[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
Michael Josefowicz said:
All good but there is one thing I’ve found makes conversations much less productive than the could be. It’s the inappropriateness of saying No. Most usually it’s take as a challenge or giving offense. And the reality is that it oftens does give offense.
But under the rubric of respect, I find it makes it very difficult to use precise natural language to say precisely what one feels needs to be said. It also eliminates the human emotional element of a sharp and therefore useful exchange of ideas. My experience is that learning, sharing and getting to a new better understanding is NOT kumbaya. As in science or philosophy positions are strongly held and in sharp conflict.
I think it’s important to be able to say NO. I think you’re wrong. My bet is that when Ben Franklin and the boys got together there was a lot of one “fighting” with words. Perhaps if the idea that natural language is allowed and something like “By Entering this Convo you agree to not take things personal”
On of the great things about back channels is that you have the freedom to say stuff like” Tha’s the lamest thing I’ve heard today.”
Venessa Miemis said:
yeah, you can definitely say “i don’t agree with you.” but you can also say “i see where you’re coming from and why you think that.”
i think that finding that common ground and space for shared understanding isn’t necessarily about “convincing” people to your point of view, but merely suggesting that there are many lenses through which to perceive reality. i try to offer my perspective. i never say it’s “right,” it’s just the one i have. and my perspective changes ALL the time…. based on experience, reflection, new information, and choice.
does that make me “wishy washy”?
well, maybe some people who firmly adhere to one belief structure would say so. i call it adaptability. if i’m presented with some really wild information, my mind isn’t going to snap, because i am capable of considering possibilities. on the other hand, i am seeing people all around me panicking as the structures they believed to be everlasting are crumbling, and they are bewildered.
so again, depends how you want to look at it. and i’m not saying it’s easy. breaking down your illusions is WORK, and often painful. (at least it is for me). BUT, that said, incredibly rewarding, and i am prepared for change.
in fact, i embrace it.
Michael Josefowicz said:
To be clear, I don’t think the attitude is wishy washy. In fact I would say it’s just right. My experience is about getting precision on ideas. My sense is that so many of us agree on so many things. But for me, it’s precisely were we disagree that is most fruitful in getting from here to there.
The thing is for purposes of a convo I assume that what needs to be responded to is their words. I think one way to speed up a blog or twitter conversation is to take people at their words. And for me words are only one very small slice of who they are. As such a tiny sliver making a judgment about the person makes little sense, and in fact is appropriate.
No doubt this life long attitude has got me into heaps of problems. Never was able to integrate nicely into formal organizations.
I think the best thing i’ve heard on the subject was from some hedge fund guy on Bloomberg. He said ” I have strong opinions, lightly held.” It might seem counter intutitive but the ability to hold a strong opinion and change it in a flash with new evidence or a new idea usually gets to where we all want to go, faster rather than slower.
I recognize a beautiful stream of energy in this “dialogue” post (btw in all other posts too). Somehow, this comes from an intuitive collective ‘self’, intelligence we have. Dialogue is indeed the process we apply to connect all the fragmented selves into a meaningful emerging whole. It’s a beautiful and painful experience at the same time, beauty: the co-creation of meaning and painful, the letting go of old mental models.
I want to share a poem with you. I was inspired by David Bohm, Krishnamutri, Otto Scharmer and Paulo Freire.
And it goes like this:
One day I asked myself,
what is the most magical form of communication?
I searched deep into my soul for an answer,
And this is what I found:
I tried to put this magical communicative energy into words:
In order to experience genuine dialogue,
we have to be honest to our deepest self,
release the energy the ego incarcerates,
accept diversity as the essence of life,
open op to the communication of the heart,
acknowledge rationality as a helpful instrument but also as a limited and sometimes fragmented domain of perception,
start hearing the silent intuitive voice,
recognize the breath of life as the unifying energy that connects us all to everything and then, the co-creation of meaning can take place;
the interplay between listening and speaking,
an emerging dance of healing.
At the end of process, we will speak with
the same voice…
Nadia (written on November 2, 2009, 11:34 pm)
Thanks for being a living platform for dialogue.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks nadia, beautiful poem. it still amazes me that something as simple as “dialogue” is such a huge discovery for me.
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Ned Kumar said:
Venessa/Jorge, great points & breakdown.
It is interesting to me that Michael brought up the the topic of saying “No”. You are both correct – sometimes you have to disagree to come out with a better solution but you can do it respectfully and not being snobbish about it.
To me the art of conversation or flipping it, how good of a conversationalist you are depends on three things:
a) how good you are at defending your opinions and beliefs with logical, rational, and/or empirical support. If one cannot defend a statement they made, to me it tells me that they never really thought about it but is just mimicking what someone else said (without understanding the fundamentals). Now to be very clear, ‘defending’ does not mean being fanatical about it. Which brings me to my second point.
b) how good you are at truly listening to other’s defending their position. Michael’s point of sometimes saying “No” or ‘”not agreeing” is absolutely acceptable while you are doing the defending. However, you can never have a good conversation (does not matter if it is with a colleague on business topics or with your spouse on some personal topic) unless you allocate some time for keeping your mouth shut and listening to what the other person has to say on why they think otherwise. And lastly,
c) the ability to revise your opinion, morph it, or completely change it based on the new inputs. How good you are at doing this reflects your self-confidence and where you are on the emotional & cognitive maturity scale. Some folks get offended and angry everytime someone disagrees with them, some start crying, and even worse, some agree with you superficially but then turn right around and hang on to their original thoughts when conversing with someone else. All these point to individuals who still have to transcend certain boundaries within themselves before they can really call themselves a good conversationalist.
Also, conversation need not always be betweeen two people — one can have a conversation with oneself. I know at this point, the reader is calling me a loony 🙂 and so let me explain myself. Let us take a topic at random – ‘value co-creation’. I have an opinion on that based on my knowledge so far. When I go out in the world and observe something related to that topic or when I read a new post about it etc., essentially I treat it no differently than an ‘input’ if I were talking to someone in reality. Once that input is taken in, I toss it back and forth in my mind on how it ties to the opinion I already had and either reject it as ‘not worthy’ or accept it as ‘worthy’. In the former case, I still hold on to my original opinion; however, if I feel the new input is ‘worthy’, I change my opinion accordingly.
Great points Ned.
I agree with you, sometimes we have the conversation with ourselves and it’s a good process to have. I’ve had numerous conversations with me, specially when trying to define my philosophy of life and how do I perceive opportunities in the world. The process is very insightful as you evaluate options and also helps to create a new definition of things.
That could be directly related to your third point about being able of changing what you think and do when you get new input. Many times after having a conversation I go and evaluate for many hours or days what I’ve heard and come up with a renewed position regarding the subject being discussed.
I will add that a conversation should have more than one session so that participants can have the same conversation with themselves and get to points of agreement (or disagreement) that are much more concise.
Venessa Miemis said:
i like your point “c”. all about adaptability and flexibility. that is a big one in the current “Shift” going on in thinking, and where a lot of pain comes in….. when that new/different belief/perspectives rubs against a current structure, there is friction if the person is not willing to consider new possibilities. and then there is anger or fear.
again, conversation is a process. change can’t happen overnight. it’s like a scavenger hunt. little pieces are revealed, then considered, integrated, other things discarded, contextualized, then we move on. it takes time. my favorite response when talking to people is when they say “huh. i never thought of it that way before……”
just that ability to consider a different lens is a step.
Manoj Pawar said:
Love the comments, and would like to build.
Here are a number of thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Generative implies emergence of new, shared understanding of reality (what’s really going on here) that is greater than that which each individual brings with them into dialogue. This takes a certain humility to accept that ones own perspective is but a slice of the full experience of reality.
2. The expession of generative / emergent properties through dialogue rely upon the ability to create conditions that allow for the free flow of meaning.
3. These properties include consideration of the space for dialogue (physical, relational, etc….a concept referred to as ‘ba’). The creation and holding of such space is core work of leaders in this century. Implicit in the creation of conversational / interactional spaces is a sense of safety. Space for generative dialogue, of course, can be virtual, as in the case of junto. In this context, some virtual spaces are more conducive to ‘free flow’ (e.g., junto) than others (e.g., comments to a blog post, which tend to lean more heavily towards advocacy). Real-time interaction and the ability to visualize & hear human interaction accelerate the emergent properties, in my opinion.
4. I don’t believe that there must necessarily be a goal beyond the emergence of shared meaning. To set a goal could, in fact, interfere with the emergent properties of generative dialogue. To decide prematurely (an unintended consequence of goal-seeking) is to cut off alternatives…literally.
5. The generative nature of dialogue is elicited when advocacy (voicing one’s own perspective) and inquiry (eliciting and fully drawing out the perspectives of others, with a spirit of curiosity) are present in the right proportions. While balance is good here, more weight on inquiry is often wise, particularly given our societal norms.
6. Your comments regarding the need to ‘check out’ assumptions are spot-on. To go one step further, recognizing one’s own assumptions and ‘suspending’ them for collective examination & reflection is an extremely powerful act in deepening dialogue. In essence, the examination of our collective assumptions involves the uncovering of often mental models that are incomplete…and further exploration leads to their completion and elaboration in new ways. It triggers generative aspects of dialogue.
Franis Engel said:
You have specified in your post how this new style of interacting is “beyond the debate model.” Because – it is. Stop calling it debating and you’ll be further along. Forget calling what you’re asking people to do by intentionally leaving out the word “debate.” Toss out the argumentation paradigm – you don’t need it and you don’t want it. Leave behind the debate model because you are building another completely different one. Enough argumentation and positional thinking will rear it’s ugly head even if it has oh-fish-ally been barred.
Read some Edward de Bono on how the “Gang of Three”( Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) have dominated conversations for too long and why the debate model has become useless. What is needed is what de Bono calls “design thinking.” Meaning, people need to learn to build on what each other is saying as you are recommending. Debate models don’t work, because people who argue are not being constructive, they’re being destructive. You already know that people need to be doing something else rather than merely tearing down, ridiculing, discrediting, dismissing, etc.
You obviously want to get past having people assume that nobody should be believed, everyone is lying and the only question they must determine is how much and in what way another person is lying.
David Bohm figured this out. His approach was to recommend that people to surrender their goals temporarily during the Dialogue process. By doing this, he took out the need to convince others and allowed subject matter to be free to go anywhere. http://www.david-bohm.net
Edward de Bono has accomplished (what he calls “parallel thinking”) constructive conversation that preserved a specific goal. He recommends the group adopt certain specified attitudes on purpose as a way to generate ideas and actions together and make important decisions. Perhaps you’ve heard of one of de Bono’s models? Six Hat Thinking is one of the most famous of these models.
Mediation also has really cool models for constructive conversation. (For instance, the books by Ury & Fisher. But there are many more than that.) So does Appreciative Inquiry as a field.
Check all of these out and I’m sure you can integrate their advantages! Good job! It’s a tricky one…
I resonate in full with the substance of your message.
And I agree especially with your insights here —
>>people need to be doing something else rather than merely tearing down, ridiculing, discrediting, dismissing, etc.
The persuasive approach employed in your opening paragraph, however, comes across to me as one of “dismissing/discrediting.”
Seeing the imperative, “tearing down” words in that first paragraph, I felt little desire to go farther. I’m glad I did continue reading – it would have been a loss to have stopped at that point, given the value of the resource links you’ve shared.
So I’m left wondering – would it be easier to spread an appreciation of design thinking and appreciative inquiry by (solely) using their modes of inquiry and persuasion?
Or do you see it as necessary to use the vocabulary and tone of the established “I’m right, you’re wrong” to reach and persuade people who are still caught in those modes of conversation?
I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. If there is one out there somewhere, it may be useful as well for a related (to me) issue: what are the limits to open-mindedness? When and where should tolerant people draw a line – and become intolerant of expressed views that they deem inimical to tolerance?
Franis Engel said:
There’s nothing wrong with debate, arguing or “using the black hat.” Using it exclusively is a limitation. It’s not that I’m “against” any particular way of doing things – just offering my experience.
In particular, have found that it is about to be the end of the conversation when some group stages a “take-over” by making a statement and then asking anyone to leave who does not agree with them. This strategy has been shown to be a cop-out manipulation of over-control.
It does work to model what you want. Matching the modes of others and then moving out of that mode into what you want establishes rapport and brings those along toward the direction you’d like people to travel. It also establishes that they are no “rules”, only “customs.” You need to have a skill sometimes before you know how to deliberately leave it out.
Practical experience has shown that lines need to be drawn against misbehavior in keeping with the classic internet forum and list server boundaries.
Rules such as: No name-calling. No mis-quoting. No physical violence (or sexual advances, in some situations.) No attacks (such as spamming) that have a physical expression. No gate-keeping, trolls or trolling. The person who feels they are the victim of an attack defines it as such – an apology is necessary. Three strikes and you’re out.
Franis Engel said:
Also – check out http://www.pandalous.com
and the Change Journey. http://www.changejourney.org/ Check out the map at: http://www.changejourney.org/page/the-map
Both use location as a way to organize subject matter and to stimulate conversation between people. It’s an idea that they each got independently of each other and have put into place in a really interesting manner.
Franis Engel said:
New note: http://www.pandalous.com has been changed to http://www.thinqon.com
Hear Traci Fenton, Founder + CEO of WorldBlu Inc., about how Engaging in Generative Dialogue (she does not call it this way) can change a company environment for the better. http://www.youtube.com/v/qFpk1B-DS38
(trying to embed video, hope this works)
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Thank you so much for the platform and Guidance. Junto is fun. An experience report:
Linchpins Meetup 2010 Plan B: we met virtually
Daine Torina said:
Great news brother
Luther Shield said:
Hay Dude , i with Your idea. LOL Please come to my blog
mahboob ahmed said:
Wow. This is a great resource to online bloggers. While some of it seems so exhaustive, it gives blog viewers the chance to pick and pull what they like for their own interests.
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