Dangers of Climbing the Ladder of Inference

I appreciate students and clients who, through their questions or disagreements, invite me to rethink and reconsider what I say and espouse. This happened recently after a two-day workshop on communication and meeting skills with the staff of a governmental agency. I had reviewed the Ladder of Inference to help people learn how to give effective feedback by separating observable behavior (what they see and hear, e.g., when you interrupt me) from inferences or judgments … Read more…

“Duh’s” and “Aha’s”*

When do your best ideas come to you? Perhaps while you are walking, showering, or having a good conversation with people you trust? Or, do they come while you are studying an issue and trying to solve it based on your past experience with solving a similar problem? When faced with a difficult issue many of us try the latter and often come to an impasse or apply an ineffective solution. This happens for two … Read more…

Suspending Judgment

This year I have the privilege of serving on the dissertation committee for Jen Mason, an engaging and highly competent graduate student conducting seminal research into “Mindfulness, Suspension and Learning in Multi-Stakeholder Groups” for her Ph.D. from Prescott College. I am grateful for this opportunity to reconsider the importance of “suspension” in productive dialogue and collaboration. I first encountered this idea while participating in a series of International Women’s Dialogues through the Dialogue Project at … Read more…

Talking Better Together by Opening to Change

Eighty people sit in groups of four around small tables spread across a gymnasium floor. The topic is water, always a touchy subject in California. This time, however, the problem isn’t having too little water; it’s having too much. The state “owns” the water and grants rights to use it to various agencies throughout the state. There’s a catch, however: If you don’t use what you’ve been licensed to use, you can lose rights to … Read more…

The Power of Unexamined Beliefs

When we get stuck in “solution wars” in meetings, unbeknownst to us, we are often arguing about our beliefs or mental models about the world. Mental models, according to Peter Senge define “deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” These mental models are double-edged swords. On the one hand they provide a framework that helps us order and interpret the world; … Read more…

Opening to Change

We are witnessing the logical result of people embracing absolutes in their minds and in their actions in Mali, Nigeria, Paris, Beirut, and the plane crash in the Sinai. These are acutely painful reminders of the travesties that are possible when human beings close themselves off to change and mindlessly cling to beliefs about the way the world is “supposed to be.” My rigidity and reactions to the beliefs of others is not in the … Read more…