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How to Create More Dialogue and Engagement with Gavriella Schuster

We’ve got a special treat for you today. Our guest on the podcast this week is powerhouse Gavriella Schuster. Gavriella is a 24-year veteran at Microsoft who has grown their P&L to $6.5 billion and currently leads their global portfolio of channel partners that reached $1 trillion in the ecosystem revenues. With 20 plus years of leadership expertise in different roles with Microsoft, we’re so honored to have her here to share her insight on conflict and some of her key takeaways from the work she’s done with us as a client.

Gavriella is on today to share some of her wisdom around conflict resolution and how she’s trying to change the culture at Microsoft to invite more dialogue with her peers and be a vulnerable and authentic leader. As a highly successful woman in a male-dominated high tech industry, she’s giving us the low-down into how the way she verbalizes and handles conflict has changed over time.

Join us this week to listen in on our conversation and discover how Gavriella has learned to speak with more confidence, have more courageous discussions as a leader, and how this work has affected her day-to-day conversations.

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Learn More:

  • What a ‘partner’ at Microsoft means.

  • The different roles Gavriella has taken up in her 24 years at Microsoft.

  • How the culture at Microsoft has evolved with each leader that came in.

  • Why Gavriella started working with us and what she’s learned about conflict since then.

  • How Gavriella has changed the way she verbalizes things over time.

  • The value Gavriella has seen in trying to shift the culture at Microsoft.

  • How the work Gavriella has done has affected her relationship with her peers.

  • Gavriella’s key takeaways from the work she’s done with us over the last year.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie Campbell: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. Hi, I'm CrisMarie.

Susan Clarke: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people, unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict, and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuck-ness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

CrisMarie Campbell: We've spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

Susan Clarke: Welcome. Today, we have Gavriella Schuster who is a C-level Microsoft leader who has grown a P&L to $6.5 billion and currently leads their global portfolio of channel partners that reached $1 trillion in the ecosystem revenues. With 20 plus years of leadership expertise in digital and cloud transformation roles, her strategy and execution expertise spans all aspects of business model and product development. Launch, marketing, sales and partner development. She leads the global recruitment, enablement and engagement of Microsoft's fast-growing partner ecosystem.

Additional areas of her specialization include licensing models, digital marketing, and global routes to market. Gavriella specializes in starting up and turning around businesses by inspiring a vision for future customer relevance and engaging the team in developing the roadmap. She has worked at Microsoft for the last 23 years and reinvented herself across eight different disciplines over her career.

CrisMarie Campbell: That's amazing.

Susan Clarke: All right. Well, welcome.

CrisMarie Campbell: Today, we are lucky to have a client of ours, a very special person, Gavriella Schuster, who's a leader at Microsoft. Are you wanting to say something, Susan?

Susan Clarke: No.

CrisMarie Campbell: Okay. So Gavriella, why don't you, for our listeners, tell us a little bit about you, your role at Microsoft. Let's start from there.

Gavriella Schuster: Great. So, I am a 24-year veteran at Microsoft, and I'm the corporate vice president for our partner ecosystem. In Microsoft terms, that's any technology partner that does business with Microsoft.

CrisMarie Campbell: Fabulous.

Susan Clarke: Just so the rest of the people out there can get an idea, how many partners are you talking about?

Gavriella Schuster: We have about 300,000 various partners around the world.

CrisMarie Campbell: Maybe it would be helpful just to describe what a partner is for Microsoft because many people may not understand that.

Gavriella Schuster: Sure. So, a partner is any organization that builds upon Microsoft's platforms to build their own software services. In traditional terms, those are called independent software vendors. Then also any partner that might resell Microsoft products, technologies or services, partners that do deployment planning services, project services, outsourcing, hosting, any managed services on Microsoft’s platform with our customers. Those are all partners.

Susan Clarke: Wow. Now, you've been in Microsoft for 24 years though. So, I imagine you've come through many different parts of the business.

Gavriella Schuster: Sure. This is my 14th role in my 24 years, and I have crossed about six different disciplines at Microsoft. So, I've worked in our operations organization, I've worked in subsidiary sales and marketing, I've done licensing and business planning, I've done merger and acquisition work, product management.

For a while, I was leading our Windows commercial client business. Also started up Azure. When it first started, and I was running our cloud and enterprise business, and I did training and certification for a while, and I did enterprise services for a while. So, yeah, I've, I've done quite a few things across Microsoft.

CrisMarie Campbell: That's amazing. I just remember when we first met about a year ago, and we were having dinner and talking about your career at Microsoft, and realizing that we both worked for the same VP when I was at Arthur Anderson doing several projects.

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah, he was actually the guy that hired me.

CrisMarie Campbell: Really? That’s amazing.

Susan Clarke: So, you know the whole point of our podcast here is we talk about the concept of the beauty of conflict, and I'm imagining over the years that you've been working at Microsoft, you have learned various things about conflict, and short comes up. We've come in to work with you and your team around some of these issues to try to kind of move through. So, I'd love to hear your take on how has it been at Microsoft? What have you learned?

CrisMarie Campbell: Just even through your entire arc of your career.

Gavriella Schuster: It's interesting because Microsoft, in my very early days, was a place where we thrived on conflict. If it wasn't conflict in a meeting, then it wasn’t a good meeting, and it wasn't necessarily healthy conflict. It was like people would play the role of devil's advocate, as they used to say, just to make sure that we were thinking through everything, but they would do it in a pretty condescending way, and generally, there was a lot of yelling. There was a lot of interrupting. What we used to call precision questioning and answering. Somebody would ask you a question, and it was designed to find flaws in whatever you had said. So, that was the very early days of Microsoft where conflict was just if you couldn't deal with conflict, then you didn't belong there, and they basically drove out anybody couldn't handle conflict.

CrisMarie Campbell: Wow.

Susan Clarke: That's kind of funny because I had a client early on who would tell me some of his stories of working with Bill Gates in particular and what it was like. I remember thinking, “Wow.”

CrisMarie Campbell: Even that vice president we both worked for, I remember.

Gavriella Schuster: Exactly. You knew if you didn't say the right thing because he would bang his head on the table. Then Microsoft tried to start changing the culture, and put customers at the center, and ease back on conflict. But I think that at that point, a lot of it went underground, and there became a lot of back channeling as opposed to open dialogue in meetings.

It became much more hierarchical, the whole organization, that you didn't question authority, that whatever your manager said, and then the back channel, this was the word, how do I influence the decision maker in a different way other than conflict in the middle of the meeting?

Then it became about influencing the influencers, and back channeling, and one-on-one dialogue, and socializing ideas well before you go into the meetings, so that the meeting was just basically a checkoff discussion. So, it changed dramatically, but I think, in my opinion, in a rather unhealthy way.

CrisMarie Campbell: I was thinking about, Gavriella, that's just a real consultant’s way of doing business, like to influence the influencers before the meeting so that the meeting is just like a checkbox. So, I don't know if there was a leadership change that influenced that change in culture, or when in the evolution of Microsoft that occurred. Do you remember?

Gavriella Schuster: Well, it started when bill Gates left because he was definitely the hard-charging, “We're just going to go in, and we're going to have it out, and question everything,” kind of guy. Then when he left and Steve Ballmer took over, Steve's style was very much, “I'm just going to tell you what to do,” and everything was like, “Well, Steve said. Well, Steve said.” So, everyone just did or not did what they imagined Steve meant when he said that, but there wasn't a lot of questioning back.

Then Kevin came in, and he was also, “Do what I am asking you to.” So, it just basically changed the culture. Eventually, you get fewer and fewer people that did it another way, and they bring in more and more people that they had worked with before, and the culture just starts to shift. Nothing was conscious.

Then when Satya took over, that was definitely one of the things that he started from the beginning to try and change because he recognized that the organization was not doing things well, that we were not questioning each other. We were not questioning common practices around the company, and he focused everyone on what he calls a growth mindset. It's kind of a broader term. He didn't coin that phrase or anything, but it's about thinking differently, and getting yourself to think out of the box, and pushing yourself to go beyond whatever you thought was conventional wisdom.

Then having others questioning you, and encouraging others to question you, and creating an environment that was much more open, transparent, and inclusive. So, he's been working on that for the last several years and has made quite a bit of progress, but, of course, it takes a while to change that kind of culture, especially one that wasn't purposeful, I think.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yeah. We started working with you and your team a little over a year ago, and how that was, what brought us in, why you brought us in, and what you discovered about conflict since then.

Gavriella Schuster: There’s a few things I realized like. One of them is I think if you talked to me a year ago, I don't know if I would’ve been as conscious about all this as I am now. So, just like becoming more aware of that, and encouraging people to have that conversation, and seeing where they may be hesitating, or there may be something else that they want to say or might need to say and not be saying it, and moving away from the, “Let's take it offline,” or, “Why don't you go work this out?” Or something like that, and instead bringing everyone into the dialogue and having the conversation together.

So, for me personally, what I've had to do is really try and change my way that I verbalize things, so that they're really much more questions. They're much more clearly questions, and making sure that I'm asking several ways in several times what I'm asking and trying to get to clarity before we leave the room.

CrisMarie Campbell: I know you and Susan have kind of a similar style. You're thinking out loud, and when you say things, it sounds like our fait accompli like, “Oh, this is it.” I think what you're saying is having to shift that and even prime the pump, which is a phrase we use to get people to, “No, I really do want you to disagree with me. I want you to engage and wrestle with this idea.” Does that fit for you, Gavriella?

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah, totally, absolutely. There's probably some part that's my personality, but I think part of it has been learned behavior as a woman in a high tech industry where the organization was focused on conflict, and creating conflict, and standing up for yourself, and having to have courageous conversations where we constantly had to challenge each other. I just learned to speak like that and speak with more confidence than I had so that people would listen to me. Now, I'm like, “Oh, okay. Wait a minute, let me back off of that a little bit and not do it that way.”

Susan Clarke: I agree. I think when you're dealing in a male dominated culture of conflict, I mean, I grew up with the colonel where I had to have my executive report. This was around the dinner table. I needed to know my opinion and present it confidently. So, I really get that, and I think a lot of women have adopted that strategy, or that masculine over-performing in that way to survive that sort of culture. So, I appreciate the shift that you're having to make.

CrisMarie Campbell: Hey, I have to tell you. I don't know if you remember this, but you had read Brené Brown's book, Daring Greatly, and you loved her idea, tell me where I'm wrong, but about vulnerability leadership. Does that fit?

Gavriella Schuster: Yes, absolutely. She's definitely one of my heroes.

CrisMarie Campbell: Then the piece that really just warmed my heart is you read The Beauty of Conflict, and you said, “Oh, this is how you can actually implement what Brené Brown is saying.

Gavriella Schuster: Exactly.

CrisMarie Campbell: I really appreciated that.

Susan Clarke: Just in working with you, some of it has been challenging. I think you thought, “Okay, once we got this, and people realize I want them to speak up, it's going to happen, and we're going to change,” and based upon some of our conversations, it hasn't been quite as straightforward as that and that. It's been a challenge. Tell me where I'm wrong.

Gavriella Schuster: Absolutely. It's definitely not as easy to get people to speak their mind, or speak up in a group, or challenge each other, say things that make someone else feel uncomfortable, or say things that they think call each other out, or throw someone under the bus. Those are two phrases that they seem to consistently say like, “I'm not comfortable. I'm challenging what they're saying when they believe that they're right, and that's their business, and it's not mine that I should bring up these other things that make me question what they're saying.” It's like, “Well, yeah, but we're not going to ever move forward, or learn something, or do something differently if you don't.!

CrisMarie Campbell: I've got to have everything perfect and bring it forward, and if anybody challenges me, I think this is even the internal of the person presenting. If somebody challenges me, I'm not going to look good. I'm going to look like I didn't think about it. So, in that sort of protective culture, it's hard to say, “Well, actually, I want your input, and I don't know if I've thought about this.” That's why we focus on the team because on a team, we want people to kind of drop in and know that people have their back. Those phrases, I'm like, “Really? Throw them under the bus? You're actually trying to make their idea better and help them succeed.”

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah. I think we do continue to struggle with that because although I've adopted a lot of phrases that we've talked through around, “Tell me more. What else is really going on for you? Please do challenge what I'm saying. This is just a suggestion.” Things like that. I don't know that everyone in the leadership team has internalized and adopted those things too. So, they don't invite it from each other as much, and that's what we're still working on.

Susan Clarke: It seems like one of the pieces, just in terms of working with your team and kind of broader with some of the OCP leadership group, is that often you guys have things, like you'll have a whole leadership development thing scheduled for 60 minutes.

The concept of actually being able to slow it down and take the time to pause, or I think sometimes you refer to it as time to wallow or to get into it, is not always an easy thing to create, and that it can seem like it's almost getting in the way. Yet it seems like whenever you guys have done it, it's actually been useful. Do you agree with that, and is it a challenge sometimes to make the time for that?

Gavriella Schuster: I do agree with that. We have so much work to do, and there is a tendency to try and cram a lot into any time that we have because we have limited time together to work through things. So, despite our best efforts of trimming down agendas and everything else, we tend to put a lot into them. I think what I've recognized is that we then just have to say when we're in a conversation, “Okay. Well, this is the most important conversation for us to have. So, let's just make sure we finish this conversation, and we will find another time for the rest of what we were going to talk about.”

It's a continual struggle because there's always more to talk about then we have time to talk about, and everybody processes information in different times, in different ways. Some people could be sitting in dialogue for 20 minutes or so before they even have their thoughts together, and then start to engage. So, you've been in this conversation for 20 minutes before they even offer up an opinion.

CrisMarie Campbell: I think about how much time is wasted in the whole trying to get everything perfect and already baked before you bring it forward. Then you do have to slow down if you are bringing something to the team to even frame up their thinking so that they're in the zone if this thing that they haven't been thinking because it's not in their area.

Susan Clarke: I'm curious, Gavriella. Even this work has influenced how you are with your peers because I know you actually created an advisory group, different things, to try to begin to have more of that dialogue. Are you seeing it with your peers?

CrisMarie Campbell: The team you're a member of?

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah. I think one of the things that I've realized is that this cultural change, the culture is embedded everywhere, and that it wasn't something that was unique to my team. As I've gone out to try and have different conversations with my peers and in our meetings, that they work similarly, and that I'm really starting to buck the trend, basically, by being different, and acting different, and asking different questions. It does make people uncomfortable.

Susan Clarke: How are you doing with the comfort level of that? It's one thing to make people uncomfortable. It's another thing to learn to hold in that tension and stay with it. To not try to adjust. Sometimes that can be hard.

Gavriella Schuster: There are times where I do say, “Okay. Well, this is what my intention was and what I'm trying to accomplish, and I understand that it's made you uncomfortable. So, if this isn't working, we can put that aside and come back on this topic later.” It does get super uncomfortable for people, and if somebody hasn't been prepared to have that kind of conversation, it is hard to push through.

Susan Clarke: Early on, we often recommend to people not to have as many one-on-ones to try to get out of that hub-and-spoke. I think when we were working with you, you actually made a decision at some point like, “I'm going to have some of these one-on-ones still because this isn't quite working yet,” but I think you've been trying. So, it sounds like that example of what you just said where you kind of ask, and it wasn't really working.

CrisMarie Campbell: It's a hybrid idea.

Susan Clarke: A hybrid idea.

CrisMarie Campbell: A hybrid model of those two.

Susan Clarke: Yes.

Gavriella Schuster: Instead, we'll go through the one-on-one conversations, and then I'll say, “Okay. Well, this sounds like it'd be a great conversation for you to have with so and so. Do you feel comfortable going and having that conversation?” And/or, “Hey, maybe we should bring so and so into this conversation, and we should have this meeting altogether.” That tends to work a little bit better.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yes. I do really want to acknowledge, Gavriella, that you are trying to change your team culture in the midst of a culture that's still the grand culture of Microsoft, or the macro culture, that still has those, “Let's influence the influencers,” hasn't moved far enough along that continuum to hold the tension of those disagreements of the different meetings that these people are going to, your direct report. It takes time.

Susan Clarke: It really does take time, and it takes a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of, “I don't know if we're getting anywhere,” but staying committed to it to keep moving that forward. So, we've appreciated your effort in that, and your desire to keep working it.

CrisMarie Campbell: If you had to share just some key takeaways that you have picked up, gleaned, in working with us over the course of this year, just even for other leaders out there, if they're just starting this process, what might you say to them about how to create more dialogue and engagement in real conversations on their team?

Gavriella Schuster: I would say recognize when you are talking more than you're listening, stating something as opposed to asking a question, recognize some of the pregnant pauses that occur, and let them happen. Then ask a question about what's going on for you, what's on your mind, what's really happening here? Those are some of the things that I would say.

CrisMarie Campbell: I was even thinking one of the things, and this is even for you, is for when that strong opinion does come out, because it's also how you think and process information, and it's part of your passion, and really charm. But you can always add the phrase, “Tell me where I'm wrong. I really want to hear where you think I'm wrong. This is my hunch. This is my assumption, judgment, but I want to hear it. Tell me where I'm wrong.” It really invites somebody to, “I don’t know if you're wrong, but this is how I think about it,” is usually what winds up happening.

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah, exactly. Like, “Tell me where I'm wrong, or how would you do this if you were me? What's a different approach that we could take?” So, you don't necessarily even have to put somebody on the spot to tell you where they're wrong because that also tends to make people feel uncomfortable. “What do you think are some of the gaps in this idea where might we not be thinking all the way through this?” Just things like that. “Am I completely off track?” Something like that where somebody doesn't necessarily have to say, “Hey, you're wrong.”

CrisMarie Campbell: Right. Even giving input to other people's ideas of like, “When I've been in your shoes, this is what I've done or how I've thought about it.” Or, “If I were in your shoes, this is how I would think about it or do it,” or another couple of phrases, since you were doing the phrases thing.

Gavriella Schuster: Yeah, exactly. For me, it's just super helpful to have those phrases at the ready because then when you get into something, you can say, “Okay, maybe I should.” So, having some of those just in your mind, or written down even, helps.

CrisMarie Campbell: I agree.

Susan Clarke: One last question we generally love to ask leaders because we believe that a lot of times what happens at work is also applicable or learning you can take home. So, just out of curiosity, in your life and world, do you notice a difference in how you deal with conflict at home and at work, and did some of the same things apply?

Gavriella Schuster: It's way easier at home. I have found it is way easier to apply this stuff at home so far because I'm not bucking some culture that has some longstanding culture because I know that my husband and I set the culture of what happens.

Susan Clarke: That’s great.

Gavriella Schuster: The way to ask the question, and the way to get into the dialogue, and to recognize how to bring somebody out and draw somebody out. I've been able to use that a lot more not just at home, but just in general in my personal life, and having any conversations with friends or my extended family. “What's really going on here? It sounds like there's something else. Is there something else you want to say? Do you feel like there's something that's unsaid?” It's definitely helped. It's helped to get much deeper into a conversation. So, I think the other thing I've recognized is that there are times that I have the patience, and there are times that I don't, and I just need to not push it when I don't.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yeah, own it.

Susan Clarke: I think that is such a huge thing you just said because I think what happens is you could make yourself wrong for not having the patience, and then pretend to have the patience, and usually, people know really quickly when you're pretending. So, it's just better to, “Right now, I don't have the patients. I'm going to come back to them.”

Gavriella Schuster: I was having a conversation with my son the other day, and I said, “You know, this isn't a really important conversation, and I can't have it right now. I'm hungry, dinner's on the table, and I really need to go eat. So, as important as this is, I don't feel like I can pay attention and listen as I need to.”

Susan Clarke: That is great.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yeah, Gavriella, I love that.

Susan Clarke: That's so true. It sounds like you have a dog in the background there that’s not getting your attention. We know that feeling.

CrisMarie Campbell: Well, we’re coming to the end, and we really want to thank you for making the time.

Susan Clarke: Yes.

CrisMarie Campbell: We know how busy you are. So, this is really special. A special treat that we have this time with you. Any final words that you want to say before we sign off?

Gavriella Schuster: I really appreciate the work that we've done together. I have appreciated the coaching. I've seen the progress, and sometimes it's frustrating because it's not as fast as I'd like it to be that we don't get to the level of dialogue for so long in some conversations with people, but I have learned a lot in then saying, “It's okay.” We just have to take a deep breath, and keep going, and not try and shortcut it because there's no shortcuts. Entering into real dialogue and really moving through the conflict, working with the conflict, and making it productive, that you have to take the time that everybody needs to have the conversation.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yeah, and you're dealing with a much bigger team than your family at work. So, there's a multi-variable problem and the culture piece.

Susan Clarke: Business, sometimes in general, does tend to want to get to a result sometimes faster, and maybe it is hard to remember, “Oh, yeah. We need to slow down so we can actually get to the right result.”

CrisMarie Campbell: We go fast really in the end.

Gavriella Schuster: Absolutely.

CrisMarie Campbell: My phrase is progress, not perfection that I warm my heart.

Gavriella Schuster: Absolutely because, oh, my gosh, you never get to perfection.

Susan Clarke: Wow, that was great. I really enjoyed talking to Gavriella. One, because she is such a powerhouse in a powerhouse organization, and yet, I find her to be quite humble, and real, and acknowledging the challenges she's facing, and the evolution of that culture. I really like that.

CrisMarie Campbell: Over this last year working with her, I've really seen her taking risks to show up and be a vulnerable and authentic leader, which is very different than typically how leaders show up in those powerhouse companies. So, yeah, I admire her as well.

Susan Clarke: I love some of the key points that I thought she was making about the culture and how it's evolved at Microsoft, and even what she learned and how to unlearn it, the challenges of that. You get kind of numb to things, and then you go, “Oh, wait a minute. We have to change.”

It takes time to build back in dialogue and really listening to each other, and I think it's been a bit frustrating for her at times this year, but she's also been willing to hang in and really gets the value of it.

CrisMarie Campbell: Even being a woman, and having that numbness, and having to kind of wake up to like, “Wait a minute, I can be sensitive, and I should be sensitive to things,” and really asking questions to get that team dialogue. She's really seeing the value of getting a team to not take things offline, but really have the discussion.

Susan Clarke: We enjoyed having her today, and hope you did too.

CrisMarie Campbell: Yes. Take care.

Susan Clarke: Well, thank you for listening to the beauty of conflict podcast. If you're dealing with a difficult situation in your life or work, remember every conflict is a chance for you to be vulnerable, and curious, and find creative solutions that you hadn't considered before and make your situation even better.

Beautiful breakthroughs can be born out of conflict. We've seen this happen thousands of times over the last 20 years, and we know this is possible for everyone, including you. We're grateful you listened to this show, and we're rooting for you.

CrisMarie Campbell: If you enjoyed this show, please tell a few friends, and/or post a five-star review on iTunes. Your review helps new listeners discover the show, and more people listening to this show means less friction, and arguing, and suffering out in the world. That's a great thing for everyone.

And also, if you'd like to find out more about us, or have us work with your team, speak at your event, or coach with you, go to our website at To read our articles, join our newsletters, reach out to us, and learn more about us. Thanks again for listening. We hope you have a peaceful, productive, and beautiful day.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

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