The more I look around the world as I see it, the more I am struck by the urgency that exists for a new way to communicate. This does not mean a new language or a new platform – we are inundated with ‘communication’ platforms from phones, watches, social media and more. What is desperately needed is for us, as human kind, to start communicating in a whole new way.
The overwhelming experience of our interactions in our modern world appears to be ‘speaking at’ each other. From the meetings we attend at work, the conversations with our spouses and children, to the catch-ups we have with our friends; there is so often only an information download that is taking place. We are busy. We have lots to say and lots to ask. And we want the answers to reflect this reality. There just isn’t time to get into anything more than the surface details and the more we can remain on the surface and not get into any depth – or even real truth – there remains a perception that we will be more effective and productive.
But living this way comes at a great cost and I was reminded of this on a conversation with a client recently. In a bid to find the top talent with the greatest work output for a vacant position, his HR team had designed an interview series that focused on work experience activities for candidates to complete in order for a comprehensive perspective of their capabilities to be portrayed. Interviews with the MD were kept to short 15 minute chats in order to save him time. What happened in reality was that those conversations that really matter when going through the hiring process were eliminated. Although the person that was eventually hired was very capable of the outputs (as demonstrated in the interview activities), what emerged was that expectations between the employee and organisation were misunderstood and it soon became clear that the person was not the right culture fit for the organisation. The result is that they are looking again for a person for this role, 6 months down the line, at huge financial and emotional cost to all. No value can be afforded to the benefits of true conversation of the type that allows intuition, deep listening, questioning and wider probing and meaning to occur. When we look at the challenges we experience in all our relationships from organisational, to family, to friends, to self; it becomes clear that we need to do this differently.
I am currently involved an assignment-marking project for the powerful Nexus Leadership Programme at GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Science). It has been such a gift to read of the experiences of these young professional candidates as they engage in a year-long opportunity to significantly shift their way of conversing, using an exploration of the tools of Dialogue. Based on the work of William Isaacs (who himself used the work of physicist David Bohm) Dialogue is reflected as four co-supporting principles: Listening, Suspending, Respecting and Voicing.
Listening: This principle looks at what it takes to be truly engaged and active when we listen. How are we listening with our body, mind and soul? Listening of this deep kind entails letting go of what it is we want or expect to hear and listening instead with a curiosity and interest that allows the other person to feel safe enough to open up.
Suspending: Inevitably, as humans, we are continually hooked and triggered and start formulating opinions and ideas while the other person is talking. Very often we experience an emotional reaction which in turn takes us off into creating our own story about the speaker and what is being said. Suspending then, involves developing the awareness of these thoughts and feelings – and then letting them go without becoming attached to them.
Respecting: This principle involves the attitude that we bring to the dialogue. We need to enter into the interaction with humility, curiosity – knowing there is more for us to learn-, and openness. It is about the awareness that everyone, including ourselves, will have their own perspective which is completely valid and everyone has the right to share this. Respecting, too, involves the reality that we should not always be trying to get others to change to our point of view, merely to listen and understand it.
Voicing: This is a principle that is often misunderstood. It does not simply mean ‘speaking’. (If that were true, many people would be able to claim to be experts when in fact they have not even come close to engaging in dialogue). Voicing is about being aware of what you want to share and what its possible impact on the conversation will be. Am I wanting to voice my perspective out of ego, love of hearing myself, competition or such? Or is what I want to offer going to add a new dimension to what is being said here?
Difficult though these capacities may be to practice, becoming aware of how we show up in our conversations and attempting to incorporate these dialogue principles can have a profound effect on the creativity, trust, and understanding that becomes prevalent in the relationship. And those are capacities we are in desperate need of in our society.
On a personal note...
I am curious, creative, determined, committed and (a bit too much of) a perfectionist.