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Thu, 11 Nov 2004
Julie's BloggerCon reporting

Julie has started reporting her experiences at BloggerCon III. In addition to thoughts about her session, she's reporting on the other sessions that she attended. Hop over to her blog and start reading. And come back tomorrow, because there'll be more...

[23:27] | [computers/internet/weblogs] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together

I read about William Isaacs' book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, on M. Mortazavi's blog. The author says that dialog

is about a shared inquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something you do to another person. It is something you do with people.

Thinking together as a group or community is something that I'm interested in because I think it is a good fit for decentralized, non-hierarchical organizations. Also, there are plenty of situations in our society where we need a "conversation with a center, not sides". Too many of our conversations are polarizing, divisive, and unpleasant, and I looked forward to seeing if Isaacs could bring out practical suggestions that could be put into use in daily conversations.

The book takes a very taxonomic approach. The author wants to break things down into constituent parts and categorize them, with the goal (I think) of helping the reader to be more crisp in their understanding of the various aspects of dialogue. I suppose this would have the effect of making you more situationally aware when in the midst of a conversation/dialogue setting.

Isaacs describes four practices which are necessary for participation in a true dialogue:

  • Listening - to others, to ourselves and our own reactions
  • Respecting - a sense of honoring or deferring to someone - to see others as legitimate
  • Suspending - we neither suppress what we think nor advocate it with unilateral convication. Rather, we display our thinking in a way that lets us and others see and understand it.
  • Voicing - revealing what is true for you regardless of other influences that might be brought to bear

Each of these is explored in a chapter in both an abstract and practical sense -- at least as practical as you can be given that you are reading a book and not actually interacting with someone else.

Participants in conversations also act in a number of ways during the conversation. We are introduced to Kantor's four player system:

  • move - initiating an action
  • follow - support the initiated action
  • oppose - challenge the action
  • bystand - provide perspective instead of taking a stand

Kantor's system became concrete for me in a series of tables that showed how a person's behavior when taking one of the roles can be misconstrued. This is something that happens all the time in conversations.

The last major concept was that of a field of conversation, making analogy to the notion of fields in physics.

A field of conversation is made up of the atmosphere, energy, and memories of the the people who are interacting.
These fields are
spaces where there is a particular quality of energy and exchange.

The book presents 4 fields that can be organized according to 2 axes.

The fields (and the type of speech that characterize them) are:
  1. Politeness - (shared) monologues
  2. Breakdown - controlled conversation or skillful conversation
  3. Inquiry - reflective dialogue
  4. Flow - generative dialogue

The axes (and the fields in them) are:

  1. blaming (1,2) & non-reflective vs reflective (3,4)
  2. primacy of the whole (1,4) vs primacy of the parts (2,3)

Isaacs goes on to discuss the type of leadership needed in each conversational field in order for a group to make its way to field 4.

There are some very useful concepts here. The book is a bit on the academic side, which can make it tough going at points. I think that this material would benefit from a practically oriented treatment of the sort found in books like Getting to Yes or Getting Past No.

[00:43] | [books] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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