Thursday, October 30, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Negotiating through a complex problem (Part 3)

In 'Solving Tough Problems', Adam Kahane talks about his involvement in a negotiation about what post-apartheid South Africa would look like. Could they achieve the seemingly-impossible, and negotiate a peaceful transition in power that would lead to a prosperous country? The negotiations were held at the Mont Fleur Conference Center. What follows is part 3 of a series of direct quotes from the book:


The most extraordinary characteristic of the Mont Fleur process was the relaxed openness of the conversation. The team members not only spoke openly but, over the course of the meetings, changed what they said.

Open listening is the basis for all creativity - in business and engineering as much as in politics.

"[Work hard] to learn how to listen, without judging, to what the other person is trying to say-really to be there. If we listen in the normal closed way, for what is right and what is wrong, then we won't be able to hear what is possible: what might be but is not yet. We won't be able to create anything new."

The members of the Mont Fleur team had listened, not only openly, but also reflectively. When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas ("I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me "). They "suspended" their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling and walked around and look at those ideas from different perspectives.

To create new realities, we have to listen reflectively. It is not enough to be able to hear clearly the chorus of other voices; we must also hear the contribution of our own voice. It is not enough to be able to see others in the picture of what is going on; we must also see what we ourselves are doing. It is not enough to be observers of the problem situation; we must also recognise ourselves as actors who influence the outcome.

Bill Torbet of Boston College once said to me that the 1960s slogan "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" actually misses the most important point about effecting change. The slogan should be, he said, "If you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution." If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for changing the way things are - except from the outside, by persuasion or force.
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