Harnessing Critical Thinking

My daughter, Perrin, runs a program in mediation, and leads monthly meetings of the mediators, all of whom are lawyers. She was telling my husband John and me that the meetings are very discouraging because when she introduces a new proposal, everyone just wants to air their critical assessments. They get argumentative and judgmental; they don’t listen to each other; the conversation goes all over the place, and when it’s over, they haven’t decided on a single action to take.

It seems ironic that even mediators, who are trained in getting people to communicate and decide on a future course of action, have so much trouble doing the same when they are together.   

John, said, “It’s amazing how you can add really smart people to a room and the room becomes dumber.”
 
I said, “It could also be that most lawyers are TJs. They prize their ability to find flaws, and are usually valued for that ability in their work. They believe that they are moving things forward with their criticisms, and don’t see that it usually stops things in their tracks.”

John has been running groups all his working life, so Perrin asked him what she could do to make the meetings more productive. 

He told her, “Put them through an exercise that will do three things. It will help them express their thoughts, both positive and negative. It will help them listen to and learn from each other. Finally, it will help them be in action when they leave.”

“Please tell me about this exercise,” Perrin said.

“Start off by telling them that you would like to try something new in this meeting," said John. "Tell them that people’s default setting is naturally to be critical. That’s human – we want to make things better, but if we only discuss the negative we can lose the excitement that we need to pursue new projects. Tell them that you are going to present a proposal that could make this program even more powerful, and as you speak, you’d like them to be thinking about one question…What excites you about this proposal?

“Ask them if that makes sense to them. Get them saying yes.

“We call this ‘framing.’ It is creating the kind of positive listening you want to be speaking into.

“Then give your proposal in a 5-7 minute talk.

“When you are finished, tell them, ‘We’re going to take two minutes so you can write down what excites you about this proposal.’

“After two minutes, go around the room and get people’s answers. Write them down on a white board. When you are finished, look at the answers and ask people what the most common themes are.

“Now ask people to take two minutes to write down the one thing they would add to make this proposal even better.

“Go around the room and gather their answers. 

“Now ask people to write down what they would commit to do, or what they would request help with, so that we can implement this proposal by the next meeting. 

“Go around and get people’s commitments. Doing this allows everyone to leave in action, with a clear deadline."

Perrin tried this at the next meeting of the mediators and said she had never seen the group so animated and energized. Usually ideas for new projects dissolve into nothing with all the talk about how “It’s complicated,” and “We don’t have the resources.” But after asking three questions: What excites you about this proposal?, What would you add to make it even better?, and What would you commit to doing so it can be implemented by our next meeting?,  everyone was focused on the goal and what they could contribute, instead of all the little things that might go wrong.

Perrin also noticed that the commitments people made were all over the type table. For example, some people were working on the analytics and some were making phone calls to people. John told her, “Groups are difficult to get focused, but once you do, it’s worth it for the synergy of the different talents that are available to help you.”  

The new project was running by the next meeting of the mediators, and they were able to celebrate what had worked for them.

“The most important thing is to get people personally excited about a goal, and committed to helping in a specific way,” John said. “Once you do that, people find ways to overcome all the little obstacles along the way.”

 

Digg StumbleUpon Facebook reddit Google Bookmarks

No comments yet.

(will not be published)
Leave this field empty: