Language and leadership practice for convening dialogue
Inspired by a project I have been involved in with the Anecdote boys and Viv McWaters, I have written a paper on language and leadership practices in convening a dialogue. Here’s the introduction…
William Isaacs book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together is continually inspiring reading. It equates very well with the practices that we are teaching fo Open Space facilitation and it is a useful guide for other forms of process facilitation. In the book, Isaacs describes four fields of conversation, essentially politeness, breakdown, inquiry and flow. Within each of these four fields of dialogue, there are a number of practices to cultivate and things to do as the nature of the dialogue keeps changing. In a short chapter but important on convening dialogue, Isaacs outlines a guide for leadership in each of these four areas. I have been using this guide more and more frequently and, in addition to Isaacs’ work, I have been collecting questions and language approaches to help move deeper into these dialogic spaces. What follows is a brief overview of the four fields, Isaacs guide to navigating the fields and the questions with which I have been working.
The whole paper is yours to read. I’d appreciate any comments.
You got me thinking about the ‘container’ metaphor. Interestingly, in ‘metaphors we live by’ they provide access by:
Argument is a journey : “We’ve arrived at the conclusion”, “We’ve covered some ground”
Argument is a container: “That argument is water tight”, “There are some clear holes in that argument”
They suggest that it is the “path” of the “journey” which creates the “surface” for the “container”. Paradoxically, as we make the container, more surface is created.
The “journey” refers to the process and the “container” refers to the content in this context. Interesting to think about what this means for ‘building the container’ in facilitation! 🙂
Loved your paper.
Thanks for posting the full paper Chris, I look forward to reading it and I’ll certainly return with feedback
I enjoyed your paper Chris and it prompted some comparative thinking on my part about how I approach the dialogue with groups. There are a couple of things you and Isaac mention that link with my own methodologies. The first is the relationship between the container and the contained. I believe that the role of the consultant/facilitator is to also contain/embody the anxiety of the group (mind it almost) until such time as the group can take it back, transform it and use it. The initial stages of formation and exploration can be more anxiety forming for the facilitator sometimes because as you/he rightly say ”“ finding the right time to offer back an insight question or observation can be enormously important.
I guess I approach this work from more of a psychodynamic perspective which places an emphasis on the unconscious processes i.e. the stuff that it”™s not always possible to talk about. I”™m using my feelings/emotions and non verbal cues to try and language in a containing way what I see around me. The entry point for me as a facilitator is always (like you) my curiosity and more importantly how I”™m feeling about embarking on the exercise. I never fail to be amazed at the wisdom of the emotional content (both within myself and the group) as important intelligence about the task.
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