The Structure of Collaboration

I recently discovered the similarity between two extremely powerful collaborative methods, focused conversation, and dialogue.   It’s not a surprising discovery, and obvious to anyone who has studied or used them both.   But I was very glad to see the connection, which is not just a connection between these two methods, but a deeper structure that has to be brought to the surface for any collaborative method to work.

The common principle is that a complete (holistic) understanding of any situation needs to be looked at through multiple perspectives; and there are at least three extremely basic ways of thinking that affect any perspective.

Through the lens of a focused conversation, the most basic needed perspectives are:

–        Objective (collecting the facts),

–        Reflective (understanding feelings),

–        Interpretative (deriving meaning), and

–        Decisional (taking action).

Through the lens of dialogue, these are:

–        Feeling,

–        Meaning (which combines the concepts of ‘objective’ and ‘interpretive’), and

–        Power (action).

The understanding in both systems is that different people, or the same people at different times, tend to think and express themselves using mainly one of these different ways of thinking.  When people talk to each other, one-to-one or in groups, people often get confused, frustrated, and angry because the other people are using entirely different ways of thinking to express themselves.  From any one person’s perspective, this looks like “You just don’t get it!” or ‘You’re completely ignoring the most important point!”

A collaborative method has to make people aware that there are indeed different ways of looking at any issue, and that all of these ways are necessary in order to come up with a solution that will actually work.  This is because only then will a whole picture of the situation be incorporated into the solution; and also because only then can everyone understand and get behind a common solution.

This  post continues these thoughts:

Creating Wholeness in Collaboration.

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5 Responses to “The Structure of Collaboration”


  1. 1 dholmes April 20, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Some thoughts from having used and taught the Focused Conversation method:
    – “Reflective (understanding feelings)” — I usually try to broaden the reflective beyond feelings to include associations or memories triggered by the objective data. Sometimes people do not want to talk about feelings and some data doesn’t bring up feelings as much as it brings up memories.

    Another dynamic to note is that each level builds on the previous level of thinking. So the reflective level is built on the data from the objective level; the interpretive level is built on the information from the objective and reflective and the decisions are made on all the data.

    You also say “The understanding in both systems is that different people, or the same people at different times, tend to think and express themselves using mainly one of these different ways of thinking.” — Yes people do have a preference for expressing themselves at one level more than another. It is also true that we all use all 4 levels in our thinking. So the person who is at the interpretive level, consciously or unconsciously, has done the objective and reflective.

  2. 2 dholmes April 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    The first part of the video on this link deals with Focused Conversation (after the first 4-5 images)

    http://ica-associates.ca/template/newcourses/gfmvideoindex.cfm

  3. 3 duncanwork April 20, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks for the clarifications about Focused Conversations – from an expert. They’re very helpful.


  1. 1 Creating wholeness in collaboration. « 100 Trillion Connections Trackback on April 18, 2009 at 7:11 pm
  2. 2 Creating wholeness in collaboration. | Fit Forum Trackback on April 22, 2009 at 12:00 am

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