Copy and Paste

The greatest public humiliation I experienced was at the hands of an ex-wife and her then boyfriend. But that didn’t prepare me for my greatest workplace humiliation (also known as the copy and paste incident).

It occurred during a meeting. I was presenting the changes I had made to an intranet to a group of people. At that time I was working with two subject matter experts and sundry members of that group, taking content from Microsoft Word and re-presenting it to a Wiki.

I had made it clear in my interactions with this group that they provide the content and I reformat, restructure and resequence it for the intranet. And I had also ensured there was a process of approval. Each and every email was suffixed with the intranet link and a postscript, to the effect of if you wish to make any changes, please contact me. Which was universally ignored by this particular group of people.

During that meeting, one of the participants complained that I had changed her content. My response was mild. The content was in Word, it was being moved to an intranet, inevitably it would be changed as writing for the web was…

Until I was interrupted by the manager of the group. She in no uncertain terms directed me to copy and paste. She asked me if I understood her directive and carry this out. The pause that followed was a lifetime. I thought to myself, “That’s the end of me.” And it was.

The Feminist Card

“You know me… I either bring the best out of people or the worst…” A mere musing to myself. But a few weeks later, the remark returned to me. Adversely.

Not only that but he played the feminist card. On me…

This person had hurriedly and thoughtlessly implemented a change that had adversely affected many external users.

And I found out about it. Not from the hastily composed email sent to everybody else. From the blizzard of phone calls asking what did you change without telling us?

I tracked down the email. When I read its contents it made no sense at all. Perhaps it needs rewriting, I thought. I decided to find the author and ask for clarification. Luckily he had returned to his office two doors down from me. 

My questions weren’t welcomed. The person when confronted denied all adverse impact.

I thought I’ll find out for myself. I phoned one of the affected external users. I asked if they had a problem. They said yes. With their kind permission, I took a leisurely walk to their offices and found out the truth first hand.  

Despite the inconvenience, they were gracious and grateful. I listened to them and wrote down what I saw and heard. Needless to say, it was different from the email.  I tried some workarounds, unfortunately, none of which worked. My notepad now full of scribblings and hand-drawn screenshots, I trotted back to this person with my new found knowledge.

He was even less welcoming than the first time. Perhaps I’m not bringing the best out of him, I mused to myself. Unlike the recently visited and previously trained external users.

When I told him about the shortcomings and showed him my notes, he got quite aggressive and said this is the only way it could’ve been done. He refused my suggestions, didn’t acknowledge how badly it was handled and then said he was too busy anyway.

We were two men having a robust discussion. Also known as a shouting match. Except I didn’t raise my voice over him. 

He asked me to send an email detailing my issues. He said he had to go. But then he played the last card…

He said, “You’re too emotional !” I was taken aback. What a sexist and demeaning remark!

“But, but, I’m a man,” I replied. He didn’t acknowledge my wit or marvel at the quote.

“You’ve played the feminist card on me, ” I said. He ignored that and left.

How could he say such a thing to me?

Me, a poet and writer! Me, a formerly unemotional man!

I couldn’t help myself after that. I laughed my head off.

An insult that became a compliment. Perhaps I did get the best out of him after all!

This Teleconference Has Been Postponed…

At last! Another opportunity to catch up on the backlog of outstanding work.

A teleconConference Call Phoneference! I dialed in, entered the meeting identification, my pin and spoke my name.

Then I placed my phone in hands-off mode and muted myself.

I knew I was safe because:

  1. I wouldn’t be asked to contribute
  2. I had very little to contribute
  3. I didn’t want to contribute
  4. I had a document to compose.

As people signed into the teleconference, I started to listen absently. As it continued, my attention wandered even more. Meanwhile people were dropping in and out. This meeting I thought was starting to resemble Tripp & Tyler’s  A Conference Call In Real Life.

But once the momentum resumed, I every so often stopped what I was doing and jot down a few notes. I thought to myself this was a very unfocused conversation indeed. Perhaps a facilitator or mediator might help. Besides nearly everyone else was on a higher level than me. And as I discounted that idea chaos struck.

My phone began to blare hold music. I looked carefully at the console. No. None of the lights were flashing. I still was on mute and still connected to the conference.

As the participants realised what had happened, a dull and boring meeting had become a hunt for a culprit. Much like school roll call, one by one we re announced ourselves over the continuing hold music. I took two attempts as I had unmuted and then muted myself.

One person failed to respond. He had received another phone call mid conference. And in answering that call  had placed the current call (us) on hold. He had to be contacted as soon as possible to continue the conference and save our sanity.

One of the participants suggested calling him. Which sounded contradictory until he added the words “on his mobile.” The meeting collectively held its breath (as best you can over Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) and waited for the call to put through. No. He wasn’t answering his mobile either.

Which meant a physical intervention was required. Somebody must find this person and physically remove him from his phone. We waited a few minutes until this was organised.

“Are you near his desk? “Can you see him?” “Can you catch his attention?”

No to all questions.

“Can you go to his office and speak with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Once more we collectively held our breath (Ride of the Valkyries is a long piece of music) and waited.  Upon his return the hold music still continued. The culprit was in his office on the phone and couldn’t be disturbed (in another teleconference).

This teleconference will be postponed until a later date and time…


The Instant Facilitator

Apart from school debating and one lecture presentation, nothing prepared me for my debut as an instant facilitator.

I was an attendee for a computer user conference at the World Congress Centre Melbourne at Crowne Plaza. As part of the Queensland branch of the group, I had been asked to introduce each speaker and then ask for questions once they had finished. This was easy. Usually there were no questions and I wrapped it up quickly. Or with too many questions, I left everyone to continue the conversation out the door after the presentation finished.

Which meant I was completely unprepared for the last session of the conference.

Participants in plenary sessionFifteen minutes beforehand, I was taken aside and asked to lead. I almost went into apocalyptic shock. This was a plenary session. Me in the middle, five geek gurus on my left and several hundred system managers, developers, engineers and sales people in front of me. I was outgunned and more than a little overwhelmed.

And my preparation didn’t help either. I quickly scanned the names of the experts. I saw that one of them had worked on an previous incarnation of the currently popular operating system. That old clunker had a command called show stardate. I thought I could use that as my icebreaker.

I turned around and the fifteen minutes have disappeared in seconds. I walked to the podium. I waited for the geek gurus to sit. Then I wait for the audience to file in.  I made sure to keep my hands behind the podium. If exposed they would be glistening from sweat.

I introduced myself. Then the experts. I make my joke about the show star date command. And I die. I received a dirty look for my troubles.
Andrew Whalan FacilitatingI had no choice. I had to go on. Then it didn’t matter. I opened up the session for questions. And then I stepped into a different space and time. I’m suddenly aware of who was asking questions and what they really meant. Every so often, I would take a question and then ask for more information. Or paraphrase the question back to them for clarity. Both I found helped the experts with their answers.  I’m not sure but I may have asked questions of them myself : I now know I tend to do that if no one else is asking.
It worked brilliantly. I was relaxed. I even apologised to the man at the back dressed in black sitting in front of a dark wall who I couldn’t see too well.
It went so easily. Except I’d never facilitated before and had only spoken in public on one other occasion. So what happened?

Michael Clarke : Three Moments

Michael Clarke is about to play his last cricket Test. Sadly, he will leave the game as an Ashes losing Test captain regardless of the result.

For many people that will be his legacy. For some, this is the time to criticise and to bring up the past.  But not for me.

Here are the three moments of Michael Clarke that I will treasure in ascending order.

First was that magnificent innings of 329. Apart from the score, he never looked like getting out.  But there was more. He never looked like he would stop batting.

Second was his beautiful and sad eulogy to his little brother Phillip Hughes. There was in that moment, a man who had lost but showed also how much he gave.

Third and most treasured was the first time I ever saw Clarke captain a side.  It was at Perth and he was suddenly placed in charge of the Australia T20 side. I had the sound turned off (it’s the best way to watch cricket). I have no idea what he said to his players so I relied on the body language. But everyone he spoke to stood a little taller and played a little better.

And that’s what cricket and leadership is all about.

The Reverse Golden Rule

Somewhere in Australia, someone is gloating over images of a burning mosque. Before that he or she was fuming over the latest executions from the Middle East. They’re probably thinking this is how much they hate us and this is how we should hate them back.

Somewhere in Australia, someone is fuming over images of a burning mosque. Before that he or she was gloating over the latest executions from the Middle East. They’re probably thinking this is how much they hate us and this is how we should hate them back.

If it sounds like the reverse Golden Rule, it is. Hate others before they hate you.

These haters will never convince us not to attempt to live in harmony.

And we who attempt to live in harmony regardless of race, sex, creed, etc, etc, are the majority.

An opportunity to do unto others.

An opportunity to do unto others.

For we who attempt to live in harmony have bent ourselves towards the whispered breeze of love that calls us toward the Golden Rule.

Love others as they love you: before, during and after.

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Malcolm Fraser’s Journey of Wisdom

I came home from school on Remembrance Day, 1975 and the Government was gone. Even at that age, I knew enough politics to be shocked and angered by the outcome. I held Fraser responsible and I was joyful in his defeat in March 1983.

But time passes. Besides Shame Fraser Shame stickers peel off schoolbags.

Then Malcolm Fraser started reappearing. He was involved in the campaign against Apartheid. He also became chairman of Care Australia and Care International. I really started to wonder if he was the arch-conservative PM of my childhood.

But it wasn’t until the last few years that I really appreciated Fraser’s contribution to public life. His contributions through Twitter, his appearances on QandA and his articles all showed a man who was on a journey. Not as the unfortunate David Leyondhjelm said, a journey from right-wing extremism to left-wing extremism, but a journey where one questions one’s actions and values and beliefs.

And while Malcolm Fraser and others may hold that he didn’t change and that only politics did, to me his life was a journey of wisdom. I wish there were more like him.


Bunnies in a Basket : Facilitation Before Persuasion

Keeping Bunnies in a Basket by Annabel Crabb is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. And today things became more complicated with Glenn Lazarus resigning from the Palmer United Party.

Funnily enough, despite being political, I didn’t immediately think of politics. No, selfishly, I thought of myself.

You see, managing stakeholders is a required superpower for anyone who is a trainer, technical writer, instructional designer, change manager, community engagement manager, social media manager, and a myriad of other occupations including politics.

For me, stakeholders appear in three flavours. They are either subject matter experts, authorised approvers or both.

Subject matter experts usually are excellent to work with once they see how their contribution is relevant.

If they are an authorised approver, then even better.

It’s the latter category, when the authorised approvers are removed from the content, that the situation becomes much as Annabel Crabb has described.

Then it becomes complicated. It’s like sending one document to twelve people at once and then attempting to incorporate their changes at once (that didn’t work out very well). Or having document approval withheld until a process change was carried out (that didn’t work out well either). It’s then that the soft skills of stakeholder management of facilitation, consultation and collaboration and making people’s contribution relevant especially come to the fore. The harder skills of persuasion and escalation may also be required but only as a last resort.

While there’s no guarantee of success using these soft skills, they do go a long way to solving the bunnies in a basket problem. Certainly there is less guarantee of success using the harder skills.  Even in politics, minister. Even in politics.




The Martyrdom Paradox

You are my hero carved on wood.


It  started with a question. What is a hero really? Perhaps that conversation encouraged Jo Rittey to compose the following blog. In summary, her blog talks about a so-called hero called the Fair Unknown. He’s a nobody who asks a favour, does everything he’s told and in time is rewarded. Jo takes the view that the character and story are made up just to prove a point. And she’s right.

But for me, there’s more to it. I believe that the Fair Unknown or heroes like him do really exist.  Except as Jo rightly points out they’re not real heroes. But he’s not a literary construct made up to prove a point either. Otherwise the story would not have been retold throughout the ages. To me the Fair Unknown is a false hero, the perfect martyr.

His story to me paints the false idea that life is like a morality play or even reality TV!  The false idea is that a surrender of free will receives a glorious  reward. Taken further, the story of the Fair Unknown is an encouragement to people to martyr themselves unnecessarily. My reaction to the story of the Fair Unknown evoked the recollection of a strange and self-unveiling conversation about martyrs and heroes.

It began as a counselling session. It went off track and stayed that way. When I realised what was happening I became annoyed.  To break the tension I made a flippant joke about martyrs. Yet again the session went off track. To my surprise it became an interesting discussion of the definition of a martyr. That discussion created what I called the martyrdom paradox.

The paradox is that martyrs die to attain the impossible expecting an unknown reward.

Of course if the martyrs live they fail. Of course too if they don’t gain the impossible they also fail.

The paradox is that if martyrs gain the impossible and die in the attempt, no-one knows if they’ve succeeded and gained their reward. Effectively they are failed heroes who have sacrificed their free will for no tangible reward. Much like failed rescuers, they don’t save anyone, they don’t receive a reward and they die in the attempt.

So why is the story of the Fair Unknown is so evocative for me? Well that was almost me!

I thought that the story of the Fair Unknown was true. If I was obedient and subservient and sacrificed my free will then I would be rewarded. But in the end, I didn’t save anyone, I didn’t receive a reward and I died (as it were) in the attempt.

Heroes leading heroes

Heroes leading heroes

Conversely, a hero is a differently minted coin. Simply stated, he or she lives an ordinary life, has to leave that life, must face many challenges, goes on a journey, lives or dies in the attempt, saves others and may or may not save himself, but critically exercises free will and is transformed. The transformed hero succeeds with the intent of helping others knowing and willing to pay the cost!

And further his or her story is one that affords others the opportunity to help themselves and be transformed.



Why Doesn’t Gillian Triggs Leave? #IStandWithGillianTriggs

Last night’s ABC Q and A on domestic violence and the ongoing bullying of Gillian Triggs by the LNP would appear to have little to do with each other. But to me both events are more synchronous than coincidental.

Last night Q and A exposed some of the private stories of domestic violence. Today the Senate hearing that interviewed Gillian Triggs exposed the ongoing public corporate violence towards an individual.

Whether public or private, individual or groups, all of these stories run in parallel. They have the same theme. Much like Anastasia Steele in the movie 50 Shades of Grey, Professor Triggs and domestic violence victims all have been offered a deal.

Just do as you’re told. Don’t disagree. Don’t fight back. And all will go well with you.

Much like Rosie Batty, Gillian Triggs and the many victims of domestic violence, that deal involves accepting the unacceptable. As Julie McKay writes, it’s about giving into power.

What’s unacceptable includes having your parenting abilities called into question (both Rosie Batty and Gillian Triggs), being subject to gaslighting, having false rumours and allegations spread about you, etc, etc, right up to and including mental, physical and sexual violence.

What’s then unacceptable is then being asked “Why Don’t You Just Leave?” as if finding new accommodation, packing and leaving, paying rent and bond whilst leaving a relationship is easy. Rosie Batty’s response to Joe Hildebrand and her eloquent words last night say more than enough.

What’s also unacceptable is being implicitly asked to leave a role and then possibly promised another for not towing the line (See transcript).

As to the question “Why Doesn’t Gillian Triggs Leave?” No her perpetrators should. At least we know who they are.

And then we can focus on the children.