Conversation creates the world we deal with in groups, organizations and society.
- Conversations happen in fields – i.e. conversations in groups tend to follow certain patterns, and those patterns rarely change.
- There is a limited set of conversational field patterns, meaning there is a limited set of qualities that a conversation can create in a social setting.
- The 4 different qualities of conversation are:
- Field 1: Downloading
- Field 2: Debate
- Field 3: Dialogue
- Field 4: Collective Creativity
The art of leadership is to facilitate shifts from one state of conversation to another, depending on what is needed in a specific context.
*** Enacting Conversations from Field 1: DOWNLOADING:
“How are you?” “I am fine”.
Many formal meetings in organizations are conducted using this kind of ritualistic language.
Operating effectively in such conversations requires that participants confirm to the dominant pattern of exchanging polite phrases rather than saying what is really on their minds.
In school, we learn to say what the teacher wants to hear. Later, we use the same skill to deal with bosses and get ahead in organizations.
What’s wrong with it?
From the organizational perspective, this is completely dysfunctional behaviour. It prevents teams from talking about what is really going on.
They talk about the real stuff somewhere else, like the parking lot or on their way home.
But in the workplace and in meetings, everyone’s times is wasted and they do nothing more than exchange polite comments.
This is the recipe of breakdowns and disasters waiting to happen and the organization tends to get caught in a disruption quite unaware.
***Enacting Conversations from Field 2: DEBATE:
The defining feature of a field 2 conversation is that participants speak their minds without being responsible for their communication and its impact on others. This kind of comments raise tensions. Everyone feels uncomfortable . This kind of conversation abandons YES Sir, language for a tougher type of conversation in which individuals dare to differ.
Field 1 is all about Confirming. You must confirm to other’s views (usually the boss’s views).
Field 2 is all about taking a different stance. You suggest a different point of view.
Field 2 conversations imply opening up to viewpoints that challenge the dominant views.
The structure that results from this kind of interactions is often a debate. The word ‘debate’ literally means ‘to fight or beat down’. People use their arguments to beat their opponents i.e. anyone with a different opinion.
Debate and the expression of differing views can be useful in organizations because they put all the opinions on the table.
But if an issue requires team members to reflect on and change their habits of thought and guiding assumptions, a different type of conversation than ‘debate’ is needed. One that allows participants to realize that “I am not my point of view.”
“I can suspend my own point of view and look at somebody else’s assumptions.” – Bill Isaacs – author of Dialogue: The art of Thinking Together. This requires one to move to the 3rd field of conversation.
*** Enacting Conversations from Field 3: DIALOGUE:
Dialogue comes from the Greek logos, ‘word’ or ‘meaning’ and dia, ‘through’ and can be literally translated as ‘meaning through’.
Moving from debate (field 2) to dailogue (field 3) involves a prfound shift in the collective field structure of attention through which a conversation operates.
Just as the move from seeing to sensing on the individual level involves a shift form facing the world as an exterior set of objects to experiencing the world from the field, the shift from debate to dialogue also involves a shift from trying to beat down the contrary view to inquiring into each other’s views, empathically listening from the other.
When this shift towards a dialogic field of conversation happens, your perspective widens to seeing the world and yourself from the whole.
*** Enacting Conversations from Field 4: Collective Presence and Creativity:
Level 4 conversations give birth to new ideas, imaginings, identities and inspired energy.
When the quality of the listening and conversation moves into a generative stage, there are distinct changes in people’s experience. The shift into this deeper field of collective presence often happens in a transitional moment of stillness. That is why groups that want to access this deepest level often use intentional stillness as a gateway.It is a space of “doing nothing” – of neither over-intervening nor disengaging.
When that deeper generative field is activated, we usually experience it as time slowing down, space opening, widening, the sense of self decentering, while the self-other boundary opens up to a collective presence form which the conversation seems to flow.
People no longer say,” This is my idea.” Instead the group engages in the art of thinking together where one idea builds on the other. The impact of this type of conversation can be profound, shaping or reshaping the course of one’s life.
How would it be if your team master operating at level 4 field of conversation?
This write up is based on Theory U by MIT Prof. Dr. Otto Scharmer.