Communicating with intent

I’ve just returned from a three-day masterclass in Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement, facilitated by Lyn Carson and Jan Elliott. It was a ‘big’ experience, and it’s going to take me some time to think through what I’ve learned.

Here are some of the communication questions that emerged from the three days – questions which can be quite challenging for people who work in this field:

  • How do we speak so that others want to listen? And listen so that others want to speak?
  • How can we remind ourselves that conversations have an afterlife? When we’re engaged in conversation, what types of future do we want to create? What planning needs to happen before a conversation to facilitate the process and support the outcomes?
  • How is our work affecting the people who are not in the room with us?
  • How do we ensure that we listen to (and converse with) a cross-section of the population? The incensed and the articulate will always be heard, but what about the others?
  • How can we create environments where it’s safe to learn (or to fail)?
  • How can we truly collaborate, so that we’re ‘working with’, not ‘working for’, and ‘speaking with’, not ‘speaking to’?
  • How can we bring a commitment to collaborate into all of our work?

We spent some time talking about the difference between dialogue and deliberation. My understanding is that the difference comes back to a question of intent. While dialogue provides an opportunity for everyone to speak and gives a genuine exchange of information, it’s not the same as deliberation. When we deliberate and collaborate, we don’t know the solution in advance. The focus is on working together to invent a solution, rather than simply commenting on (or choosing between) pre-established options.