Bad dialogue is only the dialogue that we don’t have

this post is an excerpt from the book Diamond Leadership.

 

…Leading a dialogue and catalyzing the change of a system from a blurred, stuck or comfort zone situation, to a place of breakthrough, innovation and flow, requires a high level of skill and a great deal of practice with the process.

For those who are interested and willing to experiment, let’s take an experimental step and see how this truly works.

I offer an exercise that you can practice and use in your team, organization or community[1]:

Remember the three key things for creative dialogue:

1) Equal time for everyone to contribute
2) A key question
3) Practicing presence.


1)
Choose a space with lots of daylight, clear air, and a spacious feeling. I recommend never doing this kind of work in a basement or in a room with only artificial light. Sit with your teammates in an ideal circle, preferably without a round table in the middle. The table has the effect of being a mental and physical barrier. Keep the distance of an arm’s length between you. Keep a clock handy for timing. Determine the time interval that each of you will have in talking/answering the key question/questions.

 2) Select a key question. At the beginning it is quite fine if you experiment with several questions. Feeling the group energy in the circle when you are considering a certain question, follow the collective energy and choose the question that has the most charge for all of you.

With the key question, there are no compromises. It must keep you energized and awake, and hold your attention. If there is not enough energy in the question, simply do not start until you feel right.
The creation of the key question often takes time. It might take you several months of experimenting and holding several questions, until you feel that you have the right one. You may use the questions from the 7 list, to give you some ideas. 

Let’s imagine that the key question for your team at the moment is:

How are we creating a team that is innovative and inspirational?

You might experiment and see what works for you by trying these sub-questions:

How are we improving our functioning?
How will our team look when innovation and creativity are liberated?
[2] … etc.

When you have completed this preparation stage, begin the creative dialogue.  

VERY IMPORTANT!!!

When one of you begins to talk, the others need to listen without interruption, comments or questions, until the speaker finishes their speech. There will be moments when the speaker will have no answer, and a silent period will occur in the circle. Stay present in these moments and notice the silence and what is happening inside of you as a reaction to the questions and the answers that you hear. The moments of silence are useful as a support for the speaker, as well as for the whole group, as recognition that not knowing is also fine.

Maintain a balance between listening and talking. Suspend the judgmental voices, and stay present in your body. If you notice that the group is entering judgmental waters, or someone is dominating the group with a monologue, take a moment to remind yourself of the body and the practice of presence. Shift from listening to your head (your internal dialogue and the inner critic-super ego) to listening to your body and to the whole field in the system. This may sound simple to write or read, but in reality this shift of inner listening and awareness takes lots of practice and time.   Group dialogues aim to co-create new knowledge, so if someone dominates with a monologue or blame, or competes over who has the smarter solution, know that you are back in the comfort zone – you are downloading old patterns, and are unlikely to have a breakthrough and create an innovative solution. Come back to presence.


SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP

 3) The level of presence is very important; it is paramount.

In the zone of the unknown (questing), emotions and feelings tend to be extremely difficult and unpleasant. The feelings of not-knowing, confusion, impatience, fear, panic, anger, etc. are very difficult to sustain and endure, until they metabolize and transform. These are the most challenging moments for a team that works with creative dialogue – to withstand the pressure of this creative tension.

It is at this critical point of high tension and discomfort that most teams make the mistake of premature action-taking, which only pushes the system to exit the creative dialogue and go back to the known comfort zone – since this is the safest place. In these times, again direct your personal attention back to your body, and sense it fully, over and over again.
These are the moments where the role of a present catalyst is essential. S/he or they are those who hold the presence, as well as instruct the group to stay in presence.

This process will inevitably move lots of personal emotion, as a result of what you as an individual and the whole group are going through.

During the creative dialogue and especially when the tensions increase, it is very useful and important to notice, identify, and talk about your personal experience and the emotions that you feel.
Suspend your own agenda and listen to your body, and the system. Feel the whole system – how it touches you and affects you. Speak in the first person singular, in the present tense: 

At the moment, I feel…, I think…, I wonder…, etc.

In case your team is larger, or you are working on several key questions, you might need several days for the creative dialogue to reach the breakthrough stage.

Collective illumination – breakthrough & flow

At a certain point, in the eye of the storm, when we have sustained the creative tension for long enough, at the bottom of the unknown the boundaries collapse and the system relaxes, and reaches “the zone” of flow and “knowing” – an “aha” moment of collective breakthrough and illumination.

This knowing is very different from the everyday mode of knowing that we have while in our comfort zone – this is the no-mind knowing.

Through the process of creative tension and cooking together, we metabolize our fears and weaknesses, and reach the level of personal and collective transformation. Sublimation of this kind is not possible in the old conventional ways of communicating and relating by downloading, and my descriptions of it, no matter how illustrative they are, cannot explain the real experience of this moment.

As a result, the system reaches new levels of alignment, team members get to know each other on a more intimate and humane level, their confidence and mutual trust grows, and the team grows together – gaining the clarity as well as the stability and strength of a diamond.

The creativity and innovation levels reach their peak, along with the productivity, and the system emerges ready for inspirational prototyping, execution, and implementation.
Imagine, now, how powerful is the dialogic intervention in which 20, or 50, or 2,000 co–creators are involved.

At the end I still need to repeat that the processes of creative dialogue are a sophisticated leadership methodology which sometimes requires several months of preparation and dialogue, until the moment of breakthrough when the team can think together as a unit. To run such a process, leaders need to develop a high level of catalytic skills (container building) and practice.


The themes I am writing about in this blog are expanded in my latest book Diamond Leadership available on Kindle.


[1] Working with dialogic methodologies requires a high level of presence, and catalytic skills. Although you can learn much through practice and trial and error, to beginners in these processes, I still recommend you do this with an experienced catalyst.

[2] Be creative with the questions. You might have noticed that I often start the questions with How are we, and the question is in a present tense. This is not by chance. This type of question makes you look at things as if you were already doing them.

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