Sunday 20 January 2019

Seeking to Understand (4)

On further reflection (this post will probably only make sense if you've already read my previous ones on the topic, here and here), something else struck me: I can remember very little of what my interlocutor actually said.  And I can remember very little of what I said, either.

That reflection raises some interesting questions.

In the normal Thinking Environment process, the purpose of listening is to help the other to do his or her very best thinking, in the hope that he or she will have some new thoughts.  Those new thoughts are the property of the thinker, of course, and it is the thinker who (most) needs to remember them.

By that token, I should remember what I said, and particularly any new thoughts that I had. But the truth is that I didn't have any new thoughts in this conversation. I suspect that is because the conversation was relatively brief (20 or 30 minutes, which means about 10 or 15 minutes of me thinking and about the same for the other person. Given that this is a topic I have already given a lot of thought to, and the invitation was to share my thinking, that is not, perhaps, surprising. I also think, intuitively, that had the dialogue gone on for longer, I probably would have had some new thoughts.

On the other hand, given that I was meant to be listening with a view to understanding, perhaps I should have remembered what the other person said, too. What I think happened here is a variety of factors. One is that I do remember one thing the other person said, because I had never heard it before, and it really prompted some fresh thinking in me, whereas much of what she said was familiar to me. Also, had I made notes straight after the conversation, I suspect I could have recalled most of it. 

And again, had the conversation gone on for longer, I am sure that my opposite number would have had more new thoughts, and that these too would have landed with me and been retained.

Another issue, of course, is whether the purpose of this type of interaction is different from, or additive too, the normal purpose of helping someone to do their very best thinking. The other purpose we named was better mutual understanding; and at a deep level, I think that occurred. That is to say, I understood the values and fundamental humanity of my interlocutor's position better than I had done, and I think that was reciprocated.  Clearly, if we had had the intention of taking this further, we would have needed to make (and possibly agree) notes at the end of the conversation.  But our more profound purpose was to learn about the impact of this process on such (normally polarising) conversations.

So instead, immediately afterwards, we (rightly) focussed on discussing the process and the learning about the process, not the content of the conversation: and that is what is fresh in my memory, and continues to stimulate further thought (as this series of blog posts attests).

So my next step, in terms of learning, is to see if I can organise a similar conversation, but this time with a much longer time available, and see where that takes us. Should I manage to organise that, I will report back in due course.

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