Listening Where Mental Models of People Conflict

Two people with conflicting or incompatible mental models will likely:

  • See different slices of the real world (read blog post “Q7- We Found the Enemy: Our Own Concepts!”);
  • May be looking at the same thing but will interpret what they see differently;
  • Use different language, or use the same words but with different meanings; and
  • Will not be aware of all the above and will not know why they are unable to communicate productively (unless they practice internal listening and the rest of the discipline of “Mental Models” in Learning Organizations).

If they harbour mental models of each other that the other does not agree with (“On Michael Jackson, or Our Mental Models of People We Know”) then listening stops and the erosion of goodwill starts; further communication is unworkable.

What are the options in such a case?

  1. Option 1: Stop communication. To preserve goodwill, an agreement to acknowledge the fact that they have basic differences and to respect each other’s mental models instead of –
  2. Option 2: Use force so that the mental model of the more powerful will prevail or
  3. Option 3: Agree to obey the authority and judgment of a third party or
  4. Option 4: Use universally-accepted protocols for validating, eliminating or selecting mental models.

Unfortunately, protocols for Option 4 are not yet fully developed. The scientific method is a rather well-developed and tested set of protocols for validating mental models, but applied only to empirical validation or only on “what is” and “what works” (in figure below, only right side of Ken Wilber’s quadrants). Knowledge management is engaged in seeking, innovating, developing and re-using “what works”. Sustainable development criteria falls on the lower right quadrant.

Parallel protocols for validation and selection of mental models for the left side of Ken Wilber’s quadrants (see figure below) are not yet fully developed. Protocols for application to validation of experiential data (upper left quadrant) are still being developed in the discipines of transpersonal and paranormal psychology and in phenomenological research. There is no consensus on how “individual benefit” (upper left quadrant) is to be defined and assessed. What does it consist of? Money? Social opportunities? Learning and realizing human potential? Security? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a step in clarifying this area. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the slew of accessory protocols on other aspects and varieties of human rights is a notable contribution on the lower left quadrant. Surprisingly, the Rotary Club’s “Four-Way Test” fits very well with Ken Wilber’s framework and provides commonly-understandable or laymen criteria for the four quadrants:

Rotary 4-way test

I have written about Ken Wilber’s framework and applied it in many ways in past blogs:


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