Sunday, October 26, 2008

Learning to Identify the Resolution

A critical discussion is one in which something is being criticized – that is, evaluated from multiple perspectives for the purpose of coming to a shared understanding. These discussions are vital if we are to come to an agreement about the nature of something, or to agree upon a definition, or to agree on what should be done in a given situation. Fortunately for us, some of the great minds of the ages have put a good deal of thought into this process and have refined the process into something simple enough for me to understand and relate to you all. It is my intention to do this over the next few newsletters.

Let’s start with the model of a controversy. We start there because, if there is no controversy, we already have a shared understanding and have no use for critical discussion. However, if we choose to challenge presumption (reference my newsletter from August 31st), then we need to acknowledge controversy.

First we start with a simple statement describing a point of view (“Capital punishment is murder”, “We are products of our environment”, or “We should bail out Wall Street firms”). There is no thought at this time whether or not these statements are correct – they just represent one side of a controversy. It doesn’t matter if we believe them or not because in examining them, we are IMPARTIAL. We do NOT advocate a position. Rather, we assume only that they are issues complex enough to require analysis in order to be fully understood. This is challenge #1 and runs contrary to our training to “have the right answer”. We recognize here that we are seeking the answer and no more. This simple statement is called the “resolution”. It is not the ANSWER to the controversy (although it certainly could turn out to be); it is just the place we start our analysis.

So, when we begin feeling a disagreement brewing, we immediately try to formulate a resolution. We may ask “So, what you are saying is…..” and then express the statement a simply as possible in a neutral and temperate tone, and without adding charged language. If someone indicated that the Wall Street bail out was a reasonable course of action, your attempt to express that position as resolution would be expressed “So, what you are saying is we should bail out Wall Street firms?” and not “So, what you are saying is we should let the criminals on Wall Street off scot free?” The latter is clearly adding charged language that was not originally there. If possible, it is best to express a position without any charged language because it is more objectively analyzed.

I am going to close for now because it is critically important for you to understand just this much:

1. A critical discussion is one in which we are trying to explore various perspectives surrounding a given controversy.

2. A resolution is the principal claim to be explored in a controversy. It is a simple statement that expresses a point of view.

3. The resolution should be expressed in one or two simple sentences. If it cannot, then you should try to view the subject as multiple controversies to be resolved serially.

4. PRACTICE formulating resolutions for the next week. When you find yourself in a disagreement, ask the question “So, what you are saying is….?” to practice clarifying your understanding. Keep track of how many times the other party amends or adjusts the resolution. It is interesting to see that many times, we really didn’t understand just what the other party meant when we started our disagreement.

5. After you both agree on the resolution, refrain from expressing your opinion. Instead, ask them to tell you more about theirs. Simply say “What makes you say that?”, “What do you have to go on?”, “Tell me more” or whatever is natural and appropriate for you in the circumstance.

The reason I want you to do #4 and #5 is because it is important to practice when there is no great emotional load in the disagreement. If we practice the skills on a regular basis, we will have little problem calling on them when the stakes are a little higher. Get in the habit of clearly understanding the topic being discussed and exploring the other party’s position first.

We’ll discuss more next week.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: