Dialogue Team
Recently, I was at a family get-together. You know how it goes—brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and children of cousins. 

The family made much ado of one cousin’s 17-year old son receiving accolades for his star status on the high-school debate team. His team travels the region arguing, trapping, and basically smashing the other’s viewpoints as judges score each blow. The family is very proud and has high expectations for his future. I’m not so sure.

My interaction with him, albeit brief, was draining. I felt like I had been in a fight—about NFL football, the weather, and the color of the grass. Punch. Counterpunch. Knockdown. I learned little; he even less.

I left wondering what a high-school dialogue team would look like. Traveling kids respecting each other, listening to understand, withholding judgment, acting with compassion, and together seeking to create a better, third alternative to our society’s tough questions. These are the skills that will serve him, and all of us, best in the future. 

A dialogue tournament. Now how would one score that?
DEV / DIALOGUE / Dec 5, 2011, 3:22pm / Comments (0)
Better Together
For two years, I had a kayak.  One kayak.  
 
One kayak is not much fun.  The fun of exploring and discovering is doing it with someone else. “Hey, look at that.”  “Over here, you won’t believe this.” “Man, that was a good float, let’s get something to eat.”
 
I find work to be the same. Projects are more fun and decisions are better when created together. Ideas are more innovative, our thinking more rich, our problems less insurmountable, and our joy more intense when experienced with others.
 
Why then, do we often struggle with our “togetherness” in a work setting? Is it because of titles, power, ego, performance evaluations, customer demands, outdated processes, or poor leadership?  Imagine the possibilities if these were non-issues.  How do we get past these barriers?
 
At THINC, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping clients think together in productive and authentic ways. We live to produce authentic dialogue and focused action.  If you do too, or would like to know more, we’d love to hear from you.  Share your stories—let’s learn together.
 
Last Friday—I bought another kayak. 
DEV / DIALOGUE / Sep 15, 2011, 3:51pm / Comments (0)
Seeing More Clearly with FOG
I have ants. More correctly, ants are in my house. 
 
Thinking about how to remove the ants, I remembered seeing a product where unwanted bugs take the bait, but it doesn’t kill them immediately. Instead, they carry it back to their colony and offer it as food to the group. The bait then poisons the queen and the other ants.
 
Sometimes, humans operate this way as well. We bring information into our groups and organizations. We often call this information “a fact” when in reality it is an opinion or a guess disguised as a fact. We may even use words like “The fact is if we don’t …”  The group digests this information, makes decisions based on it, and often reaches erroneous conclusions. The result is a poisonous course of action.
 
At THINC, we often encourage groups to use the “FOG Test.” For statements individuals make, we ask if the statement is: 
  • FACT. Is this something that can be verified by independent and credible data?
  • an OPINION. Is this something you believe to be true or have a strong feeling about? Is this a value of yours?
  • or a GUESS. Is this something you aren’t sure is true but could, and probably should, be true?
 
Next time you are in a meeting apply the FOG test. You may be surprised to find the extent to which opinions and guesses masquerade as facts. Spending the time and effort to identify and use accurate information on the front-end can save disastrous action on the backend.  
DEV / DIALOGUE / TOOLS / Jul 6, 2011, 8:03pm / Comments (0)
Does My Omniscience Bother You?
Amazingly, our culture is full of omniscient people.
 
Or so it seems from people whose behaviors I observed over the past week:
  • All-knowing people who freely shared their truth—the truth, which they had in abundance—informing lesser beings about what they should think and do.
  • People with no questions, only answers.
  • Those who, instead of listening, reloaded, preparing to fire off their next rejoinder.
  • People who filtered incoming data for that which confirmed their worldview.
Tune in to popular talk shows, listen to our colleagues at work, and reflect on our own conversations for more of the same. At one time or another, we all have engaged in these kinds of unconscious behaviors to show that we are smart, capable, and right—maybe even god-like.
 
And frankly, it's annoying (not to mention bad for business, which is a topic for another blog).
 
Inquiry is an important antidote for omniscience. Inquiry is not asking questions that can be answered with yes or no—questions that begin with phrases like “Don’t you agree that…?” or “Have you considered…?” Neither is it asking questions to which we believe we already possess the answer.
 
Inquiry is asking open-ended questions and then listening—truly listening—for the other’s perspective. Inquiry requires listening with curiosity and readiness to hear ideas that may challenge our worldview.
 
“What is your understanding of the situation and how we might address it?”
“What leads you to think that? What experience or data can you share?”
“What is your thinking about what we should do next?”
“What is important to you, going forward?”
 
Let's stop sitting in for God. Inquire of someone today, and then shut up and listen.
RUTH / INQUIRY / DIALOGUE / TOOLS / Jun 27, 2011, 7:21pm / Comments (0)
Dog Day Decisions
My dog, Gizmo, frustrates me.
 
We aren’t supposed to feed him people food, but we all do. He likes carrots, popcorn, and, of course, red meat.
 
When he believes a people treat is coming, he dances, shakes, wiggles—basically a full-blown anticipatory conniption. After all the excitement, he gets his treat and whomp, it’s gone. In one swallow. Done. Where’s the next one?
 
I’ve seen groups make decisions like this. Heck, I’ve made decisions like this.

Take a little information, mix it with gut feel, shut down the dissenters, and whomp—decision made. The stickiness of such decisions is often as fleeting as Gizmo’s enjoyment. People aren’t committed. We forgot a crucial stakeholder. We had incomplete data. Important elements are changed in the hallway conversation after the meeting. 
 
In his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, acclaimed consultant Peter Block identifies six critical conversations that when used together are transformative and build lasting community. The six conversations are: Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, and Gifts.  
 
I’ve facilitated meetings using these six conversations. The energy and participation were palpable. Participants were more energized, more committed, and more united. They left saying, “Why don’t we do this more often?,” “I’ve known Shelia for 10 years and didn’t know she felt that way,” and “We finally got somewhere.” 
 
In our fast-paced, what’s-the-next-thing world it can pay to slow down.

Savor the process: seek the right input, allow for dissent, make the decision, identify available gifts, secure true commitment, and build the team.  
 
Gizmo’s an old dog and probably won’t learn new tricks. Do we have to share the same fate?
DEV / DECISIONS / DIALOGUE / Jun 3, 2011, 6:39pm / Comments (2)
Lentils, Language, and Leadership
This is the time of year college-aged offspring grace their parents with their presence, now that the spring semester has ended and they are low on cash. I recall a conversation between my boys when they were of this age, as they discussed the relative merits of living home for the summer. The obvious factors were access to a car, a free place to sleep and eat, and handy laundry facilities just in case they were inspired to use them. “Plus,” they joked, “there’s Mom’s lentil soup.”
 
I make lentil soup for reasons understandable to most people my age. First, the price is right: legumes are cheaper than meat as a protein source. Also, lentils cook in 20 minutes, lower LDL cholesterol, and the added spinach and tomatoes keep blood pressure in check. Not to mention the fiber content.
 
You can imagine that this didn’t translate to my young men. “LDL?” they scoffed. “You mean LOL. And what’s a legume? Sounds like a place you swim in the moonlight.” We lived in the same house and shared the same genetic information, but we didn’t speak the same language.
 
How might we cross such divides in our conversations when our words carry different meanings?
 
We can begin by checking on what important words mean. Roger Schwarz, in The Skilled Facilitator, considers this an important ground rule for effective groups. For example, I might ask my colleague from a partner organization, “When you use the word ‘partnership,’ I take it to mean that we design our work together and have equal say in decisions that affect both of us. Is that what you were thinking or did you mean something different?”
 
Next, we can simply adopt the language of others, appreciating their words and meaning rather than trying to change them. When working with clients around strategic planning, once I learn their meaning of “goal” or “strategy” or “tactic,” I can assume their language instead of imposing my definitions on them.
 
Finally, leaders have a special role in shared language. In his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea, David Whyte says, “The core act of leadership must be the act of making conversations real. The conversations of captaincy and leadership are the conversations that forge real relationships between the inside of a human being and their outer world, or between an organization and the world it serves.” A leader’s job, in other words, is to employ conversations that explore meaning and connections between the leader’s vision and how others see the world. This requires inquiry and listening, not just talking, and it is essential to energizing commitment to good work.
 
These kinds of conversations will strengthen the bonds with my boys too, though it’s unlikely they’ll appreciate my lentil soup strategy for many years.
RUTH / DIALOGUE / May 27, 2011, 11:27pm / Comments (0)
Boxed in by Degrees
I saw a car with the license plate “BSRNBSN”—perhaps the initials of the driver’s children. More likely, the letters stand for BS/RN/BSN or Bachelors of Science, Registered Nurse, and Bachelors of Science Nursing, respectively.
 
Evidently, the driver was proud of his/her academic accomplishments and seemed to identify greatly with them.
 
When we facilitate group dialogue, we ask people to “leave their titles at the door.” Minimizing roles, power, and positions enables groups to share more freely, embrace broader perspectives, and explore greater possibilities.
 
Why do we allow ourselves to get boxed in by our titles and degrees? Worse yet, why do we box others out because we consider their formal accomplishments inferior to our own? Or conversely, why are we intimidated by fancy titles or a long string of letters after a name?
 
Today, ask yourself “What solution/perspective/beauty am I missing because I have discounted the views of others?” You may be surprised by what you find.
DEV / DIALOGUE / May 21, 2011, 12:47am / Comments (0)
Four Player, Anyone?
Have you left a meeting and wondered, “What the heck just happened? What did we do for the last hour?” Of course you have—we all have.
 
A few weeks ago, I worked with a client in the Southwest to help prioritize projects, plan tasks, and work on communication protocols. Having experience with this group, I knew that structured and focused conversation was not a native strength.  
 
Don’t get me wrong—these are some of the smartest, hardest working, most generous people I’ve met. However, sometimes their brilliance and optimism throws them off focus. 
 
To help structure a better conversation, I introduced the group to David Kantor’s “Four Player” Model.  Kantor, a former Harvard psychologist and founder of the Monitor Group global consulting firm, suggests that healthy conversations have four roles or players.
  1. Mover who proposes new ideas or solutions and pushes for a way forward
  2. Follower who advances and refines the mover’s ideas and drives for completion
  3. Opposer who provides contrasting perspectives and enhances the quality of the group decisions
  4. Bystander who adds a neutral perspective and reflects on the quality of the conversation itself
 
The group identified their instinctive roles and made a conscious decision to utilize the four players over the two-day meeting. It was slow going at first, with each member reverting to their natural styles—predominately movers in this hard-charging group.  
 
On a few occasions, I had to call a bystander into the room asking, “So, Janet, where are we in this conversation? What do you see happening in the meeting?” Janet would make an insightful comment, and the group redirected to get back on track.
 
Soon, individuals started identifying more closely with the roles saying “I’m going to oppose here, and…” or “I’ve been playing the mover a lot; maybe I should be quiet and listen.” 
 
Three weeks later and the group is still using the terminology and reports the quality of their conversations is much better—they are “actually more focused and getting things done.”  
 
Next time you are in a seemingly pointless meeting, look for the four players. Do you have too much of one player? Does a certain role need to be called into the conversation? Better yet, play the bystander by saying, “Can I make an observation here? For the last 30 minutes we’ve…” Do this and watch your meetings go from pointless to productive.  
DEV / DIALOGUE / TOOLS / Apr 26, 2011, 8:27pm / Comments (0)
Bodies—and Other Stuff—Revealed
Over spring break, I took my three young sons to see Bodies Revealed at the Van Andel Museum. The exhibit consists of real human bodies and various body parts without skin, hair, and other components depending upon which biological system was highlighted. Needless to say, my boys were a little apprehensive…as was I. 
 
The exhibit was truly fascinating, and I was profoundly struck by two things:
  1. When you take the clothes, skin, and hair off of a body, they all pretty much look the same. Perhaps for the first time, I truly understood that we are all humans underneath the shell of skin color, hair-styles, job-titles, houses, and other accoutrements. As humans, we generally have the same needs (to be competent, to know we are doing good in the world, and to be worthy of love), the same fears (not satisfying those needs), and the same desires.  
  1.  It was a little unnerving to see people so exposed. Opening up, standing in front of thousands or millions, and saying “this is who I am; this is what I’m made of” can be uncomfortable—yet, we each have a deep need to do just that. When we allow others in, our relationships, conversations, and decisions are more genuine and effective. It is scary to expose ourselves, yet doing so enables us to live in fullness and freedom. To others watching, like my boys at the exhibit, exposure provokes anxiety but is also exhilarating, engaging, and inspiring.
Why do we allow the superficial, the immediately visible, to determine our behavior? Why do we allow the masks to keep us from truly knowing and accepting ourselves and others? What would happen to ourselves, our groups, and our organizations if we were bold enough to expose our thinking, feelings, objections, and aspirations?

A bit like the producers of Bodies Revealed, Ruth and I build safe spaces where groups can “take off” their defensive skins and be truly present and involved. We use a simple, four-step model to coach individuals to examine their motives, desires, and behavior. Using tools of inquiry and disclosure, we open up thinking and feeling for others to see. We do this because we believe it increases engagement, improves decision-making, and creates true change in the world.   
DEV / DIALOGUE / Apr 11, 2011, 8:59pm / Comments (0)
Musings
Ideas worth sharing.


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