Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Most Discussions Fail?

What I think makes for a good discussion:

  1. An open-minded approach
  2. An ability to "listen"
  3. No pre-defined answers in one's mind
  4. Empathy and respect
  5. A willingness to change one's opinion/notions if the discussion demands

What do we do instead:

  1. We come with a pre-defined set of answers (reciting them in our minds even as we enter the meeting room)
  2. We don't listen; we state our opinion
  3. We fail to empathize--a difficult skill anyways
  4. We cling on to our opinion no matter what the situation demands
  5. We follow set rules that may have worked once upon a time in other situations but may not in "this" one

Result: A frustrating, fruitless experience for all involved.

How can we change this?

We need to understand and develop two skills that are most crucial to successful discussions, management, team building, and any other activity involving more than one working cohesively together.

  1. Listening skills
  2. Empathy

Listening skills has been discussed across forums and various platforms; I will not delve into it here.

However, empathy is still a new concept and gaining ground after Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence.

Empathy is now seen as a quintessential requirement from managers and everyone else working with people. Currently, along with IQ scores, EQ scores are also deemed equally important to gauge a person's ability to handle a team, interpersonal relations at work, handle clients, and so on.

According to John Kotter of Harvard Business School:
“Because of the furious pace of change in business today, difficult to
manage relationships sabotage more business than anything else - it is
not a question of strategy that gets us into trouble; it is a question
of emotions.”

I have seen and experienced various interplay and interactions at work where often an ability to empathize and listen would have effectively and quickly resolved the situation. 

Test your EQ here. My score is 49 on a scale of 45-54. What's yours? Be honest!

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  1. I was just discussing this with a colleague. One problem I have with my current students is their LACK of empathy. I agree with you about all of the points you have outlined for a good facilitator. But what if you are a good listener, open to new ideas (and directions that you had not expected a discussion to take), but your students are poor listeners or are uncomfortable in the free flow of direction (they want to know exactly what you want them to say and don't want to go out on a limb. This could mean that they are "wrong" and would be embarrassing for them).

  2. Thank you for responding and for raising this interesting question.

    I have been a classroom teacher for a long time and a few things I have realized are:
    Students don't want to go out on a limb if they feel "unsafe". If the environment is made "safe" where they can express themselves without the fear of making a "mistake", they will become more comfortable with a freer flow of discussion.

    To achieve this, sometimes, we as teachers, need to put ourselves out there, talk about mistakes we have made and appear more human.

    Once they perceive us as being as fallible as them, they generally loosen up.

    Would love to continue this discussion with you.


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