Dialogue is cool. In fact, meetings in general are cool.
Meetings are SO COOL that I can definitively state:
Meetings constitute humanity’s only hope for survival.
What? How can this be? Meetings are just people joined together in conversation with shared purpose, right? Am I saying that those typically time-consuming, often dreaded, inefficient, frustrating meetings are in fact… Immaculate? I’m saying that sitting around a peeling, dank table under repulsive florescent lights with Styrofoam cups of luke-warm coffee is a perfect representation of God, Goddess, and All That Is? Sorry, but have I gone CRAZY?
Turns out I’m sane. Life and creation, all productivity, the miraculously efficient set of processes we call biological evolution, freeway construction, photosynthesis…. None of it can exist without meetings. This is especially true of Dialogue in meetings. This became pristine Truth true once the 1,000th Megaton of nuclear explosive was set and ready to launch. (Or, whatever it actually is, you know, that number which when ignited catalyzes nuclear winter and all Life ceases to exist…) Yep, like it or not, that’s us. We human beings have reached this particular point in our development: Life will not continue in the absence of people talking, assessing data, sharing knowledge, evaluating risks, and making choices together. Dialogue is that cool. It is the Motherlode of group interaction. Dialogue will save our hides.
You may judge what I’ve written here as… somewhat grandiose. But the power of people meeting cannot be overstated. The elegance required to wield such power cannot be defined. We humans do our best work, and our worst atrocities, in groups. Group process (at its core) is a wild animal which cannot be tamed, because it doesn’t want to be tamed. People meeting together can be feral, subject to chaotic whims, perverse fluctuations, predatory impulses or (most destructive) subject to overwhelm and victimization. Group behavior is absolutely unpredictable. Yet on and on we try, setting up behavioral norms, cultural standards, expectations and stringent guidelines. We borrow what has come before us, from indigenous talking sticks to Emperor’s Dictums to Robert’s Rules to Spiral Dynamics.… seeking to find the spark, the magic ingredient, the way to BE which will finally help us reach a decision, and make a good choice where everyone wins.
Down deep, that’s what we all want, right? To win, and to know we’ve caused no harm.
To be clear, the motivation to cause no harm is often selfish: If we cause no harm, we’re not required to experience guilt or face consequences. On balance these two conditions (win; cause no harm) are energy-positive. We feel better when those conditions are present. Thus, if we evolve, if we are able to grow our meeting and Dialogue prowess culturally, socially, and globally, we will feel better in the short term and we’ll create healthier conditions for life in the long term. That’s what I call a win-win.
To make it a win-win-win, we must add Earth. I refer not just to the Rights of Nature. Not just to habitat restoration and biological diversity. Those elements (and so many more like them…) are absolutely critical. But to approach a truly sustainable future, we also must include the Spirit of the Earth. The essential Life principle. The initial cosmic pulse towards Life, the undeniable longing to understand the core mystery, the delectable and overwhelming recognition that it’s all one big fat mystery of a gift….
This is the place where all human values MUST come together. We can win here. But we need the opportunity to find ourselves in communion at this level.
We need a language which transcends culture!!
A way of communicating to help us achieve a stark, undeniable translation of shared values. Because, at the end of the day, we all share identical, basic human values. As a species, we truly NEED to embrace them.
It’s not hard to understand. No one can argue for increased budget when they are suffocating inside of a plastic bag. No one can worry about nuanced trade agreements when they are starving for food. No one is motivated to revise a slide deck when they are homeless. You get the picture. This is the We Are All One argument. But, it’s been impossible (until now…) to get anyone to take the notion seriously enough. My claim is: Once we arrive inside of the same Dialogue, we will be on the way to catalyzing the levels of change necessary for survival.
Wendell Berry, the eminent American philosopher and poet, once said: “We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk”. Unfortunately, we are not urgently in touch with the risk. Our arrogance steadily erodes the already-miniscule hope we have to live and thrive into the future.
It’s overwhelmingly common that people in meetings end up feeling aggravated, disappointed, and unmotivated. We can do better that this! We have to. Can you imagine what will result when, throughout a career, throughout a lifetime of different jobs and experiences, each person follows a universally-adopted process for optimizing the experience of meetings? Can you imagine what will result when, at each age, at each level of responsibility, humans practice what it means to be All One Species? The tiers of influence, the magnitude of expertise which will become available…. Now imagine our world leaders, wise and generous souls who are awake to the urgency of the survival prime directive, imagine them FOCUSED on growing and deepening the understanding of this universal language? Imagine the good which will emerge, when a lifetime of practice becomes manifest and the council of wise and generous souls meets together clarify universal human values, while setting in place the conditions to help them thrive into the future. We can do this. And it will require expert, practiced Dialogue in meetings.
When participating in a meeting which relies on Dialogue to help solve for species survival, it is important to understand the five basic guidelines so the techniques are repeatable.
Dialogue: 5 Basic Guidelines
- The whole should be the main focus of analysis, with the parts receiving secondary attention
- Integration is the key variable in wholeness analysis. It is defined as the interrelatedness of the many parts within the whole
- Possible modifications in each part should be weighed in relation to possible effects on every other part.
- Each part has some role to perform so that the whole can accomplish its purpose.
- The nature of the part and its function is determined by its position in the whole
When embracing a perspective which imbues Dialogue with Universal Grace, it is important to understand the nine basic Dialogue Techniques so the process is repeatable.
Dialogue: 9 Basic Techniques
- Slow the cadence; let silence exist
- One person speaks at a time
- Listen to fully understand
- Notice internal reactions to others’ statements and suspend judgment
- Speak in “I statements”
- Use inquiry more often than opinion
- Speak honestly from the heart
- Be brief and listen without interruption
- Before speaking, ask yourself:
- Have I heard?
- Is it my turn?
- Is what I will say in service?
Dialogue: 10 Action Steps Towards Scenario Planning
What do we DO with the sacred knowledge of meetings and Dialogue? Well, we scenario plan, of course! Here are the ten Action Steps:
- Describe our desired end state.
- Vividly imagine all elements of the system (Establish a compelling vision)
- Define the key supports required.
- Moving backwards, brainstorm each step to produce your envisioned outcome.
- Explore likely roadblocks and imagine how they can best be overcome.
- Identify internal FORCES acting for and against the success of your mission.
- Show external forces shaping the larger context in which you act.
- Assess which forces are predetermined and which are uncertain (changeable).
- Define those that are inevitable and/or necessary.
- Focus on ones that are unpredictable plus open to influence.
At The Meeting Guy, I emphasize Dialogue as a core tenet in my capacity to help groups resolve conflict, move into collaboration and reach effective decisions.
Please visit themeetingguy.com and see if we’re a fit.
Thanks for stopping by!
“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.” – Joanna Macy