Productive dialogue is more important now than ever. With social media and social media complementing many of our face-to-face conversations, learning the ABCs of productive conversations can help you leverage your influence on social media.
Good business dialogue cannot be underestimated: it fosters collaboration and creativity and opens up individual and organizational learning and innovation. Dialogue, by definition, is obviously two-way, in the sense that it is a conversation between one person and another, but it is also two-way in the sense that there is an internal dialogue that has to happen for the overall result to be effective.
The human brain does not like ambiguities or conflicts. Naturally, he moves to make a choice: black and white. But often this leads to less effective ‘single cycle’ learning, Chris Argyris in his various dual cycle learning models, including the ladder of inference and high defense / inquiry, fosters an inner challenge (a mental dialogue internal) to encourage us to constantly challenge the unconscious processes that generate the conclusions and shortcuts that our normal reasoning makes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” and he has a point. It is “painful” for our brain to have different, possibly opposite ideas about the same fact without reaching a “correct” conclusion. But looking closely at the information on which we have built our ‘house of conclusions’ will help us to be more precise and structured in our thinking and then our dialogues and conversations will be very powerful.
Become a thinking detective
So this requires some detective work. Much of our thinking is based on the conclusions that we have drawn (as part of this automatic and unconscious process). Chris Argyris in his ‘Ladder of Inference’ acknowledges that it is like this:
We have ‘data’ presented to us – statistics, a reaction, words, expression. We select the data to use as part of our thinking – a comment, information, etc. We interpret this data and add meaning to it.We draw conclusions from these interpretations – this helps our brains put a label on what is happening (and boy, our brains like labels!), Which helps explain it and propose actions from there.
This is a ‘pattern’ that we make unconsciously, with the speed of light. But if we can learn how to slow down this process, break it up and do detective work so that we use the right data, make sure we have all the data we need, and then draw the most useful conclusions, our lives will be just as good. better!
Here’s what you need to do to be a ‘thinking detective’:
- Put your head of “critic” and retrace your steps of thought.
- What data did you select?
- What called your attention?
- What are you considering is not important here?
- Too often we focus our attention on what is wrong rather than what is right!
- Then go back to your thinking: how did you interpret the data you selected?
- What filters did you put on it (that is, a negative one?)?
- What assumptions and presuppositions did you make?
Once you have fully grasped the idea of the ladder of inference and become a smart detective, you are ready to take advantage of the two key tools of productive dialogue; the first is a high-quality promotion.
Powerful business conversations through high-quality promotion
Advocacy is about sharing your thinking effectively. This could include revealing how you feel, expressing an opinion, urging a course of action, or asking someone to do something. Good ‘smart detectives’ take advantage of high-quality defense so that they are not simply offering opinions or requests. But they actually provide the data they based their thinking on (rather than data interpretations) and share how they came to their conclusions from the data they used.
The emotional state or ‘state of mind’ is crucial to this. Think about the last time you assumed you were right about something and in dialogue with someone; maybe he was having a conversation on Twitter or chatting on Facebook. Notice how, in this frame of mind, you are driven to make others realize what you “already know.” You are trying to influence others in your thinking and this feels one way. In this type of conversation there is a notable lack of mutual learning. The goal of having productive conversations is to promote and reinforce mutual learning; This is what social media and social media are great for. But you have to approach it in the right frame of mind.
Here are some tips on how to stay in the right frame of mind for productive conversations:
- See each conversation as an opportunity to learn and promote mutual learning.
- Suppose you may be missing things that others see and seeing things that others do not.
- Stay curious. Assume that others are acting in ways that make sense to them.
Conversation is all about promoting mutual learning and the best conversations are happening on social media these days. However, there is definitely an art to master.
Once you have mastered your own thought processes and understand your own conclusions and the data on which you have based them. You are ready to share your thinking with others.
It’s about helping others see what you see and how you think about it. By giving examples of the data you select (telling stories, sharing anecdotes, using reference experiences) you will make your data clear (remember that ‘data’ can be comments, information, statistics, etc.). Then you should clearly state the meaning you find in these examples, clarifying and explaining the conclusions you have drawn. As part of this process, you may need to explain the steps in your thinking.
A truly productive conversation also means that by sharing your thinking, you are also helping to clarify the other person’s thinking. Describe your understanding of the other person’s reasoning by mirroring to them what you understand: “The way I understand what you just said is that you look at the data and you see a declining market share, right?”
If, during the course of your conversation, you disagree with the other person, or perhaps see negative consequences in what they intend to do, you can make this clear in the conversation in a way that does not push the other person back. If you declare or identify what you see as these consequences, but avoid attributing the ‘intention’ to create those consequences to the other person, you stay on neutral ground and maintain the space for productive dialogue.
For example: “John, I realize that you haven’t mentioned anything about communicating the plan to the client at this point. I have noticed in my own relationships with clients that early communication helps to reach an agreement. If some kind of communication will help smooth the relationship, do you think it will be worth considering? “Distinguish between intention and impact for a more productive outcome.
And finally, if the conversation becomes more heated and there is more conflict and emotion involved, if you feel like you have to reveal your emotions, do so without implying that the other person is responsible for creating your emotional reactions.
Inquiring how others think
The conversation is two-way. And productive conversation involves taking responsibility for truly understanding the other person’s thinking through high-quality research.
High-quality research involves seeking the points of view of others, probing how they came to them, and most critical, but most difficult of all for most of us, encouraging them to challenge their perspective. This may require us to help them share, or even understand, their own thinking. This involves listening and questioning and sometimes gently challenging them. If you are a coach, you have an advantage here!
Find out how others view the situation by asking them to give examples of the ‘data’ they have used and selected in their thinking and conclusions. You will need to help them tell you the steps they have taken to arrive at your thought.
The most useful questions here are the “what” and the “how”:
- “What information did you use to come to that conclusion?”
- “What are you thinking here?”
- “What do you think about this?”
- “I’m really interested, can you tell me how you came to that conclusion?”
Be open to the challenge
Be open to being challenged by your own conclusions, stay open and curious, and steer clear of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – recognize that two brains are always better than one and that true collaboration will promote mutual learning and growth. “I realize that we have different opinions on this matter, and” I’m really interested in finding out what I’m missing that you guys have noticed. “
Ask for help openly to find out what you may be missing and what you are seeing. Encourage the other person to identify gaps or errors in their thinking. Maintaining a state of high curiosity will keep your mind open and the dialogue productive, even when you are convinced that you are “right” and they are “not.”
Research non-verbal language or emotion the other person may be displaying, but do so without confrontation. “I noticed that he frowned when he looked at that data; is he somewhat confused?”
And a great tip is to ask for help exploring whether you are unknowingly contributing to the problem. This will require you to leave ego and arrogance behind! “I have a feeling that something I’m doing may be blocking the progress of this conversation, is that something you’ve also noticed?”