Safari Customer Service Meeting

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Three Realms of the Safari Customer Service Meeting

The Safari CSM deals with interpersonal conflict or dissonance that normally occurs when any group of people work together in any organization. The purpose of the CSM is to resolve these conflicts and to create an environment where there is continual mental development of the team members. By participating in the resolution of conflict people change their beliefs and their beliefs change their behaviors. Because different problems exist on different epistemological levels they are solved differently. Some can be solved from a purely pragmatic or formulaic standpoint and some of the issues are resolved by decisions about how we answer the “should” question in an ethical role as a Safari team member but some questions are beyond the formulaic stance or ethical stance and therefore must be resolved at the moral level. Morality compares the issue or current situation under investigation (what should we do?) to the norms or values embedded in the system e.g. culture. The ability to discern moral questions requires a cross-categorical way of knowing. This way of knowing is characterized by a belief in the control of outcomes and a belief in the self as the source for knowledge. In other words, I can use what I value internally as applied to the current situation to create new knowledge. By discussing my standpoint, my feelings, my truth about the situation with others that I respect; together we can come to a common understanding of a shared truth, a shared new knowledge that can serve as a vision of the desired future. The discourse, the utterances, the body language used in these communications helps us better realize the true meaning and to adopt, modify or reject these meanings as we co-create the cultural future of Safari.

The control of outcomes results from structural guidelines set for the conduct in the CSM coupled with experience of the power of Appreciative Inquiry as a communication tool that motivates for positive action. In other words the manager of the CSM who demonstrates self-authoring can direct the language used in formulating positive emotive questions. These questions; when answered and debated, create solutions on a moral level that cannot be created in any other way. These are solutions that create consensus resulting in the social contracts that bind together the cultural fabric of the whole. This is the foundational premise of Discourse Ethics as proposed by Habermas. Truth is therefore situational, truth can change because conditions change and as people challenge themselves to defend their version of the truth in a setting with other people doing the same, all undergo a mental movement toward cross-categorical understanding. This truth is elicited by raising the questions of what we “should” do as dissonance is observed in the cultural system. This process of self-authoring creates a setting where people start to believe in themselves and their ability to create change, which in itself is a two-stage process. The first is the understanding that all knowledge (truth) is temporary or conditional and the second is the belief that the creation of knowledge is not about comparing formulas or going to authorities but is about the self authoring of reasoning and judgement which is tested through discourse. The CSM sets the stage for this discourse.

The Pragmatic Realm

The practical issues that arise are primarily prescriptive after a diagnosis is made. In other words, these situations have occurred before and the solution is stored in the cultural memory. A reenactment of the proper behavior is relayed by one of the more senior staff members to prescribe the most effective way to deal with the situation when it occurs again. The mode of delivery is important in that the staff member communicating the message should do it in a positive manner, relaying the positive effects on the client, the pet or the task. Create an emotive positive frame of reference starting with the question such as; “Who can remember an instance where recommending wellness blood screens made a difference in the life of a pet?” From an Appreciative Inquiry basis, this gives the following story(s) a positive frame of reference as to why it is best to perform in the prescribed way for the business. Multiple people will participate in the discussion with their facial expressions, animations and tones of voice that will communicate truth and conviction in their meaning. This discussion will change the meaning making in any staff member who participates with regard to wellness blood screens. This discussion also creates a common bond weaving common thread binding all team members in the same fabric of understanding. This information bonding creates a cultural system based on the positive aspects of the job and the rewards for choosing the correct answer to the “what “should” I do?” question. This shared meaning causes the staff member to reevaluate their role and perhaps even their life goals. They start to see themselves as a person who can make a difference in the lives of pets. They become a pet care giver and it is this positive energy that may stimulate them to start to reevaluate their whole life mission. The purpose of the discourse is not to show how the staff member was incorrect or wrong in his or her behavior. As a matter of fact, the staff members name is never mentioned in this regard only why it is best for the practice staff to perform this way. Even though there are negative sides to failure to recommend blood screens affecting both the financial and pet health aspects of the job, these are not mentioned because the appropriate behavior is best created by focusing on the positive effects and any attention to the negative effects is wasted time and will only make the negative grow larger.

The Ethical Realm

Many of the younger staff that we hire at Safari have yet to move from the concrete epistemological level to the socialized level. Younger second order people do not care about the culture, their mental capacity for choice is limited to what they see and experience directly or concretely. They live only in the moment and they do not see their actions or decisions as having long or lasting results they do not have attachment to cultural values or norms. As a matter of fact they are counter-cultural in the way they act, they way they dress the way they talk and communicate among themselves. This creates and has created a huge dilemma for parents and employers wanting their child to transition from this epistemological level to the next so they can become a part of society a part of the cultural body. Some parts of the society protect these individuals from developing. Many young adults have the “failure to launch” syndrome where they stay in their parent’s home while going to university or starting out in their career, which protects them from the stress of having to live on their own. This shelter protects the mind from having to develop the complexity to deal in today’s culture. To survive in the culture, one must have an appreciation for it, must learn its rules and must use these rules to gain advantage. In addition, many veterinarians have not yet developed more complex ways of knowing because the universities and professors tend to provide so many formulas (e.g., plans and black and white answers, directives, and policies) for success that students do not have to think about how to get what they want or why they have the goals, beliefs, and/or values they do. Students identify categories (pre-defined cultural norms) of being and behavior (e.g., good vet, good student, good surgeon). Through their ability to locate and follow appropriate formulas for achieving these categorical labels, students strive for these categorical goals, but they are not challenged to identify and understand meaning making beyond these categories. Eventually this categorical way of knowing will conflict with what the individual self needs, wants or desires creating internal dissonance that will eventually lead the mind to develop to the next way of knowing.

Therefore, many of the staff we hire are struggling with the conceptualization of the curricula that they are expected to follow in the workplace. They do not have the mental and developmental tools to deal with the complexities demanded by the culture. They have yet to be enculturated because their minds cannot grasp the level of thought necessary for effective navigation in this realm.

The CSM provides the support and backdrop that allows a person at this stage of development to gain new meaning to life through the transformational languages used within the Safari business. These languages demonstrate the truth of the value of service, the value of the self in the creation of knowledge, the value of synergism through teamwork and discourse. The social system in Safari supports the transformation of a young person who is struggling with the development of independence to the value of interdependence. By joining this team and understanding the value of mastering the pragmatic goals and guidelines this young person develops a change in mind. A change that allows this person, for the first time in his life story to learn to hold in suspension what is best for them for what may be best for another or for the group. In other words this person can now make their personal needs objective (or objects that they control) so that they can serve others. Prior to this epistemological event their subjective needs controlled the behaviour of the individual counter to the culture. Now the individual has become a subject of the culture with his personal needs a controllable object of his mind. It is essential for the Safari business to enable this type of transformation of young people so that they can participate more effectively in their role at Safari as well as their role in their lives as a whole. The transformative tool is again language and the setting is the Safari Customer Service Meeting. We have taken a step from the pragmatic issues that develop where choices are made among a relatively fixed set of solutions to the question of what “should” I do? It is an entirely different setting when the person is no longer making those choices from a pragmatic viewpoint but from a viewpoint of an individual’s self-understanding and questions of a happy or non-failed life – the ethical viewpoint. The question then becomes how should my conduct change (how should my personal ethic change) so that I can have a realization of my personal life project. How is this personal life project in alignment with the vision and goals of Safari?

The Moral Realm

Moral judgements of actions and the assumptions or maxims that govern actions are different than the ethical viewpoint just visited. Moral thought serves to clarify legitimate behavioural expectations in response to interpersonal conflicts resulting from the disruption of our orderly coexistence by conflicts of interest. This is a concern of the justification and application of societal or cultural norms that stipulate reciprocal rights and duties. In other words, how do my actions as a member of the society fit the expectations of the society? If my actions cause conflict, how should this conflict (dissonance) be resolved? What are the expectations of a member of the society? How are these expectations made explicit so that discussion can be had to understand them or to make meaning of them? The Moral realm concerns the entire population and the basic written or unwritten rules that govern what is deemed right or just. In Safari terms this Moral realm also determines the justification and the purpose of the business. Does the basic underlying purpose and guiding principles match the needs of the pet owning public? The needs of the pet owning public are different in different countries and in different areas of each country and these needs may change over time. How does Safari adapt to the changes in the cultural landscape? How does this affect the behaviours of the people who work for Safari?

Safari CSM sets the stage for the development of a social contract which is written or co-authored each week through discourse occurring within the constraints of guidelines set forth for conducting a Safari Customer Service Meeting. The authoring of this social contract is at the heart of the moral realm. Self-authored people use more complex ways of knowing as they understand that knowledge is created through a social act. That is knowledge is created by people interacting with other people and this process of knowledge creation involves keeping in mind their individual beliefs, values and goals while interacting with others to maintain healthy relationships. It is this autonomous mind that can simultaneously maintain the needs of the individual, the needs of other people and the process of effective communication (discourse) to create integrated new knowledge.

Safari Customer Service Meeting Language

The essential purpose of the Customer Service Meeting is to develop people working for Safari practices in such a way that they answer the “should” question appropriately. It is not assumed that all communications will be perfect and therefore the CSM is a learning environment where there is celebration of positive results and comparison to less effective past behavior so that all can learn how to progress in the future. Meaning cannot be understood using written rules or guidelines specifying proper actions or behavior but must be viewed pragmatically in terms of acceptable utterances in which co-workers share stories of success or failure as they have answered the “should” question in the past week of work.


Utterances are communications using facial expression, body language and tone inflection that communicate much more than the written word. These utterances can be judged by those in attendance as to their validity and appropriateness for the stated situation, in other words truth is determined by more than the written account of the communication but also the way the account is delivered. The basic unit of meaning is therefore not the sentence, statement, or proposition but the speech act whose primary function is to structure the social interaction binding all involved in a common understanding. It is this common understanding that over time develops the culture and enrolls all who participate as members in it. This membership is derived from the connections established between meaning, rationality, and validity (truth) which is tied directly to human action and interaction in a real-time sphere of influence. Meaning making is therefore inseparable from the role of language in structuring social interactions.


The gravity of this concept drives home the reason why all staff members must attend the CSM and why written minutes will not serve the same purpose as attendance in the meeting itself would. The Safari Knowledge Systems Customer Service Meeting enables all who attend to participate in the sharing and the creation of the knowledge necessary to address the needs of the staff member who is trying to answer the “should” question. All individuals use their ability to communicate with others to function as members of their culture, their community, their social group and their family as well as at work. This ability to communicate endows the individual with a universal human capacity to know the truth contained within or tacit knowledge of the basic building blocks of their culture, their way of life, their basis for understanding and sets the background for honest communication. In other words, people who share the same language, share the same understanding and share the same determination of the truth contained in a discussion can therefore participate in deciding if this truth is applicable for this situation. Therefore all people who are employees of SKS have the ability, and responsibility to help the team make value judgments (judge the value of the truth for the situation). These value judgments create knowledge and it is this knowledge that adds value to the Safari System. For all staff members to take ownership of this knowledge, all must take part in the sharing, validation and creation of this knowledge hence all must attend the CSM. When all staff members take ownership of the knowledge, they become bound by the common understanding, in a social contract guided by the principles embodied in the Safari way of practice.

The staff member who participates in the discourse, discussions and value statements of a CSM has the opportunity to develop new understandings, new knowledge about themselves, knowledge about their own values, their way of life, their mode of meaning making and it is this self-evaluation that can lead to transformation from one way of meaning making to the next epistemological level. The staff member who is involved in this process has the opportunity to change, to develop and to also support the development of others. It is this development that adds human value to the individuals that work for Safari. This human value affects not only they way people work but also the way they live. It not only prepares them to solve the “should” question at work but also in everyday life.

The structure that the Safari CSM takes is important to ensure proper representation and proper voice.

Structure Points

  1. The meeting space should be a trusted space as trust is the first human need that must be satisfied for a successful CSM. The human process of communication is about truthful communication, if it were not people could not operate in communities much less teams at work. A trusted environment is necessary for truthful communications.
    1. To avoid hierarchical status from inhibiting conversations all team members sit in a circle this includes the veterinarians.
    2. Everyone must speak about an issue. If possible the issue should be framed positively or told as a story. Going around the circle allowing everyone to state their feelings or opinions or tell their story about the weeks activities.
    3. Veterinarians and practice managers or team leaders should speak only with positive appreciative statements. Preferably using appreciative questions to draw out what is best about the situation at hand.
    4. The CSM should not be used as a vehicle to air dirty laundry or discuss the bad actions of any individual. Language is used by team leaders to change the negative to positive language.
    5. People should treat each other with professional respect and professional language representing professional ladies and gentlemen.
    6. Personal agendas are not allowed. People speaking from a political or strategic personal agenda points of view are politely told that this is not the forum for such communications. This is not to say these communications are not important or valuable but just that they are handled at another time in another place.
  2. When someone is speaking they should be asserting only what he or she really believes. Not what they have heard others say but what they believe to be the truth.
    1. No speaker may lie or contradict himself.
    2. Speakers should strive to apply logic that benefits all stakeholders (client, pet, staff, vets) when possible
    3. Speakers should strive to use language that all understand. Terms and phrases or slang that is not understood by all should be interpreted. This is particularly true of veterinarians and technicians or nurses using technical terms but can also apply to colloquial terms or phrases. Speakers should refrain from using the same expression applied to different meanings.
  3. A topic of discussion should remain under discussion until it is resolved or until all who wish to communicate about the topic have done so. No person should change the subject, or address a tangential issue until the topic under discussion is finished.
  4. When dealing with pragmatic issues. These are issues that have occurred before and have known solutions. It is important for all aspects of the issue to be explained so new staff members can fully understand the context of the solution that is offered. It is best if an analogy or metaphor is used in story form that represents the lesson learned.
  5. Every person in attendance must be allowed to speak. The goal is to protect the equal opportunity of every staff member to contribute to the language community.
    1. Everyone is allowed to question any assertion. Even if the assertion comes from a superior or the veterinarian.
    2. Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse.
    3. No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion from speaking.
    4. Speakers may express feelings, desires, needs and attitudes as they apply to the topic of discussion.


The Safari Customer Service meeting uses appreciative storytelling to develop the dialog and discourse that creates the desired positive learning environment. Storytelling like any powerful tool must be used carefully to avoid shunning team members whose story may not have a positive outcome. Storytelling has been effective in creating cultural learning for as long as humans have lived together as a group. Now we understand the power of language as a transformative force in the formation of meaning in an individual as well as a team of people. We must use this powerful force correctly to create pride in the culture or way of life.


If not used properly this powerful tool will create the opposite of pride – the language may create the feeling of shame. In the mechanistic past characterized by the industrial age, business was regarded as a machine: if all the parts are in place and working, the mechanism works. If the machine is not working it means there is a missing part or the part is defective. It is shameful to be a defective part and in as much shame has been used in the past to control behavior by assessing what isn't working so these “shameful” defects can be repaired. Using shame causes people to be marginalized from the group and should be avoided at all costs. Veterinarians must guard against any negative statement in these meetings as these negative statements are likely to make individuals feel shame.

Imaging a group of early humans gathered around an evening fire. Beyond the warmth and safety of the blaze, this community was bound together by a uniquely human process: sharing stories. The connection created by telling stories was as important for survival as food and shelter. Storytelling is the force that forms human communities. The stories we value together transform individuals into cohesive webs of shared meaning, belonging (membership) and striving.

Now pull away from the circle and notice one man standing apart, in the dark. He was shunned, pushed out in shame for behavior that somehow threatened the integrity of the community. With his stories devalued, his link to the group was severed. He existed in a perilous limbo, an identity in doubt.

So shame involves our sense of defectiveness, our unworthiness to belong. Shame lurks in the gaps between our perceived "real" and "ideal" selves-how we are compared with how we "should" be. When our engagement in rewarding activities and relationships is interrupted, excitement and joy fade. We begin to shut down, withdraw. This is when we construct stories and images of ourselves as deficient, unworthy, unlovable.

Being told our contribution isn't valued doesn't immediately threaten our survival, but it can be a powerful experience that resonates back to the shunned tribesman. Being criticized, especially in public, triggers doubts. When we are told, "You're wrong", we may hear "You're incompetent". Criticism can reawaken our old stories of defectiveness. Our confidence about the future slips. We may manage this sense of threat by withdrawing or fighting back against the criticism. Such defensiveness infects the team atmosphere, reverberating in waves of resistance and criticism.


Pride is pleasure in our own competence. Pride is a delight in seeing how our efforts made a positive difference. (Yet healthy pride means accepting limitations, knowing we never do it all by ourselves.)

Having our success acknowledged by another reminds us we are valued and needed. This sharing expands our inner stories of pride and minimizes images of shame. Fortified with a clearer and fuller vision of our capabilities, we move toward the future more confidently.

Being recognized by others also strengthens connections. It renews our welcome into the security of the community and opens channels for effective dialogue, so essential for "co-laboring". More specifically, the mutual sharing of pride leads to fuller knowledge of each other's capabilities. Teammates then know where to turn when a task requires particular talents. This information makes the combining of complementary strengths more likely. Mutual mining of assets means each person feel acknowledged and valued specifically for what they offer and who they are. Teammates see clearly how their strengths contribute to progress and so more fully enjoy team success.

The more often we have these success conversations, the more eager we are to cooperate, trust and learn. We feel safer, more willing to risk putting our ideas into play. In this environment, difficult choices come easier so projects move ahead more smoothly. Decisions that contain multiple voices more powerfully address complex, nuanced challenges.

In the CSM we should avoid language or communications that spell out deficits we should only use the positive. The term for this process is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Broadly speaking, David Cooperrider sees Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system (as apposed to a dead mechanistic system described above) when it is most alive, effective and constructively capable. AI is the art and practice of asking questions, of asking the ‘unconditional positive question’.