When you make your living in the world as a facilitator, you can’t help but notice the quality of conversation that surrounds you. People come up to me all the time asking advice about how to have this or that chat with colleagues or loved ones. Folks download on me their grief that our civic conversations have been polluted by rudeness and the inability to listen. We feel an overall malaise that somehow our organizations or communities could be doing better.
I have recently been published in a new book on Dialogic Organizational Development, a way of looking at OD that will be familiar to anyone who is curious about the Art of Hosting and participatory leadership. In Dialogic OD we see the world as a set of conversations. Organizations exist in the conversations we have with each other. Culture is born of narrative. On the personal level, our identities are constructed by the stories we tell ourselves, especially the ones we believe.
Changing the conversation changes the world. It's an old truism but it is a key part of our work. And not just changing the conversation, but changing HOW we have the conversation. We shift from telling to inquiry. Shift from certainty to curiosity, shift from domination to mutuality. More is possible when we realize that we are all in this together, and alone, we don't know what to do.
It boggles my mind that management training doesn’t often include a dedicated and rigourous exploration of hosting and participating in conversations. We consider good managers to have strategic, leadership, financial and technical skills. But we rarely hire people because of what they DON’T know. How many people have been in a job interview where the best answer to a question was “I don’t know what I would do. What would you do?”
And yet, that vulnerability, that presence of mind, that openness to the counsel and wisdom of others is exactly the kind of leadership that helps organizations and communities lean into uncertainty and complexity and come out with opportunities and clarity.
The Art of Hosting is a practice. It is about learning how to do that. Our greatest hope for anyone coming to our workshops is that you will leave be willing to try new ways of hosting story, inquiry and conversation. We don't expect you to be perfect - goodness knows none of us are! But we do try to equip you with the courage and practice to get out there and begin to shift the way conversations shape our world.
Will you join us on Bowen Island this November?