I’m reading a great book called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, by William Isaacs who teaches at MIT. (While Harvard has its big name and often big ego), 🙂 I’ve always admired those MIT folks. They tend to bring an underlying and wonderful scientific skepticism – and scientific hypothesizing – to their work. If you know the work of Peter Senge or the scientist David Bohm, you know what I mean. Isaacs is in that tradition, where he plainly reveals how non-rational our ideas and behaviors can be. Here’s one such pearl:
“We tend very quickly to identify what we say with who we are. We feel that when someone attacks our idea, they are attacking us.” In case that plainspoken truth is not enough, he then suggests just why we can be so adamant: “So to give up our idea,” Isaacs writes in the next sentence, “is almost like committing a kind of suicide.”* I belong — I assume Isaacs is in my circle — in the “fighter” group; I speak up, and then I do need to defend my idea; I don’t want you to kill my idea. I can debate as though my life and not just my ego are at stake. Other people avoid this potential threat to ideas, ego, life by just not speaking; or by quickly backing down or exercising some other method of flight.
Isaacs spends hundreds of pages helping shift our paradigmatic thinking from discussing (percussing, concussing) to dialogue, or what he calls learning to “think together.” The “simple way” I promised in today’s title involves two steps. First, consciously assert for yourself that your ideas are just that
your ideas. Let them have their own life. Then you can eagerly hear others’ ideas, learning from their perspective; inquiring into what they see, why it matters, how it might enlarge what you see. When you do this, you learn. When you do this – listen to fully “get” the other – you build up trust. When you do this, paradoxically, you build their willingness to hear “your” idea.
In much of my coaching, in multiple contexts, I am encouraging my clients — as I am practicing myself — to adopt this “listen first” attitude, paraphrase back what you heard, and then follow it with two simple questions to ensure execution. Ask: (1) “Did I get it?” If they don’t give you an unequivocal “yes,” then ask about what you missed or about their hesitant response. Then when you paraphrase it back, ask “Did I get it?” If necessary, lather, rinse, repeat. Then ask, (2) “Is there more?” If there is, loop back by paraphrasing and asking question 1: “Did I get it?”
If you do these three things: repeat back what you heard, ask if you got it, and ask if there’s more, you will be learning so much and building tremendous trust to
Lead with your best self!
* Isaacs, William (2008-12-30). Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together (p. 135). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.