Tools for Conscious Shifting of Communication Ends and Means

Henry_Martyn_Robert
More than a century ago, a US Army officer Henry Martyn Robert, was without prior warning asked to preside a community meeting. He had zero experience in presiding a meeting, and the result was a big disaster and personal embarrassment for him. To make the long story short, he decided to learn how, did research and eventually designed and wrote a simple guidebook on how to conduct meetings. The result is the “Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies” that was published in 1876. Over time, it was so useful that it was republished again and again. It came to be known as “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

Various experts have since been struggling to continue to perfect the way people can productively think and decide together.

William Isaacs, in his book “Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together”, described the Four-Player Model based on the work of David Kantor. For a group conversation to be productive, he said that four distinguishable actions must all be performed:

  • I Move“: proposing, initiating, leading, setting direction, requesting, advocating, voicing
  • I Follow“: agreeing, supporting, listening, consensus-making, completing, confirming
  • I Oppose“: correcting, re-directing, negotiating, revising
  • I Bystand“: studying, exploring, suspending choice, seeing different perspectives, weighing.

Members of the group must be able to shift from one action to another as the need arises. Getting stuck in one pattern of actions either as individuals or as a group would not be productive. Each action has a use: without a Mover there is nothing to discuss and no decision to be reached; without the Opposer corrections cannot be made; without the Bystander no one can see or weigh different perspectives; and without a Follower there will be no consensus or completion.

Edward de Bono proposed “Six Thinking Hats”, another tool to help a group shift how it thinks together:

  • Blue Hat” for designing a procedure, for agreeing on a group process or protocol, for deciding which sequence of hats the group should use to achieve what the group wants
  • White Hat” for presenting and studying facts and information
  • Green Hat” for exploring, creative thinking, innovating or improvising, thinking freely or outside rules and mental boxes
  • Black Hat” for evaluating or weighing facts or options, correcting, identifying risks
  • Yellow Hat” for identifying opportunities, advantages, benefits
  • Red Hat” for expressing feelings, emotions, attitudes, intuitions, gut reactions.

For example, if a group wants to solve a problem creatively, the sequence of thinking the group can adopt is: blue-white-green-black-blue

  1. “Blue Hat” to agree on overall procedure
  2. “White Hat” to look at all the facts about or surrounding the problem
  3. “Green Hat” to look at the problem in different ways, and to generate many options or alternative solutions
  4. “Black Hat” for weighing all options generated
  5. “Blue Hat” for selecting an option and agreeing on the next steps, who will do them and their deadlines.

The “Blue Hat” is often the first hat a group should wear. For the same reason, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, a “point of order” (to clarify what is the correct procedure or process) takes precedence over other motions or proposals.

By agreeing to shift thinking hat together, there is less risk that a member will be stuck in one position while another member will be stuck in the opposite position and the two members endlessly debate. In de Bono’s system, everyone looks together at the advantage of a position, and also looks together at the disadvantage of that position.

A facilitator (a peer) or chairperson (a permanent or ad hoc superior) must be skillful in sensing and redirecting the group PROCESS. In other words, he or she must be an expert in wearing the “Blue Hat”. He or she must have “process-savvy”. Read my narrative of how I facilitated a Team Learning process in the previous blog post “Q9- An Exercise in Team Learning: Some/the(?) Root Causes of September 11”

The key is simple: moment-to-moment awareness of group process.

Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the webpages pointed to. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the use of the images in this blog post.

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One Response to “Tools for Conscious Shifting of Communication Ends and Means”

  1. L26 -Bohm’s Dream: a Revolution in How We Communicate « Apin Talisayon’s Weblog Says:

    […] There was sheer incompetence in how to communicate? […]

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