by Wayne Bennett, CEO of TeamWorx Team Building
Why Dynamic Discourse™ is Critical in Today’s Environment
I recently engaged Dynamic Discourse™ to resolve a dog poo war, not throwing it at each other as the name may suggest, but rather an intense neighborhood dispute that spilled over into dozens of people and multiple government agencies.
It was started and mostly propagated by one vigilant citizen who happens to live next to the park that runs through our development. On most Sundays in the park you would find several dogs running around happily off leash, playing with each other while the owners socialized and commented. It was a ritual that had been going on for years, and one I was introduced to as I walked my two little dogs through the park.
That is until our vigilant citizen neighbor went vigilante and called in the animal control people. In an example of the worst government can be, he had a relative that worked in animal control, so the result was a terrorizing of dog owners every day for weeks. There was literally an animal control truck watching our park at all times. We live next to a large farm area where the farmer lets people walk their dogs next to his fields. They even patrolled this area even though it was outside the city limit.
This continued until one of the mother’s in our neighborhood called the sheriff because she and her daughter felt threatened by the intimidation and stalking of the animal control officers. Surprise, once she filed a formal complaint, no more animal control. This forced our neighbor vigilante back out into the public light and induced many heated interactions between him and several dog owners.
Finally I couldn’t resist using my skills with Dynamic Discourse™ to approach him. If ever there was an extreme real life case of someone difficult to communicate with, this was it. I asked him what his issue was with dogs? Why the vehement behavior?
He began by telling me it was against the law and signs were posted that dogs were to be on leash. I asked him if he obeyed every law no matter what? Although at first he said yes, after some discussion it became clear that no he didn’t, and that he could foresee other laws that he wouldn’t necessarily follow given the circumstances.
So using my Dynamic Discourse™ team communication sills I asked him again what was the real issue with all dog owners and dogs? He said someone could get hurt, although he had no examples of anyone being hurt by a dog in the park in his 14 years living there. I agreed this was possible, but it seemed unlikely this option would spurn the type of anger he had.
I asked him if there was a specific incident or person that caused this to start? There was. It turns out that a young lady a few houses down got a new dog, and that she let the dog poo in the park every day. The young lady was not necessarily poo insensitive; she has a physical impairment that made walking excruciatingly difficult and painful. It was difficult for her to move on the grass and get the poo.
He had taken his anger and frustration at the young lady out on all dog owners. Any dog off leash was a prospective poo suspect. So I asked him directly, “your real concern is poo in the park?” Begrudgingly, he said “yes.”
I told him I agreed with him. I too hate poo in the park. I play with my kids in the park, and nothing puts a damper on fun like poo in the hand. I asked him if it would change his opinion about me if I told him I always, 100% of the time, pick up my dogs poo? He looked at me funny, and again begrudgingly motioned a yes gesture.
I continued and asked if he and I were to clean up one extra poo pile each day – the poo from the young lady’s dog – is it possible that would alleviate his concerns? He said if I picked up two extra piles it would help. I’ll take that as a victory!
Our vigilant neighbor actually stood for something I 100% agree with and support, yet we were mortal enemies. He had cast “all dog owners who let their dogs off leash” as bad, never considering that these very same people may also be concerned about poo in the park. They may be the good ones actually cleaning it up.
That is one of the key problems we are having with the gun debate in our country right now. Not all gun owners hold the extreme views held by the NRA, and not all people opposed to guns want the government to take away people’s guns. There is often more agreement than disagreement on many of these hot issues.
For example, most gun owners approve of universal backgrounds checks, efforts to keep guns out of mentally ill people’s hands, and some limitation on the types of guns available for purchase.
Guns are fun to shoot when used safely. There is a positive place for guns in American society. Without the ability to discern between intelligent positions on guns, the debate just digresses into an “us against them” mentality. Like the dog poo guy, our perceived enemies may be our allies.
When more people died last year in Chicago from guns than in a war zone (Afghanistan), certainly we must ask ourselves what is wrong and seek actual solutions. The most critical part to finding solutions is truly understanding both your own position AND that of others.
Often times we can find common ground or we discover we actually agree, like me and dog poo man. In all cases, at the very least, we can clarify what exactly we disagree about. Until we know that, it’s not possible to find a resolution.
Here in lies the basic problem of our two party political system. Are you conservative or liberal? Are you Democrat or Republican? In our brain’s natural quest for simplicity it reduces people to two camps. The problem is the other side always looks like “dog owners.” We assume we know what they believe based on our predetermined view of Liberals or Conservatives. Dynamic Discourse™ team communication training can help us to see these barriers and work through them with the help of colleagues and teammates.
This allows not only the specifics and subtleties of our actual thoughts and positions on issues to be ignored, it allows people to create straw men that don’t actually exist anywhere but hold opinions in opposition to our own.
Some obvious examples of conventional thinking that upon even the most basic examination does not make any sense are below. These are just some examples that came from a Dynamic Discourse™ session I hosted with self-identified liberals and conservatives. They asked the difficult questions of each other, and we used Dynamic Discourse™ to help get answers and clarify differences and identify places where – surprise, surprise – they agreed!
Examples of Dynamic Discourse™ team communication discussion topics between self-identified liberals and conservatives:
- “Liberals spend money” yet conservatives actually spend more money. Defense is our country’s largest single expenditure by several multiples and is unilaterally supported by conservatives. Conservatives never want to cut defense spending, only all other types of spending, even though defense spending is far greater.
- “Conservatives want to limit a women’s right to choose.” This is an outcome of their main concern, which is that they consider the fetus to have a soul, and therefore to be alive, and unprotected.
- “Liberals want government in our lives” yet the above example is obviously contradictory to this. Conservatives want government to enter the most private and intimate of decisions a woman can make.
- “Liberals want to take away our guns” Many gun owners are liberals, and there has been no behavior at all by politicians to suggest this is true.
- “Conservatives don’t care about the poor” Most conservatives agree with the following analogy which is rooted in the basic work ethic. “If my brother or sister needs help with food, needs a place to stay, or help I am all in, but I am not going to pay his or her credit card bill every time they go shopping” In other words, they work hard and want to keep the money they earned and not give it away to someone who is not working hard – not that foreign of an idea?
- “Liberals are pro education” yet our education system is failing and in general liberals want to spend more money on the same system which has proven to fail. They are entrenched in a limited thinking bubble that actually prohibits meaningful progress being made in education.
- “Conservatives are pro-life” this is difficult to defend when they are pro-war and anti-social services. They want children born under any condition but fail to support living children when they have no family support system, and they send young men to war to die for questionable causes.
- “Liberals support anti-discrimination” not really. Many liberal programs focus on race as a differentiator, rather than promoting race neutral behavior and perceptions. They support programs that actively support discrimination against white people, and especially white males. One participant gave a telling story of how liberal thinking can go wrong, even with good intentions. By passing incredibly restrictive ADA laws that assist handicap people – a great idea in general – they discriminate against thousands of children. Playgrounds cannot be built, text books cannot be bought, and schools cannot be maintained because the majority of school district budgets are spent making everything ADA accessible. What liberals fail to grasp is that this discriminates against children who are not handicapped, including a large population of obese children.
Most of these are straw man topics that people reproduce and propagate deal with why the other side is so “bad.” Once we got talking to each other, it was amazing how these straw man topics were mostly shields for what people actually thought. Our preconceptions of what a liberal or conservative must “think” focus and limit our minds to hear what we want to hear. We make assumptions without testing them or questioning them.
There are many more hot topic issues that people don’t understand what the other side is thinking; what is their motivation, and why do they feel like they do? Dynamic Discourse™ team communication teaches the ability to ask questions rather than assume, to listen to answers openly, and to give each individual credit for a unique view are three skills you can use to improve communication and understanding of complex issues immediately.
One of the key takeaways from our Dynamic Discourse™ team communication training is that it is critical to avoid grouping people and ideas into convenient baskets. The larger the basket, the less likely it is to represent what the person actually believes. For the betterment of our country, your organization, and yourself, I would encourage you to avoid polarization and hyperbole in place of more solid and productive skills.
One such skill is the ability to have the courage and mental maturity to answer difficult questions. Just answer the question. You can see from the above examples that these were very difficult questions posed by both sides. They defied conventional thinking and assumptions that seem to go unchecked.
Dynamic Discourse™ teaches people to ask difficult questions and, more importantly, how to answer them. In order to get the best possible solutions from a group of talented individuals the overriding sentiment must be about getting to the best solution, and it cannot be about being right.
When all we want is to be right we will never answer the difficult questions; questions that challenge our core beliefs or challenge things we had taken for granted. When we don’t answer these questions we can never challenge these assumptions, and in our own minds we will be stuck in the same bubble of thinking.
If you truly want creative ideas that are “out of the box”, unique, different, and new in your organization, you must break through assumptions. You must implement specific techniques that support people breaking through. Otherwise, human nature will dominate, and human nature – as I have outlined in several other blogs – is decidedly biased towards defending our beliefs at all costs.
Book Wayne Bennett as a speaker at your next conference or corporate meeting.Contact Us