Can You Engineer a Conversation? (How to Talk #2)
Depends: Are you looking for control or insight?
In Moments of Impact: How to design conversations that accelerate change (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2014), Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon argue that some of our most productive conversations come from deciding ahead what we want from the interchange. Their book presents a system of on-ramps that will be particularly useful for anyone charged with gathering a group with the intent of going further than the old, fallow brainstorming sessions allowed.
Conversation, as everyone knows, can be far from benign. For those looking to control a conversation, unless highly skilled, the better (and far less productive) option may be to continue with monologue.
Because a strategic conversation consists of live interactions between people with different perspectives and passions, you can never predict exactly where it will lead. (41)
That is the beauty of conversation: the whimsy factor can drop participants in places they never expected to arrive. That is also the danger—especially in corporate settings where a particular outcome has been strongly hinted at, if not guaranteed.
For those daring souls willing to let go, but who still retain a preferred outcome, Ertel and Solomon’s notion of a “strategic conversation” may just fit the bill. Start by sorting what you are trying to accomplish: build understanding, shape choices or make decisions. And then employ divergent and convergent thinking and other group exercises as necessary.
What I appreciate about Ertel and Solomon’s work is they have built a framework around the basic serendipity of conversation and brought it as a tool into even very hierarchical structures.
I am convinced we’ll find strategic conversations a formidable tool indeed, especially as we create brand new stuff out in the world.
Image credit: http://www.momentsofimpactbook.com