By Fran Lyon-Dugin
Consultant & Adjunct Instructor, Augsburg University MBA Program
The fall season often brings organizations into a mode of planning and budgeting, sometimes not our favorite activities! However, creating a clear path and applying resources to it are critical to moving our mission forward versus simply spinning our program wheels over and over. Conducting these sessions effectively is tough, especially with our already over-packed days and weeks. How about a way to approach them with a fresh perspective and process?
In conducting a meeting, a process called, “The Art of Focused Conversation” (Stanfield, 2006) provides a framework that promotes open thinking, explores different perspectives of the participants, and reaches much deeper levels of understanding than that of today’s “140-character world” and sound bites to which we have grown accustomed. There are four stages of questioning in the focused conversation process: the objective level, the reflective level, the interpretive level, and the decisional level. When designing a meeting around this model, each stage includes questions that explore the topic at that level, moving “from the surface of a topic to its depth implications for their life and work.” (Stanfield, 2006, p. 28).
The objective level deals with facts and realities. “What is the data? What do we see today?” It establishes the facts as we know them and clarify them. The reflective level allows each person to provide his or her personal relationship to the subject. It deals with responses to the objective: feelings, memories, struggles. “How do you feel about this? What things surprise you?” This level deals with experiences that are real for the people involved and form the basis of how they relate to the subject. The interpretive level explores meaning and purpose, the “why” of the subject. “What is happening here? What does this mean for us?” Finally, the decisional level is where new directions are considered and chosen, and where the next steps are determined. “What is our response? What decision should we make?”
Using the focused conversation approach provides new ways to interact with each other at deeper levels, and ensures that you explore the opinions and perspectives of everyone involved. You’ll find it refreshing and positive, and it can result in better outcomes for all types of meetings, helping to move your organization forward.
Lencioni, Patrick. (2004) Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. Jossey-Bass.
Stanfield, Brian R. (2013) The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace. New Society Publishers.