Saturday 12 January 2019

Seeking to understand

I blogged a while ago (here in fact) about a meeting of coaches and facilitators convened by Nancy Kline who are interested (and qualified) in her Time to Think approach.  The next meeting is coming up next week, and I am looking forward to it with great interest.

One of the issues we have agreed to explore is whether and how a real commitment to listening and seeking to understand might transform conflict-fraught conversations.

We all know that there are some subjects on which people hold such strong views that a conversation with someone who holds the opposite view is highly likely to degenerate into a point-scoring pseudo-attempt to convince the other of one's own rightness. I say pseudo-attempt, because the likelihood of such an outcome is extremely low, and is therefore, I suspect, not the real goal of such conversations.

So we are going to have a couple of difficult conversations, between people holding opposing views on some fraught topics; with Nancy structuring and facilitating, and with the agreement that each participant is seeking not to convince, but to understand, the other.

The topics are Brexit and abortion; so you can see what I mean by fraught topics.

We will then, of course, discuss what we have learned from the experiment, and whether there is any value in such an approach; and (I expect) how we might use the emergent learning in our professional practice.  That last point is the one I am most curious about; I am sure that there will be positive learning from the experience, but it is not yet clear to me how that may be relevant to my practice.

I'll also be particularly interested in how the emotional dynamic of these conversations goes. Typically, when people feel passionately strongly about something, and discuss it with someone who takes the opposing view and doesn't budge (and we are not expecting movement, though of course that is also a theoretical possibility) emotions run high.  My guess is that if one feels truly listened to and understood, even if the other person continues to oppose, the emotional temperature may remain a lot cooler.

The other thing that intrigues me is that I imagine (though i may be wrong here) that there will be a significant majority of the group on one side of the argument in each case; and i am wondering how that will affect subsequent discussion and indeed subsequent relationships within the group.

All in all, it will be very interesting; and I will report back in due course.

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