Separating observation from evaluationObjections-wisdom-circle-of-flowers

Have you ever noticed how in human communication, considerable time and energy can be consumed when arguing for supremacy of a subjective interpretation, rather than investing in inquiry to clarify the meaning another sought to convey?

Considering the complete unreasonableness of such behavior it’s surprising to see how regularly these disconnected transmissions occur, and how easily a flow of a communication can break down.

Understandably people sometimes feel vulnerable to speak up, especially if they are less than comfortable about what they or another has to say. Yet throwing the baby with the bath water is most unfortunate as often concealed within tensions arising in interactions, new insight and wisdom awaits discovery.

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Language, whilst easily charged by subjectivity, is essentially a medium to convey meaning. By practicing basic communication skills such as reflecting, paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions, a listener can quickly fathom with reasonable confidence, an intended message.

Beneath the surface of someone’s expression may lay several layers of meaning, including points of view that even they have overlooked! Reflecting back to the other that which we imagined we heard them say, can help everyone to get clearer.

Applying filters to unveil the positive essence contained within dialogue, alters one’s world view in ways that fosters greater compassion and insight. Establishing understanding and acknowledging needs, supports potential for qualitative connection, regardless of how charged or disconnected an initial communication may be.

Deliberately seeking objection

Besides masterly communication skills, including a finely tuned capacity to read between lines, what practices can be applied in decision making to empower others, whilst navigating complexity and making decisions effectively? How can we make power explicit and ensure it is applied in ways where everyone is accountable for their actions – or inaction?

In Consensus decision making a proposal forming can grind to a halt when people get into arguing for a “best idea”. Exploring all options can be arduous, the more vocal tend to dominate and often times the process could be accurately defined as decision making by endurance!

What possible solution could ensure equivalence whilst maintaining effectiveness you may ask?

In sociocracy, the transformational ingredient for more effective decision making is the act of deliberately seeking objections. Objections are seen as gifts!

The word objection was chosen as a translation from Dutch and is intended to mean “strong felt sense in the body”. Whilst sometimes obvious, an objection may at first glance be difficult to define.  By remaining vigilant to tensions and taking time to acknowledge and explore them, groups can discover together whether some previously overlooked information is seeking emergence… or not!

Deliberately seeking objection is a concept that might take a little getting used to, especially if coming from a background of experience where objection equaled obstruction, and was symptomatic of explicit or underlying battles for power.

However, once over this hurdle, it makes sense to acknowledge potential objections, after all, why would anyone wish to do anything that may harm their aims? This is why in sociocracy, potential objections are owned by the whole group.

Holding a group to ransom without reason is avoided because an objection must (at some point) be clarified by an argument that clearly explains why a particular proposal could harm the aim of the group, or stand in the way of someone’s ability to fulfill a role contributing to that aim.

Many people have negative associations with the word argument – memories of conflict – violent interactions – obstruction etc. From a scientific point of view however, an argument can be understood to mean a conclusive statement, proving or disproving a hypothesis. In decision making we’re forever testing hypothesis.

“Good enough for now” and “Safe enough to try”

The degree of time spent on clarifying objections can be balanced against actual time available for the process. Sometimes we need to act and asking if a proposal is safe enough to try helps to determine the validity of objections. There is often a tension between equivalence and effectiveness.

In sociocracy the focus shifts from seeking a “best idea” towards establishing a proposal that is “good enough for now”. As in natural processes where nature is constantly refining itself, transforming that which is no longer effective, so in sociocracy, processes can be tested, changed and developed over time, as objections to their current form arise.

Seeking objection is a deliberate invitation for emergent wisdom to reveal itself to a group.

Whilst some may take issue with encouraging objection and argument, such points of view are built upon a mistaken premise that doing so bypasses positive inquiry. By applying the lens of a solution orientated focus, the value of raising objections becomes obvious, as they serve as a springboard from which our creativity can arise.

Deliberately inviting objections helps to illicit conversations that otherwise may be avoided.  Those who feel most vulnerable to contribute feel safer to raise their voice, and those who are well practiced at speaking out, are compelled to present with clarity the reasoning behind their arguments.

Of course, the world is full of people who on occasion get into battles on the basis of false premise– including my good self! There are those who may regularly identify with being obstructive, arguing, judging – including you perhaps! Often those most vocal, and those least, have both experienced situations in life that have been somehow abusive, violent, disrespectful.

Bifocal vision – building trust and rapport

Regardless the degree of respect, compassion or lack thereof that someone demonstrates in their communication, focusing inquiry towards seeking the wisdom concealed within what’s being expressed, improves potential for deepening connection and mutual understanding, even if the wisdom revealed indicates that the founding premise upon which the argument was constructed is false.

When we remain open to consider another’s point of view, and take time to reflect on the possible reasons for their objection, our meeting becomes more tangible. We offer one another the experience of being taken seriously, of having needs acknowledged and unique points of view respected.

If we walk our talk, own our feelings, separate our observations from our evaluations, communicate needs clearly, and remain open to the fact that our opinion is but one of many, then by example we model to others how they might do the same.

Encouraging effective ways of sharing what’s alive within, regardless the quality of presentation or actual validity of an argument, demonstrates our interest in one another as human beings and helps to foster trust and rapport.

Seeking the positive essence in another’s communication may sometimes require some discipline, yet the rewards are numerous. Engagement, inquiry and clarification increase groups potential for effective decision making and for collaborative innovation. The benefits of such practice can far exceed any personal effort required in taking a breath, trusting the process and applying the filter of reasonableness as a foundational guide.