Starting Dialogue LO6068

Malcolm Burson (mooney@MAINE.MAINE.EDU)
Sat, 9 Mar 1996 08:33:01 -0500

Replying to LO5963, "Starting Dialogue," and subsequent posts
including LO6005--

Tuwenia wrote,
>How do you get people even to start using dialogue?

and a number of respondents, including Molly Gibbs, have shared my sense
that this is, indeed, the tough question. While I don't disagree with
Molly and others who note the importance of getting senior managers to
share values, etc., I have a slightly different perspective.

As Senge suggested, the potential exists in any organization to start LO
_somewhere_. My experience as a practitioner is that (again, as others
have noted) while upper management can find "head ways" to assent to the
LO model, it's frequently difficult for them as a group to actually try
out the practice. Without trying to sound like any more of an evangelist
than I am, there is an individual process of conversion that serves as the
pre-disposing factor behind change from the top. So I go looking for
other places to start, wherever I can connect my perception of a need with
a moment of openness. I've lately had the opportunity to use formal
approaches to dialogue in another venue in my company: that of two
related units which can't seem to get along. They must serve a common
customer base [emotionally disturbed children] in two different sites: a
private school, and a 90-day residential facility. A whole cluster of
structures and systems present and growing since the day they opened for
business 3 years ago have consistently created discord, open conflict,
sabotage, etc. among the staff and leaders of the two units. However,
this was always presented as,"there's nothing personal about this, we just
need to figure out how to work together."

As the internal consultant who took it upon himself to address this issue,
I quickly concluded (a) that it _was_ personal in many cases, because the
conflict is rooted in differences in values and beliefs; and (b) that
just tinkering with the structure was unlikely to produce positive change.
So I "sold" to the leaders of each unit the notion that the only way out
of the dilemma was a long-term process of learning to talk to each other
(dialogue, of course) about the things that really mattered to them, as
well as what sort of program they wanted but were unable to have.

We're approaching the third session (first two all day, next one 3 hrs) of
a group of 25 from all staff levels learning to converse. I'd be happy to
share more about the design with anyone who writes me separately. Major
learnings for me:

1. "safety in the container" is very hard to build,
and can't be guaranteed to staff whose prior experience is fear of
speaking openly;
2. the approach to dialogue in the deepest sense is a constant
"back and forth" motion, as instability builds and recedes. For our
second session, I allowed the group to move "back" toward skillful
discussion and attention to content issues. In session 4, I hope to
get us deeper into things like ladders of inference and left/right
3. this is the most emotionally demanding, and most fun,
consultation / facilitation I've ever done.

That's enough for now, and I realize this won't be posted for a week.
I'd welcome responses directly or in the group

Malcolm Burson <
Community Health & Counseling
Bangor, Maine


"Malcolm Burson" <mooney@MAINE.MAINE.EDU>

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