Good business dialogue cannot be underestimated: it encourages collaboration and creativity and opens up individual and organisational learning and innovation. Dialogue, by definition, is obviously two-way, in that it is between one person and another, but it is also two way in that there is an inner dialogue that has to happen for the overall output to be effective.
The human brain does not like ambiguity or conflict. It naturally moves to make a choice: black and white. But often this leads to less effective ‘single loop’ learning, Chris Argyris in his various models of double loop learning, including ladder of inference and high advocacy/inquiry, encourages an internal challenge (an inner mental dialogue) to encourage us to constantly challenge the unconscious processes generate the conclusions and short cuts that our normal reasoning makes.
For example, you get into the office early to get on with some work and find your boss already there. You try to make conversation, yet your boss is surly and abrupt. You draw conclusions (in NLP this is part of the meta model ‘complex equivalent) about the ‘facts’ at hand – i.e. boss is surly=I have done something wrong. So you spend the rest of the day worrying and trying to figure out what it is that you have or haven’t done. Suddenly, through your interpretations and inferences about your boss’s behaviour, you are working on a different set of ‘facts’ altogether. And, in actual fact, the boss just feels poorly because he or she has a cold coming on; it is nothing to do with you at all.
This is a very simple example but shows how, with lightening speed of reasoning, the brain automatically makes these conclusions that end up running our lives. Making us less effective and giving us less freedom of choice. So we need to train our brains to hold the ‘deep structure’ of meaning without running away with the wrong conclusions.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” And he has a point. It is ‘painful’ for our brains to hold different, possibly opposing, ideas about the same fact without jumping to one ‘right’ conclusion. But by looking closely at the information on which we have built our ‘house of conclusions’ will help us to be more accurate and structured in our thinking and then our dialogues and conversations will be very powerful.
So this requires some detective work. Much of our thinking is based on the conclusions we have drawn (as part of this automatic and unconscious process). Chris Argyris in his ‘Ladder of Inference’ recksons it goes 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 brain to put a label on what is happening (and boy, do our brains like labels!!), which helps to explain it and propose action from it
This is a ‘pattern’ that we do subconsciously, with lighting speed. But if we can learn how to slow this process down, break it up and do some 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 so much better!
The other day I had a client say to me: “We need to do more online PR and focus on improving SEO”. I took this as a criticism that we weren’t doing enough and the client was unhappy. However, after a couple of days and another conversation I realised that the client was so delighted with what we are doing that they want more of it; and after reading our blog posts they are keen to move into blogging and other social media to improve their online marketing!
Here’s what to do to be a ‘thinking detective’:
- Put your ‘critic’s’ head on and retrace your thinking steps. What data did you select? What caught your attention? What are you considering unimportant here? Quite often we focus our attention on what is wrong rather than what is going well!
- Then retrace your thinking: how did you interpret the data you selected? What filters did you put on it (i.e. a negative one?)? What assumptions and presuppositions did you make? i.e. in the example above I assumed the client was unhappy, and I presupposed that we weren’t doing enough online work. That clouded the rest of my entire thinking processes.
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