Critical Discourse: Asking Effective Questions and Speaking One’s Own Truth

Organizational change depends on the competence of individuals and groups to reflect critically on their own reasoning and to test their insights in action. But that vital competence is rarely displayed in daily organizational meetings.

The Problem

In organizational meetings assumptions are rarely challenged, and when they are the attempt is rarely successful. Challengers tend to rely on one of two tactics. The first is an attempt to subtly lead someone else to one's own point of view through all too transparent questions. And the second, born of too long held frustration, often comes out in a flash of anger.  The first is recognized as manipulative and the second immediately results in defensiveness. Neither works.

Participant: "I have been surprised a lot. I thought I was asking effective questions, but actually I was using very leading/controlling questions of others - and I now realize they knew it all along!"

The Solution

There is, however, a skillful way to challenge the assumptions of others as well as to become more aware of one' own assumptions - and equally important undertaking. The skill set is based on the research of Professor Chris Argyris of Harvard University. Dr Dixon has taught these skills to hundreds of military personnel who must daily challenge assumptions in a respectful manner, engineers and corporate professionals who must accomplish their work through influence rather than position power and intelligence analysts who must examine all the available knowledge about critical defense issues.

Participant: "I am now about to get a better understanding of others' positions - I know how and what to ask."

The Process

But it is not a quick fix! Gaining competence requires two kinds of learning, 1) unlearning old patterns of response, and 2) practicing new patterns until they become natural enough to be immediately available. That practice starts with the first workshop day but is only really learned through the daily on-the-job interaction that is then subjected to systematic reflection using databased tools and skillful coaching. Critical Discourse is designed as a workshop/coaching sequence, held in-house over a three month period. The staggered meeting schedule helps participants test out the skills in their own setting and then bring the issues they face to the next workshop meeting.

Participant: "The critical discourse workshop is structured well and gave me time to learn and then apply what I learned over a few months time. It helped me slow down and analyze what I think and what I say to people to allow deeper and clearer communication."

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