Guidelines for Engaging in Generative Dialogue (a.k.a. The Conversation)
[This article is crossposted from Jorge Jaime's blog, in response to my video post a few weeks back about "The Conversation." I recorded an hour long chat on skype with Scott Lewis (@jazzmann91), broken down into 5 minute clips, in which we discussed the concept behind Junto. Namely, it is a conversation platform we are inspiring to be built around the intention of creating a respectful space where people can engage in generative dialogue and come to a place of understanding and shared meaning. Scott and I discussed what that looks like, and what kind of core values people may embrace in order to have meaningful, productive conversations that lead to positive action. In the comments section of that post, Jorge suggested someone break down the content of the discussion so that others could learn from it. I suggested he do it. He did. And here it is below! Very thorough breakdown, thank you Jorge. Original post here.]
A week ago Venessa Miemis shared a conversation where she spoke with @jazzmann91. In that conversation they talked about how to have The Conversation and some key points that we needed to take into consideration while participating in ‘The Conversation’. I suggested that it will be good to have all of the points treated there organized into a post so that we could go back and read when we were about to participate in ‘The Conversation.’
‘The Conversation’ is a debate where people discuss ideas around a topic, problem or area and try to make an impact and change the reality of that particular theme. Here’s the post that I hope will help us create a ecosystem for collaboration and will help us develop ideas a bit further.
The Internet is the ultimate human communication tool, yet communication needs certain guidelines to be really effective. In international business the cultural differences are studied in detail in the negotiation workshops. This is because communication is key to build open and honest relationships. In fact that is one of the core values of Zappos: “Build honest & open relationships with communication”.
The power of the web could be enhanced if communication could be made easy. The web is a way to accelerate serendipity, people from around the world will gather together and collaborate, something that was impossible some years go. This on-line social gatherings could help us form tribes of people willing to make a change. Take for example the myriad of collaboration tools created to help Haiti where people from different countries gathered and made projects work in days.
We’ve given a tool that can help us drive change faster. The Internet if used with the right purpose can help people gather and work towards a shared higher purpose. But for this awesomeness to happen we need to nurture and create long term trust relationships. The guidelines in this post were conceived so collaboration could flow.
These guidelines are often thought as obvious and you’ll probably think all of these points are, but it’s good to have it written down as a reference point in case we forget them. The human mind gets distracted or carried away easily and having guidelines could help reshape the way we think and in this case collaborate.
Believe you can make a change
We often believe that our experience or capabilities are not enough to make a change. The truth is that we don’t need to be academic luminary or have super powers to make an impact in the world. What we need to do is set the example and take action. If you read the Heath brother’s last book Switch (here’s a review from Chris Brogan) you can see some examples of people that make change without political power or extra developed brains. In order to make a change we just need a couple of things, the firm believe we can make it happen and the energy to work towards it.
A interaction where everyone is comfortable sharing their opinions or construction a solution for a problem can’t be achieved instantly. The process of creating trust takes different amounts of time for every person and we need to be patient and interact until it’s built. When new members join our conversation we should welcome them, introduce ourselves and let her integrate at her own pace.
To create trust there needs to be a fair amount of interaction between the parties or group. This interaction will provide many social events where the parties involved can demonstrate their honesty and fairness and be granted access to further information.
Building trust means that there needs to be a shared belief in the honesty and fairness of the other party. This is why sometimes seeing each other’s faces is required. The Internet allows for this to happen and the trust building process never ends, as a minor misstep can bring down all the trust we’ve built through years of interaction.
Always have a goal
If we are gathered together we should have a clear perspective of what we want to achieve with the conversation we are having. Setting up a goal is good even if we don’t know what to achieve yet. Maybe what we are trying to do is to find out what questions to ask so that could be the goal. An example could be, “find out what points we need to figure out to fix the economic inequality” which is basically finding out set of questions on how to challenge the current free market model. That should start other conversations that will make an impact.
The biggest misunderstandings come from assumptions. The best practice is to ask people to clarify their point. Chances are they really meant another thing. Many of the great problems that rise withing communication are because one party assumed something about the other, instead of asking.
The main problem with assumptions is that we assume according to our background, thoughts, believes and context. Usually, and specially on the internet, comments are made in totally different backgrounds and from people with diverse experiences which mold their believes in a different way. For this not to be a problem we need to sit and try to understand every point of view and from where it comes from. Empathy is a key social skill to stop assuming and understanding that your community is very diverse.
Just ask. A simple “Can you explain me that idea in more detail?” can make a huge difference.
Never stay “Not Sure”
Many times when we have conversations we end up “not sure of what he/she said”. Never stay like that. In order to understand and enrich your experience it’s key that you get all the message as it was intended. This could help prevent future misunderstandings. When you feel you’re not sure about something just ask for the clarification of that point.
Rather than slowing the conversation this will help make it go in the right direction quicker and with out needing to go back if the misunderstandings develop more.
Create a No Judgement Zone
Sometimes even if we understand someone else’s context we may disagree or have diametrically opposite opinions on one subject. The Conversation environment needs to be 100% non judgmental. For this it’s imperative that we understand that there is a myriad of faiths, religions, philosophies and ways of living. For us to understand each other and get to the point where we can answer the questions we’ve asked we need to incorporate all the possible point of views and encourage people to share them.
In order for all the point of views to be shared we need to create a space of tolerance where no point of view will be diminished or mocked so that the person sharing feels safe to express herself.
Remember always accept there’s more point of views than ours. We should embrace the idea that there is the possibility for two views to live together without colliding. Why does it has to be one way or the other? Can it be both?
People that seem confused or to not be getting it need some patience. Remember this is a no judgement zone so don’t rush on making conclusions and rather than that try to understand the point of view and find points of agreement.
Being tolerant will lead to more openness and to a better understanding on foreign points of view.
Knowing ourselves, our points of view and goals in the world is key to stating where we are now and what limitations do we have in our areas of interest. Knowing what we belief in implies giving a test run to what we believe. For example, Jason Fried has a different approach to making business and he tests it within his company 37 signals. After testing it he writes about his experience and looks for feedback, he then adjusts his way of doing business according to what it works and the feedback he gets.
Knowing exactly why we do something is a key point to be prepared to accept criticism and make points clear. If we know the reasons why we do it we can give a clear explanation and set the context properly to avoid unproductive criticism of our point of view.
Part of knowing yourself is know where you stand in many of the points of the conversation. What your opinions are and how they relate to the current state of things in what you want to make an impact. Remember it’s fine to be the one that doesn’t fits in.
Be an example of what you say
If you endorse or support a way of living that you think could have an impact in changing the world and making it a better place be sure to live by what you say. It’s very common to find people that preach certain point of view but live by other. Being an example is a better way to lead as you can inspire other people, share the results and assess what is not working. Part of our contribution to the conversation needs to be our experience and for that to happen we need to experiment what we think it’s right.
Solve yourself first
When trying to help other people figure out the answer to a question or help them in the search of their higher purpose make sure you’ve solved this questions for you first. This by no means intends you to have definitive conclusions, but at leas have a clear approach to what you think and what steps are you going to follow. If you find out that some minor arrangements could be made to your plan, do them, but the core needs to be defined so you can also help others find their own path. If you’re joining the conversation to seek more information or broad your perspective make sure to enter informing people of your goals. Knowing each other’s purpose and intent is key to letting other people know how to help.
Be a guide – Help People Get there
When having a conversation we usually try to convince people to accept our proposals, goals and points of view. Instead we should try to help each person to figure out by themselves what their answer is to the question they’re asking. Whether it is their goals, objectives or purpose everyone needs to find this by themselves. What we can do is provide guidance.
Being a guide requires that we don’t try to push our point of view, but rather take into consideration the initial mindset of the other parties and put out our point of view so the others can gather from it.
Don’t give advice. Give the tools so people can figure the answers for themselves.
When solving a problem, find the bright spots
Usually when we see a problem we focus on what’s making it wrong instead of on the small isolated cases where things are working fine. These are the bright spots. For example, what’s working so well in cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai that is making them work so well compared to rest of China. The answer to that question is the rise of charter cities. Focus on the things that are working well and try to replicate them. And as the Heath brothers say on Switch, finding the origins of the problem is a waste of time because it’s information that it’s true but useless.
Challenge the status quo
As part of the conversation we need to be able to challenge what’s established in order to change it. Questioning every single process that is blocking our efforts in making a change is key to understand what new approaches we need. Questioning the set of fundamentals by which our societies are driven is also a good thing, because it’s the only way we can develop. Take Umair Haque’s Betterness Manifesto which is a call to change the fundamentals of life and economy in order to achieve the a higher goal of improving life quality. No matter what the main purpose of the conversation is we should not be afraid to question the status quo in order to succeed in making an impact.
Make a Call to action
When closing a chapter of the conversation make sure to leave a clear call to action so the participants can engage and spread what’s being said. Whether it’s a invitation for the next stage of the conversation or a specific action that they can perform in the online or offline world. The conversation will be useless if it didn’t inspire action so make sure you have a call to it that is designed so that people can go there and get feedback on what they do. Let’s make sure you get people moving. An idea that we fail to execute won’t help us make a change in the world.
When it’s time, move on
The conversation can’t last forever. When you’ve reached a point where you have found your path and can’t go any further either at finding your answer (or question) or helping others find theirs, move on.
Move on to new conversations where you can gain deeper understanding of new fields and move on to act on what you’ve been discussing. Let’s say you found your purpose in life, go and live it.
image found here