Friday, July 25, 2008

Protocol for Critical Discussions

Critical discussions are discussions in which we are critiquing something - that is, exploring its value or nature. These are the conversations that make us nervous because we are concerned about the impact our criticism may have. There is a great deal to learn about these exchanges and I will limit this message to one difference in protocol between unproductive and productive discussions.

In unproductive discussions, typically party A will make a statement. Party B will interpret that statement and respond with a statement. Example:

Party A - "Capital Punishment is nothing but state-sponsored murder"
Party B - "It is nothing of the sort. It is simply the ultimate penalty being applied to the ultimate crime"

In this example, all we know is that the two parties disagree and if we imagine the continuation of this, we can picture statement after statement being traded without any real understanding being developed. These two parties are not collaborating; they are advocating positions. There is no exploration being done.

In a productive discussion, the protocol is different. Example:

Party A - "Capital Punishment is nothing but state-sponsored murder"
Party B - "What makes you say that?" or "Tell me more about why you think so"

In this case, party B is exploring the thinking behind Party A's statement. It is a request for evidence. Party B may agree or disagree with party A, but that is not the focus. The focus is on understanding the evidence and inference behind party A's statement.

We may find that Party A has a point of view that we've never considered before, or that we feel they are wrong, or that their evidence is based on bad information. How will we do that if we aren't curious and open?

We probably won't. That is why staying curious is so important when being critical.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: