Umeå Univeristy host a weekly event called 8.23 each Tuesday morning to discuss a paper in development and to share ideas around what resident researchers are working on. I participated in this firstly as someone engaging around other’s ideas and later as the facilitator of my own Organizational Zoo concept. Both conversations led to stimulating exchange of ideas. I believe that the concept of proactively engaging others to seek their perspectives though constructive feedback enhances the value and relationships for everyone involved and is enjoyed by the participants.
Engaging others in exchange of perspectives through conversation, is something I make a conscious effort to practice myself, because it opens our minds to new ideas. 8.23 is facilitated in a way to optimise the outcomes and create a constructive environment. This stimulates trust to interact in a professionally manner and is aligned with the concept of Conversations that Matter. Benefits are generated by challenging the interdependencies between behaviour, conversation and context and their impacts on relationships.
The benefits of aligning behaviour with context and pre-thinking on what behaviours are optimal for outcomes is further explored in another linked blog post.
The 8.23 activity (http://0823.se/?p=1021) sets an appropriate behavioural environment for constructive dialogue and sensemaking. It provides exchange of both rational and emotive perspectives to help the author of the “discussion piece” enhance their concept or paper (and therefore more likely to be developed and published). In the current “publish or perish” academic world, many journal reviewers are more influenced by a “rational” decision making and inclined to criticise subjective data. I personally think this is a mistake, as neuroscience research is increasingly showing that emotional aspects influence decision making more than we had previously understood. Conversations about the “art” aspects of decision making is becoming stronger with concepts like story, narrative and metaphor adding to the dialogue around subconscious and emotional aspects used to inform more balanced decision making.
Language is another key influence on perception and mutual understanding. What we say and the words we choose make a big difference to how we are perceived and the influence/impact we have. For example, “I THINK you are wrong” implies rational decision challenge whereas, “I feel we might have missed the point”, implies a more emotional based challenge to your decision. The Australian Army recently investigated in the impact of language use and lexicons on their culture (Thomson 2014) and found that what is said and how it is stated make an important contribution to cultural identity. This is also discussed in greater depth by Corballis (2011).
We all know there is a difference in what we say and what we do, and this changes what stories we tell and how we “present” the information we share. This is not new… it reflects back to Aristotle (350 BCE) contemplating the synergistic impact of combining Ethos, Logos and Pathos to more effectively persuade others. Which raises the question: How do we know when we are persuading others to adopt our own approach and when we are simply sharing perspectives?
I find it is important to ask oneself challenging questions such as these on a regular basis in order to continue learning and maintain an open mind. It is too easy to become comfortable in one’s own ways of thinking and deciding and when we do this we cease to grow, personally and professionally. It is useful to challenges the current rational dominance in management thinking and contemplate what is “fact” (as opposed to interpretation or perspective) and if there is such a thing as “absolute truth”. We live in a complex world and most of what we know is actually interpreted through our own emotions and experiences, so everything we “see” and do is fundamentally biased. This does not make it wrong, in fact, acknowledging this enables us to interpret the data more effectively knowing that the subjectivity is there.
So my take away from the 8.23 sessions is that conversation is a powerful tool to create, discover and collaboratively develop concepts and ideas. This is especially so when there is conscious effort to align behaviours with constructive interactions. A group of professionals engaging in regular collaborative conversation is likely to enhance learning outcomes and generate superior performance. Engaging with an organisation where this is part of the culture motivates me to participate and stimulates my intellectual values (and hopefully my contributions have a similar positive impact on the other participants).
Aristotle 350 BCE On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse Translated Kennedy, GA 2006 Oxford University Press, UK.
Corballis, MC 2011 The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.
Thomson, EA 2014 Towards inclusion. Language use in the Department of Defence, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, www.aspi.org.au