The best 'how-to' for encouraging consensus in firms and organizations.
Communication within many organizations has been reduced to email, electronic file transfer, and hasty sound bytes at hurried meetings. More and more, people appear to have forgotten the value of wisdom gained by ordinary conversations. The Art of Focused Conversation convincingly restores this most human of attributes to prime place within businesses and organizations, and demonstrates what can be accomplished through the medium of focused conversation.
Developed, tested, and extensively used by professionals in the field of organizational development, The Art of Focused Conversation is an invaluable resource for all those working to improve communications in firms and organizations.
About the Author
Produced by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in Canada, the book was edited by R. Brian Stanfield , its Director of Publications. A non-profit with a presence in 48 countries, the ICA has worked for 45 years in organizational development, adult and child education, community development, and methods of social change.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Origin of a Method
Part I Theory and Practice
Chapter 1. Why Conversations? And Why the Workplace? The Fragmentation of ConversationThe image of conversationSound-bite conversationsTraditional Mental HabitsThe culture of advocacyFailure to understand each otherThe possessors of absolute truthThe tyranny of the ORThe criticsThe adversarial modeChanges in the WorkplaceThe whole-system organizationThe learning organizationLeaders as askers of questionsBeyond token participationMethodology of real participation
Chapter 2. The Focused Conversation Method: An Overview The focused conversationA four-stage processWhat if governments used the focused conversationPublic meetingsThe workplaceNo right or wrong answersAdvantages
Chapter 3. The Structure of the Focused Conversation A natural process and a life methodRoots of the methodLife presuppositionsA whole-system processThe relationship arrowsApplying the method to structure a conversationThe objective levelThe reflective levelThe interpretive levelThe decisional levelThe aliases of the focused conversation
Chapter 4. Leading a Focused Conversation: Conversational Hazards How to Lead One of the Conversations in this Book1. Select a suitable setting2. The invitation3. Opening4. The first question5. Subsequent questions6. Getting off the topic: what do you do?7. Long or abstract answers: what do you do?8. If an argument starts up: what do you do?9. If people react to others' answers: what do you do?10. ClosingSome Things to Keep in Mind1. The leader has nothing to teach2. The wisdom of the group3. Abstract questions, abstract answers4. The right group5. Validity of the data What about answers that are ethically or factually wrong? 6. Group ownership of the issue and content7. Facilitator's responsibility
Chapter 5. Steps for Preparing a Conversation from Scratch Preparatory Steps1. Focus the conversation2. Write down the intent of the conversation3. Ensure a concrete beginning point for your objective questions The power of focus 4. Brainstorm questions to realize the rational objective and experiential aim5. Select the questions you need6. Jiggle the order of the questions7. Rehearse the conversation in your head How many questions at each level? 8. Prepare your opening comments carefully9. Prepare the closing carefully10. Reflect on the conversation, the group, yourselfWhy Didn't My Conversation Work? and What to Do about It.1. Group isn't focusing2. Group doesn't respond to questions3. Group gives wrong answers4. Group is not answering with real answers5. Some participants dominate6. Group goes off on tangents7. Not getting useful results8. Arguments break out9. Group challenges the facilitator
Part II The 100 Conversations
A. Conversations for Evaluating and Reviewing A1. Reviewing the yearA2. Reviewing a workshopA3. Reviewing a consultant's presentationA4. Reviewing a planning eventA5. Reviewing the dayA6. Reviewing an organization's pastA7. Evaluating a seminarA8. Evaluating a curriculumA9. Evaluating the progress of a projectA10. Analysing a product that failed to sellA11. Evaluating a marketing packageA12. Reviewing a major reportA13. Evaluating a staff service programA14. Evaluating a trade showA15. Evaluating a new business form
B. Conversations for Preparation and Planning B1. Focusing a group before a workshopB2. Introducing a new training topicB3. Preparing a short presentationB4. Getting input for a book reviewB5. Preparing a group to write a reportB6. Preparing a symbol and sloganB7. Planning a workplace study groupB8. Preparing the agenda for a meetingB9. Organizing an in-house service groupB10. Planning a staff partyB11. Working on a brochureB12. Assembling a budgetB13. Redesigning office spaceB14. Envisioning new decorB15. Selecting a topic for an upcoming conferenceB16. Designing a customer service manualB17. Initiating marketing planningB18. Preparing a strategic presentation on a new product
C. Conversations for Coaching and Mentoring C1. Coaching a colleagueC2. Talking through a job descriptionC3. Giving feedback to an instructorC4. Holding accountability with an employeeC5. Discussing a set of employee guidelinesC6. Meditating on a difficult situationC7. Mentoring a staff person in a family crisis affecting work #1C8. Mentoring a staff person in a family crisis affecting work # 2C9. Monitoring a new employeeC10. Resolving a longstanding misunderstandingC11. Responding to a personal complaintC12. Calming an upset customer
D. Conversations for Interpreting information D1. Interpreting a storyD2. Sharing an essayD3. Discussing a training videoD4. Holding a movie conversationD5. Assessing social trendsD6. Holding a news conversationD7. Pondering organizational changeD8. Appraising a sales offerD9. Tailoring your services to a customer's needsD10. Interpreting a systems auditD11. Analysing budget performanceD12. Reflecting on a chaotic meetingD13. Considering the impact of new regulations on a productD14. Reflecting on a proposal for departmental reorganization
E. Decision-Making Conversations E1. Helping a workmate think through a decisionE2. Making assignments within a teamE3. Deciding work prioritiesE4. Discussing a staff response to a strategy documentE5. Breaking up a decisional logjam in a groupE6. Deciding on a trade show strategyE7. Reframing a team's missionE8. Implementing a new board policyE9. Determining program prioritiesE10. Developing terms of reference for a major project evaluationE11. Building the annual budgetE12. Dealing with work environment issuesE13. Reworking office protocol
F. Managing and Supervising Conversations F1. Canvassing employeesF2. Reviewing work descriptionsF3. Interviewing a job applicantF4. Musing on a frustrating meetingF5. Conducting a performance appraisalF6. Assessing staff workplace needsF7. Troubleshooting a stalled projectF8. Interpreting a shop floor grievanceF9. Naming market influences.F10. Analysing sales statisticsF11. Dealing with delegation issuesF12. Collaborating on a supply problemF13. Reflecting on a transitionF14. Highlighting the comparative profile of a firmF15. Building a phased timeline for a restructuring projectF16. New managers' reflection on their leadership rolesF17. Assessing the impact of a training experienceF18. Creating participation guidelines
G. Personal and Celebrative Conversations G1. Reflecting on the dayG2. Learning from a life eventG3. Planning for personal growthG4. Facilitator's internal reflection while leading a groupG5. Appraising an additional assignmentG6. Celebrating a great victoryG7. Celebrating a colleague's retirement: a conversation with the individualG8. Celebrating a colleague's retirement: group reflectionG9. Celebrating a staff birthdayG10. Interviewing the employee of the month
Part III Appendices
A. Sets of Reflective and Interpretive QuestionsB. The Bohm Dialogical MethodC. Power of the Conversation in Relation to ArtD. Prince 5 Weapons Story (to accompany Story-Telling Conversation)E. Leading an Informal ConversationF. Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI)G. Who Will Design These Conversations for Me?H. Leading a Focused Conversation: A SummaryI. Preparing a Focused Conversation
Charts and Sidebars Relationship Arrows DiagramObjective Level in a NutshellReflective Level in a NutshellInterpretive Level in a NutshellDecisional Level in a NutshellWhat about answers that are ethically or factually wrong?The Power of FocusHow many questions at each level?Conversation Preparation FormatWhy Didn't My Conversation WorkPreparing a Focused Conversation
What People are Saying About This
"At its essence, every organization is a product of how its members think and interact." Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross and Smith, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook
"This book has served me so well in my new job. I can't tell you the many times I have pulled the book off the shelf to get some direction in creating my own questions. It has been a great asset in helping me have meaningful and directed conversations at a critical time in my new job. And has saved me precious time. Great Book!" Marlene Lockwood Group Leader, St. Helen's Hospital Deer Park, California, USA
"This book is absolutely fabulous. I started it last night, used a whole bunch of stuff I found in it in my workshop today. I love this book. It is a must-have for every facilitator in the world. If I won the lottery, I would mail one to every member of the International Facilitators Association (IAF) as a benefit. This book is without a doubt, the book of the year." Margaret Runchey Editor, IAF Facilitation News Palm Springs Gardens, Florida, USA