I was reading a review in The Guardian of McRaney’s book, ‘How Minds Change: The Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion”. In the book McRaney explores, amongst many stories, that of the ‘deep canvassers’. They were used in US politics and asked people questions about their deeply held beliefs, listening to their replies and sharing their own stories. It appeared to be devastatingly efficient and led to such a fundamental shift in thinking on gay marriage that the US had ‘the fastest flip of a long-held nationwide public opinion in recorded history’.
It led me to thinking about one of the building blocks within the Thinking Environment (TE) – that of Dialogue and how, as leaders, we could utilise this to influence, as described by McRaney.
In dialogue two people, often with opposing views are facilitated to express these, in turn. Sharing their time equally, each person has to abide by the principles of TE. As listeners they truly pay attention, not thinking about what they’re going to say next, not interrupting, accepting that the thoughts being expressed are equal to their own. Wondering where the thinking will go next. The thinkers are not there to change the other’s mind but the end result is a better understanding and then, the potential for agreement.
Anger leads to understanding
I had experience of this when in a Collegiate with Nancy. She ran two demonstrations: one pro and anti-abortion which she describes in her latest book The Promise, and the one in which I participated, pro and anti-Brexit. She facilitated the session merely by setting the timer for each contribution so we truly shared equal space. I say ‘merely’ but that is not the whole of it because Nancy radiates the Thinking Environment. I was vehemently against Brexit and angry with those who weren’t, who took us out of Europe. Over 20 minutes though, using Dialogue, I understood the drivers, both overt and covert, that shaped my opponent’s views, and he mine. At the end we still disagreed about whether Brexit had been right or wrong but we could talk sensibly now and move forward together.
I wonder how many times as a leader or manager you’ve been witness to conflict within the team. It can be on the shop floor or at Board level as inevitably you will have people with opposing views. Those who are better skilled will be able to navigate those differences with openness but there will be many who cannot. Dialogue is a fast, effective methodology for such occasions. It offers a tool akin to psychotherapy or coaching without being a psychotherapist or coach. It is a skill to learn though, and one gained by being a TE practitioner. But for those of you who have not been on a Foundation training course there are a few principles you can apply which should go part way to helping resolve conflict scenarios in your team.
Gladiators to philosophers
The first is to emphasise that the dialogue is not a forum for the protagonists to convince each other, but to explain and explore their own thinking whilst the other listens with an open and curious mind.
The second is to enforce the no interruption rule.
The third to share the time equally, 2 minutes is ideal, so each has a turn to think then listen, think and listen.
Lastly, when the allocated time has ended, perhaps 20 minutes, you ask what each has learnt about the other. You may well find then a baseline from which all of you can move forward.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.