a moment to moment basis. So critics. Consumers, kind of think about like people passively scrolling through. So if we want to take like a specific learning session context, this is somebody who, in a virtual training, is clicking through as fast as possible to get the credits they need to pass the thing. Or they’re sitting in the back of the room, trying to like keep their head low enough. They’re maybe soaking it in, they’re getting some things but they’re just keeping their head under the radar for fear of getting cut off. And then over this very important threshold you have people who have chosen to not be a victim of their world and to contribute, to actually add to. And it’s a really big shift from saying, the world is happening to me versus I get to happen to the world. Those are the three main buckets probably on the polls. There’s also I’m gonna label curmudgeons, people who are in a perpetual state of crankiness that nothing you say or do will ever change their mind, or so it seems. And then even beyond contributors, I think you’ve got in any group or organization, you’ve got connectors, people who are just hubs for contribution, that’d be the simplest definition that I would offer for that.

So, if you think about engaging people across that whole spectrum of folks I assume that depending on the morning that people had, and the previous week and year and decade that people have had, that everybody is showing up in one of those five states or oscillating most between a couple of them. And so for me, the start before the start is, if I start out and say, Here’s our agenda, this is what we’re going to be doing. Let me talk about and like give the whole framing. And I look down and I’m seven minutes into the beginning of a gathering or meeting or a training and I’ve been the only one talking, I have forced people into the role of consumer or critic or curmudgeon, they can’t be anything else. And so the idea of a start before the start is in the first couple minutes how do I invite contribution?

And so I was giving a keynote to 3000 people who run credit unions in the United States a couple months ago. And the first sentence that I said on stage was when you meet someone for the first time at a thing like this, what questions do you typically ask? And I waited for their responses, right? I was in conversation even in this large group, and so it’s not…for me, it’s not a dynamic of like, Oh, I’m talking to is too big of a group. A leader will often give me the loving excuse of like, what, I got 40 staff, well, how do I invite contribution? This is going to take forever. It’s not about hearing everyone, it’s about offering the choice to contribute in that moment. And so that’s the first thing. It’s like, just say yes or no checkbox, like, did you create an opportunity for someone to step into the role of contributor or connector? And if you didn’t, then you can assume you’re going to have consumers and critics and that’s it?

Beth
Yeah. Oh, I like that. So quickly getting people into the role that you’re hoping that they’re going to be in. But you’re saying we actually have a lot of impact in that. We can help make those shifts happen between those roles? Yeah. And I think you’re also saying too, I mean, when people work with big groups, we can so often think that that’s going to force us into the role of speaker or presenter versus facilitator. And I think you’re saying ah, we can be facilitators at any size of group. That is absolutely possible.

Chad
Yeah. In fact, Romy, who you’ve had on the podcast before, I was actually chatting with her, and I was kind of encouraging her to consider doing more speaking. And she had this major resistance to it, sort of like, I don’t like I’m an experiential, and if you haven’t, if you’re listening to this, and you haven’t already listened to Romy’s session on experiential education, do, because she’s amazing. And the idea that speaking was an antonym for her to experience. I’m like, no, no, when I get hired to do a keynote, like I’m never spending more than 50% of the time talking. Half the time is active experience. And it’s not just like quick little participatory things. Because it’s essential for me, I actually did a, one of my favourite exercises to do with even a small group but a big group, especially, is this collaborative calculator exercise where I invite the group to just do some mental math, and then tell them we’re gonna do some public math. The mental math is roughly how many years of experience do you have in your own world or niche. Then what I’m going to ask you to do is all at the same time, shout out that number and I want you to listen for the average. So listen to like, pick up as many numbers from the the shouting that you can. And then I’m going to ask us to calculate roughly the average. So in this room of 3000 folks I just mentioned the average was 20. This was a pretty senior group of people. So the average is 20 years of experience in a room of 3000. That is 60,000 years of experience. So, holy smokes, if I take my time, and I’m the only one talking. That is a huge loss of knowledge. And so they that’s where the whole idea of designing for contribution, not just consumption comes from for me, and that like ethos and theory. And it bleeds into like, as I’m designing something, I’ll go back with a highlighter on my iPad and just highlight all the places that I’m inviting people’s contribution versus things that I’m saying, if there’s not enough colour, then I need to go back to the drawing board. The super simple rule, like if it’s not colourful enough of I haven’t highlighted enough like, these are points where I’m inviting contribution, or if they’re not spaced out, right, right. If I’m like, ooh, this is like 45 minutes of talking about somebody and then five contribution things like the introverts are gonna be tired at the end of that. [laughs] So I need to, you know, create some balance there.

Beth
Yeah and you have a way to check and balance that for yourself. I, too, do that. I have a column in my lesson plan document that’s called participant activities. You know, there’s facilitator activities and there’s participant activities. And it’s like if that participant activities column says “sitting and listening” you know, for more than a few minutes, really like I’m in trouble, I need to change something because that’s too long. So I like that you have another way, colour coding to kind of keep your feet to the fire for that as well. Thinking about those roles, you know, going back to the critic and the curmudgeon. So have you seen that those particular people with those roles – ever, you know, briefly or long term – when you engage them faster and more often, do you see that shift happening?

Chad
Yeah, so I’d say one…and there’s also not just like my anecdotal experience, but there’s a lot of research on the idea of connection before content and the impacts that it has in student engagement. So like, if you are deliberate and you do connection before content properly, more hands will be raised when you go to ask for questions. Just like fundamentally like the number of hands will be raised, go up. And so there’s that element. But there’s also one of the studies that Priya Parker mentioned, actually, in her book briefly – that I dove more into because I thought it was so fascinating – was done at Johns Hopkins with surgical teams. So essentially, Johns Hopkins wanted to reduce the amount of medical errors and deaths that were happening on the surgery table. It’s like good effort. So they tried all these multiple different interventions. One of the interventions was – they didn’t call it connection before content – but they got all the staff who are going to be involved in that surgery, from the techs to the actual surgeon, standing in a circle. And they all went around and said, Hi, my name is blank and this is my role in the surgery, and then they had the opportunity to share any concerns they had for the surgery. And in the group that did just that very simple little thing, medical errors and deaths were reduced by 35%. And so I’m like, most of the people that I work are not dealing in literally life and death scenarios, but they’re always at risk of their meetings dying super hard. [laughs]

Beth
Exactly! That’s a nice quote there. [laughs]

Chad
Yeah. [laughs] So the the idea of saving or putting the defibrillator paddles on your meeting. So your question, as I understood it was, Does this early engagement really help shift the state of mind of somebody who may have entered with their arms crossed in that critic or curmudgeon state? And again, I can’t emphasize that enough, like these are not fixed people, like they’re…I’ve got a vacuum at home that when you stand it up, it just falls over. It’s the dumbest design of a vacuum ever, it’s so foolish. But I’m not going to call the vacuum company and track down the designers on LinkedIn and let them know that they need to fix and adjust this. I’m just a critic, I’m pointing out what’s wrong with no intention of doing anything about it. And so recognizing that like on a daily basis, we probably float through all five of those. So I can’t make anybody switch. The only thing I can do as a designer is give like, put a choice in front of somebody and make it a compelling and valuable and purposeful enough choice to actually cross over into the land of contribution. I will say there’s one important thing and when we were offline, you had mentioned your affinity for the word intention. I share that affinity. And I think for curmudgeon, specifically, people who are in a perpetual state of crankiness, learning to become fluent in the language of intention is super flippin’ important. Because if they don’t know why they’re contributing, or why they’re being asked to contribute, they will resent it and fall deeper into that role of curmudgeon. And so when I say speak the language of intention, I mean, before any request or ask, hey, the intention of us doing this right now is there’s 60,000 years of experience in the room, and I could just tell you what I think. But what we’re going to do over the next 10 minutes in this big conversation swap is exchange as much of that experience and knowledge as possible so you all end up smarter at the end of this 10 minutes. A curmudgeon get on board with that.

Beth
Yeah.

Chad
Right. It’s like, that’s actually kind of cool. I’m interested, let’s go.

Beth
Maybe they’re curmudgeonly because they haven’t actually been asked for their opinion very much lately, you know? [Chad: Yeah.] And they’re just tired of it, because they have worked at the company for 20 or 30 years, or even five, I mean, you can be really, you know, you bring a lot of experience from other roles or whatever. But do we force people into the curmudgeon mindset or state because we actually haven’t taken intention to previous you know – or somebody not, not us Chad… [laughs]

Chad
Ha, yeah. We never make mistakes! [laughs]

Beth
Those other people out there have not asked for people to share their experience with each other or created opportunities for them to get to know each other, or whatever. You know, when you talked about the future state, I want people to leave my session – especially when they actually work together – like an intact group, so important that they learn that they need to draw on each other for support and guidance and experience and help because we’re better together. Like if they if they’re so siloed, and I hear that a lot these days, because, you know, a lot of people are still working from home, or they’re kind of half in the office or whatever. And so it is a win for me if I can help them turn to each other in the session, because the future hopefully looks a lot like that.

Chad
Yeah.

Beth
What are you thinking there? Are you intentionally thinking about that as well? When people leave? Maybe we’ll go towards the, you know, the closing pieces that you do, like, how do you get people to leave your time with them, so that that future looks brighter and more effective and you know, better in whatever ways?

Chad
Yeah, I think one, it’s, I wonder, I don’t know this. But I wonder if it’s hard to feel…leave anything feeling excited about the future, if you were…if your perspective wasn’t heard in some capacity. I think there’s a essential element of that. And it reminds me of a session I led many years ago with a group of CEOs of like mid-sized companies. So it’s was about 20 CEOs, midsize company, and I was in Philadelphia. And they didn’t know this but I had I went to Glassdoor, the site where people review, give a company a rating and reviews. And I went to the site and had somebody on my team go to Glassdoor and pull all their reviews off and then anonymize them, print them out and cut them into little segments of paper. So like a little segment of review. And when they walked into the room, I said, Hey, welcome. Your Glassdoor reviews are sitting on these tables right now. Ooh, they cringe a little bit. Some of them are written in all caps and they’re not super beautiful. Some of them are very beautiful. What I want you to do is, and they’re all mixed together, right? So you don’t know who’s what which reviews are coming from which. What I want you to do is sort these reviews into buckets and categories and figure out why people are staying and why people are leaving your organization. First of all, like fun exercise to do. What they found, which I did not realize until they illuminated it, is that nine out of 10 reviews talking about why somebody stayed or left a company, like specifically referencing why they stayed or why they left had the word listen or a synonym in it.

Beth
Wow.

Chad
My manager…I had all these great ideas, shared them with my manager, and nothing ever happened. Or I get to contribute my ideas regularly and get to see it, like flown out to hundreds of clients. It’s awesome. It’s really satisfying. It’s purposeful work, blah, blah. And so that idea getting you know, thinking about someone being excited about the future, people who are excited about their future in a particular like role or context stay at that organization. So I don’t know exactly what the relationship is between listening and excitement about the future. But there’s something really important there. In terms of the curmudgeon critic dynamic, it’s, it’s a very obvious and huge component of like, if it’s not if you’re listening or not. It’s do the people around you feel heard when they leave? And not just feel heard, are they actually heard? So yeah, it’s just like, piling stuff that stands mine, my brain there.

Beth
And that is related to meetings and learning experiences, isn’t it? And daily life on the job as well. This whole piece around listening, I mean, we’re ostensibly talking about learning events and meetings but it’s really, how do we take this mindset around – well you’re saying connection before content – it’s connection through content and through every relationship we’ve ever had with these people especially if we’re colleagues of them and how do we help people feel heard and feel listened to, and then they will engage and stay. It’s kind of related to that quiet quitting thing that I’m hearing about. I haven’t looked into it too much. But is it related to that where it’s like, it’s quiet quitting, like you’re just mentally checking out of the building, but you’re still there, right? Like you maybe don’t feel heard, you are going to leave soon because of some of these things that are happening.

Chad
Or the quiet quitting is the stepping from contributor down to the consumer or critic bucket, because you’re like, Hey, I’ve tried to contribute. And this happens all the time. Starry eyed excited, like first year employees come in with all these really great ideas, and they just get the life stomped out of them until they fall into the role of consumer. And we used to just stick around in those roles for a couple of decades but there’s no tolerance for that anymore. And so people either literally quit or they just totally check out and stop contributing altogether.

Beth
Yeah, so we’re talking about facilitation, but we’re really talking about work and life. And all of these are totally applicable skills to just being with people in the world. Like how do we involve people? How do we create connection where people feel heard and seen and can contribute in the wonderful ways they can?

Chad
Yeah, and I wonder this is at the risk of sharing something mildly heavy, but you know, every once awhile get down these like, really deep curiosity rabbit holes of topics that I’m not an expert in, but I want to know more about. And lately, artificial intelligence has been it for me. So I’ve gotten like, deep. Listen, hours and hours of interviews from Sam Altman, the founder of open AI created Chat GBT. And most often, there’s this one interview where Reid Hoffman, when the founders of LinkedIn was interviewing Sam Altman, and asked, you know, if AI is doing all of this amazing stuff for us, and we have so much less work to do, there’s less of a need. Ironically, it’s going to kind of start with cutting out creative jobs and white collar jobs. We thought it was gonna go the other way around and replace blue collar jobs first, and then up the ladder. But it’s happening in the other direction. So if there’s not all the stuff for us to do, and we don’t, we can’t stake an identity in productivity in grinding 40 plus hours a week what will we care about? This is what Reid asked Sam. And Sam’s response I thought was really interesting. He said, What we cared about 50,000 years ago is going to be more what we care about in the next 100 years than what we have in the last 100 years. In the last 100 years, thinking about efficiency and making things more productive, versus 50,000 years ago, we’re like community, just focused on survival. Recreation, got a lot of time to kill, life’s pretty simple, like hunt, gather. I’m not saying that we’re going to go down to sticks and stones age, but just saying he’s like, we’re gonna care about connection and recreation a lot more. We’re gonna prioritize connection and recreation a lot more than we currently do. Because we might mentally prioritize and know it’s important but I had a client once recognize on the call with me, she was like, holy smokes. I say that connection with my kid is really important. But I can’t remember the last time that I had eight totally focused hours in a day where I was doing nothing but paying attention to them. But I do that five days a week with my work.

Beth
Yeah. So where are we placing the emphasis, right? Like the most importance, you know, where’s it going in our lives? Oh, this is getting deep. [They both laugh] Like you’re questioning the whole society that we live in maybe here in North America and other places as well and where it’s going. Talk about future, Chad. [laughs] That’s a real future statement.

Chad
I know, well, when I mentioned when I start to mention and go down that artificial intelligence rabbit hole, Kate, my wife is always like, please don’t like just in the last like, month or two, she’s like, Please don’t bring the software on your clients. Like, you just need to really like, this is some intense stuff, like just rein it in a little bit.

Beth
But it seems so complicated, but it’s not. Like you’re kind of encouraging me to think it’s not as complicated as we, as people think it is. I mean, to be able to connect with each other, it’s not super complicated, we just have to do it. You know, we just have to, you know, educate ourselves as to how to do it and actually, do it, not just say that we like it. You know, some people might say, oh, yeah, I really like it when people do this in their, in their meetings, or in their learning events. But I don’t really have time to do it myself. It’s like, we just have to know how to do it and do it.

Chad
Yeah, I was talking to a education client earlier, talking about connection before content and the ideal of connecting people to the purpose of why they’re there and to each other. And so I just tossed a prompt into Chat GBT and said “Generate 10 connection questions to help my high school biology students connect with each other and the topic of the day, which is mitochondria”, and immediately it popped out: Have you heard of mitochondria before this class? What do you think they’re responsible for in the cell? What do you know about the structure of mitochondria and how do they produce energy for the cell? Right? So just like the idea which I’m not convinced that these are like the best questions, but I think it was easy before we had tools to generate it. [laughs] But if you’re not feeling creative, and you’re like, oh, I don’t know how to connect with this group and tie it into purpose. And what do I do? Ask Chat GPT [laughs], you’ll get some responses, right? You’ll have that list. Pretty, pretty fascinating them consider the ramifications in the next couple of years of what happens when we outsource our intention. Or say like, Hey, can you come up…like a meeting with this group of people, I’m not really sure exactly what the purpose is. Can you come up with the purpose? And put it in a really snappy, sharp, compelling statement that includes the needs of everybody in the room? It’s like, that’d be a useful sentence to have.

Beth
Maybe. Yeah. And what are the things that only humans can do and can we do more of that?

Chad.
Yeah.

Beth
We should talk about closings. Are there certain things that you want to share about the bookend of really bringing importance and intentionality to those openings, but also closings? Like why are closing so crucial to think about as well?

Chad
Yeah, so just one of the like foundational, basic psychology one, on one level, you have the primacy recency effect. So we tend to remember what happens first and last most. And we know that we’ve studied this, like what happens in the middle, we remember bits of. And what happens first and last, we really tend to remember. And yet, most meetings and even my own when I’m not being intentional, and in a rush to the next one, or a quick like, Oh, I didn’t realize what time it was, ah, see ya. And so when I’m really on my game, which is, let’s say, half the time [laughs]. When I’m focused and I’m being intentional, I’m like all but setting an alarm for five minutes before the end of a meeting or gathering and saying it’s time to switch over to do really intentional closing to like tie this all up. Now that looks, there’s a million different exercises that you can do. One of my favourites I learned from a facilitator in New Hampshire named Nate Folan. And he learned from somebody else who probably learned from somebody else who’s probably dead. And so I don’t know who to credit it to. But the exercise is called group anthem. And it really simply, you just invite a whole group to make a closing statement based on the time you spent with them. So whether it was a half hour quick learning boost, or a two-day off site with a group, make a closing statement that you want to share with everybody else. And it could be about something you’re really excited you picked up. It could be about something you’re still wrestling with, that you’re doubting. It could be about something you’re excited to take action on. The only catch is that the closing statement must begin with either I am, I believe, or I will. And so you don’t have to sing it but as we share our closing statements, it’s going to sound a bit like an anthem, because every sentence is going to begin with I am, I believe, or I will. Thirty seconds to think and then whoever wants to go first can go from there. Ending like that, which if you’re somebody listening to this in a role that can actually lead that, do it. It’s a really fun exercise. And record it too. Because you’ll want to send it back to either your team your client or whatever, because it’s like gold all that just comes out there. Because the like social pressure to come up with something that’s like worth sharing with the rest of the group is high enough. But you’ve taken some risk away by saying your sentence starts with these two words.

Beth
Yeah, it’s a little easier to enter into it. Yeah. And do you have them do it one by one? Or do they really sing it or say it all at the same time? Like [makes a singing sound]. [laughs]

Chad
Oh, no, I yeah, I love doing it one by one. So virtually, I tell people to go into speaker view so that when they talk they show up big so it’s like a human slideshow happening. Instead of gallery view where it’s like who said that? Can’t see where it came from. In person. Yeah, and I let it take a little bit of time. I let some silence in between. It’s not a like, fast paced rah rah rah electronic music playing in the background kind of exercise. It’s a, like really thoughtful, intentional way to wrap up and end, which is not always the way that I want to wrap up and end. But yeah, it’s something that I really appreciated doing over the over the years.

Beth
That’s nice. Do you want to do it ourselves?

Chad
Let’s do it right now. [laughs]

Beth
I believe that all people have what they need to bring connection to their meetings and their learning events. [Chad: I love it.] And their life and their work. [laughs]

Chad
And, and, and… [laughs] I am reminded of the value of spontaneous conversation. In our conversation here we didn’t have a map. We didn’t have like, here’s the 20 questions we’re gonna go through. And I’m just reminded of the beauty and magic that can show up when you’re just present, talking with somebody, exploring an idea and letting everything else not exist for a period of time.

Beth
I’ve so enjoyed that. Thank you so much, Chad, for being here. I’m gonna definitely keep watching you. I think you’re doing some great work in the world. And thank you for what you’re doing and for having this conversation with me today.

Chad
Thanks for inviting me on.

[Episode outro]
Beth
I really enjoyed my conversation with Chad. I could probably detail so many things that are still resonating with me from our conversation. One of the things I appreciated learning about from him are these different states of mind that our participants could be in in our sessions. So they could be critics, they could be consumers, they could be curmudgeons, but they also could be contributors and they can be connectors. And we hope that they are going to be those last two ones I think most of all, but we just have to recognize that there are these several states of mind that people probably will be in. And what do we do to help to shift them into the direction we want them to go by the things that we design into our session that are focused on connection and connection before content as Chad would say. So, lots of stuff to learn from Chad and I encourage yo uto go check out his website where he actually shares a lot of free resources for people that help you in this direction, to go in the direction of connection before content as well.

In the next episode of the podcast I will do some ruminating on the self doubt that many of us experience as designers and facilitators of learning, particularly on the facilitation side. Dealing with imposter syndrome. Why do we have this? Why do we all seem to have something like this as human beings working in this courageous, vulnerable field? And what do we do about that? What are the things that we can do to fly in the face of imposter syndrome? To deal with it and not let it stop us in our tracks. So join me next time for Dealing with Self Doubt on the podcast. We’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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