The intentions for this DwD were to explore two contexts:
- How do we avoid personal bias when facilitating authentic & emergent dialogue?
- How do we create open spaces in communication for deep listening and sharing?
Stephen Sillett hosted our July 2015 inquiry into non-directive communication. Peter Jones presented a dialogue from Ed Schein’s Humble Inquiry, and Stephen held an experiential activity with David Grove’s Clean Language methods. We touched on open and shared conversation experiences of forming and asking questions, touching on how power relations, culture and personal assumptions influence how we ask questions.
Humble inquiry is an approach to creating better working relationships with people in interdependent situations. Schein simply calls this “the gentle art of asking rather than telling.” However, as with most of his work it goes well beyond good management, it’s an approach we can all learn from for better relationships and more effective team and partnership work.
Humble Inquiry is the skill and art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.
Schein notes three modes of humility – Basic humility, Optional humility, and Here and Now humility. We always have a choice to approach a situation as an inquiry, with questions that invite the other person to share, to ascend a bit. We allow the other to be the expert in their own experience. This is especially powerful when you as the questioner may already be in a more powerful status.
Clean Language draws from techniques developed by David Grove, derived from counseling, and used in organizational development and group facilitation. Several books and materials available on the Clean Language website provide pathways for interested participants to follow.
These activities can be very powerful, especially when exploring emotive, complex or confusing situations. It slows down our everyday way of communicating, which is often goal-directed and constrained by time, inhibiting our capacity for clear, clean communication.
This approach involves formulating questions that focus attention and develops a person’s understanding, without adding the questioners’ own needs and advice to the balance of conversation.
Experiencing the Process in Embodied Metaphors
The process of Clean Space was explored in the session by facilitating a person’s real incident in the past as a metaphor, drawing on the metaphor and “clean language” to enable the participant to build a tableau with others and explore the meaning in the metaphor.
As shown in the photograph, other participants played roles in the metaphor through an image theatre method.
David Grove deliberately ‘marks out’ his use of Clean Language through changes to his normal way of speaking:
- The speed of his delivery is slower than half normal pace
- He uses a slightly deeper tonality than normal speaking
- He often uses a distinctive sing-song rhythm
- There is an implied sense of curiosity and wonder in his voice
- The client’s idiosyncratic pronunciation, emphasis, sighs etc. are matched
Syntax: The syntax of Clean Language is peculiar and would sound very strange if used in normal conversation! It uses Pacing and Leading in a particular way. For example, all the questions begin with “and” and are orientated to the clients ‘perceptual present’. The generalised syntax, in its full form, comprises 4 components:
“And [pacing clients words]
+ And as/when
+ [refer to this particular experience]”
About the Host
Stephen Sillett is co-executive director of Aiding Dramatic Change in Development(ADCID), and helps the organization research, facilitate and direct dialogue, drama and art processes for healing and community development. Through ADCID projects and in partnership with other social actors, he is exploring approaches that engage community members in conversations, consciously orientated to maturing visions of the future. Research interests include the facilitation of non-verbal and spatial meaning-making practices within group workshop and the creation of interactive performance. He directs InFusion Labs where theatre artists, therapists, scientists and social practitioners explore spatial approaches to exploration and discovery.