Friday, June 19, 2009

Dialogue plus

Sadly, for many organizations, meetings are the place where great ideas are carved into little pieces or strangled by the discussion. On the surface, it can be very polite. We take turns to talk, we wait patiently for others to finish, or if they take too long, we casually/rudely interrupt, to speak our mind.

Sometimes the conversation moves around the table in an orderly fashion, determined by geographic location. But most meetings are more brutal. They bounce all over the place. Twenty per cent of the people do 80% of the talking. We argue. Debate. Persuade. Criticize. And attack ideas and people. Until just one idea is left standing.

Invariably, meetings become polarized. Coalitions form and we get locked into defending our positions. It happens because meetings are mostly random affairs that employ a muddle of relating methods (Monologue, Discussion, Dialogue, Debate, Fisticuffs) and different kinds of thinking (Information, Feelings, Benefits, Dangers/Risks, Next Steps).

But there is better way. It involves resolving our individual perspectives into a jointly created, all-embracing superb idea. To help us do this we use a knowledge creation tool that presents a sequence of open-ended discussable questions so everyone does the same kind of thinking at the same time. The tool comprises a bunch of keyboards connected to a computer. Each keyboard is connected to a space on the screen. There is also a public space where the ideas collect. Everyone can "talk" at the same time, so even the quiet people get a say.

People talk in pairs, type their ideas, read them aloud and make sense of what they see/hear. The stream of ideas converges over the course of a session, so that after 6-7 questions people reach similar conclusions.

We use a type of conversation I call Dialogue plus which combines the respectful aspects of dialogue and the synthesizing ways of dialectical discourse to create new knowledge together.

So, instead of spending millions of Dollars, Pounds, Kroner and Euros on leadership, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills to dash ideas to death politely, we use Dialogue plus to reach agreement/similar conclusions without the pain.

Here's an example of a guided conversation:

1. Choose a concept, theory, model or process to explore/better define/understand. e.g. how a car engine works.
2. What key words could you use to describe the concept (or theory, model, method or process)?
3. Using the most appropriate key words you have created, craft your best explanation of the concept(or theory, model, method or process).
4. Review the contributions. Now, building on the best explanations, craft a new and better explanation of the concept (or theory, model, method or process).

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