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The art of discussion - how to specify the topic of conversation, keep it there and track the focus as it shifts using the NLP Hierarchy of Ideas model.
(By Abby Eagle) Have you noticed how some politician's have the ability to side step a journalist's questions such that the topic of conversation never gets satisfactorily addressed? How would it feel to be involved in such a conversation?
My friend John told me about a serious argument he had with his best friend over a farming practice. As it turned out John was thinking about a town in Queensland while his friend was thinking of a town by the same name in Victoria. Literally they were on different parts of the map.
In this article I am going to show you how to get on the same page and track a conversation such that you get the most value from it. We start by defining discussion and argument.
A discussion is an earnest conversation in which there is the act of consideration and examination of a topic to gather information and explore solutions.
An argument is a discussion like a debate in which the focus is on difference and disagreement is expressed. An emotional argument occurs when two people get locked into differences. We come to agrement only when both focus on sameness or agree to differ.
The type of conversation that you have will depend upon the topic, the people and the context. For example, is the conversation going to be an interview, an interrogation, a coaching conversation, or a conversation between parent and child, teacher and child, friends, family, lovers, business partners, employer and employee, sales person and customer, doctor and patient, lawyer and client, and so on.
Who each person is - that is, their identity, status and face; the context of the conversation; the location of the conversation and the topic of the conversation will set a framework.
Step 1. Get clear on what you want to talk about?
Step 2. Identify who is the right person to have the conversation with? For example, the CEO at Gold Coast City Council.
Step 3. Start by introducing yourself (if necessary) and then building rapport (essential). For example, "My name is John and I am a NLP Coach and I would like to interview you for an article on my website." Then give a preamble, that is a statement which sets the context followed by a question in which you invite the other person to engage in a conversation, as follows.
The CEO replies, ""What do you want to talk about?"
John says, "About the riverbanks on the Gold Coast waterways, specifically Burleigh Lake. Every two years contractors scrap away the vegetation on the river bank, and then dredge sand and pump it onto the foreshore to create a sandy beach. In one way it looks nice but in another it upsets the marine ecology and destroys the natural habitat for birds and wild life. I would like to talk with you about the reasons why the council does this, who benefits, what it costs and are there other possible solutions?"
Step 4. If the CEO does not agree to a conversation then go back to building rapport. If he agrees then it may be helpful to clarify some of the following points for yourself.
- Why do you want to have the conversation? What is your intention? What do you hope to achieve? What values will it fulfill? What is important to you about the conversation? What will the conversation mean to you? What will the conversation look like, sound like and feel like? Do you want information, disclosure, clarity, an agrement or a decision? Do you want confrontation or do you want to resolve conflict? Do you want to brain storm, to solve a problem or to learn something?
- What is the scope of the conversation? What points can be discussed and what is off topic?
- How is the conversation going to be held? What will happen? Are you going to take notes, film it, record it? What do you intend to do with the recordings? Can the other party see a copy of the transcript before it is published? Are there examples of your work that the other party can see? Do you have testimonials?
- Is it going to be a private conversation or a public conversation? Who else could be invited to participate or listen in?
- When and where would you like to hold the conversation? What happens if you don't achieve the outcome in the allotted time?
- Check that both parties are in agrement, that is check for congruency. Do both parties have the necessary resources? Has a decision been made to engage in a conversation? What is the level of commitment? What are the action steps you need to take to ensure that the conversation will be held according to plan? What is the first step for each of you and when will you take those steps? And most importantly what will be your evidence for having had a worthwhile conversation? [Well-formed outcome questions.]
Once you have agreed to a conversation, then what? Your choices are to make statements and ask questions but other factors that may influence the flow of the conversation will be your frames of mind, attitudes, values, beliefs, memories - and your intention. So what does it mean for you to hold a conversation? Is it an exploration or do you have an outcome in mind? Are you trying to prove a point and do you have a need to be right? What type of questions are you asking - are they open ended questions, closed questions or leading questions?
If the other person's approach is too direct and confrontational, then what frames of mind would enable you to stay in a resourceful state and not 'hook in' emotionally? You could meet the other person head-to-head or you could bring heart into the conversation and respond out of a meditative awareness, of beingness and inner silence? Perhaps the ability to embrace the situation and welcome whatever words or emotions the other 'throws' at you, would be useful? Do you know of anyone who could handle a tough conversation with fin-esse and if so then how could you learn to take on the role model's attributes and qualities?
Do you have a benchmarking method to track the progress of the conversation? Once in a while it may help to step back and take an objective look at the progress of the conversation and ask yourself questions like, "Do I have rapport? Does the other person look and sound engaged with me? Are they emotionally hooked in? Am I hooked in to the content? If so, then how do I disengage and track the process? Am I enjoying the conversation? Do I like where the conversation is headed? Am I learning something? And are we on topic?" Which leads us into a method to track the topic of conversation - logical levels and logical types at varying levels of specificity.
Chunking is the process of grouping information into sizeable bits. In terms of abstracting, chunking is the process of organising and categorising information into sizable bits in a logical hierarchy.
So we can chunk up the ladder of abstraction to the big picture or we can chunk down to the specifics. Each rung or level on the ladder is at a different level of specificity that represents a different class or category. The Hierarchy of Ideas model (Tad James) illustrates how the process of chunking works.
In figure 1 if we start at the level of transportation then to chunk up we ask, "What is transportation an example of?" This gives us the category of movement. We repeat the process to chunk up to 'energy'. Your answers may be different to mine but that is the nature of mind.
To chunk down from transportation we ask, "What are examples of transportation?" We get categories like, cars, trains, airplanes, skate boards, bicycles, walking, horse and cart, etc.
Choosing cars we can chunk down to different makes of cars, then to model of car. Then we chunk down to the bits that make up a car like doors, windows, wheels, engine, etc. Then we can keep chunking down to smaller and smaller items until we get down to the different types of atoms.
If you and me are to have a conversation then we need to make sure that we have the same elements and the same map coordinates in mind. If the topic of conversation is about transportation but I am thinking about a motor vehicle like a Model T Ford and you are thinking about a learjet then at some level we are going to mismatch. So we need to have some tools that can help us keep track of the conversation.
By creating a system of logical levels and logical types we can examine the content of our conversation on a grid system. Each element on the grid represents a level of specificity at the intersection of a logical level and type. Not only does this give us a method to determine if we are on the same page but we can use this information to map across and construct metaphors.
Figure 1 above, attempts to sets guidelines that keep the topic focussed around transportation, cars, trains, airplanes, skateboards and things like that. Figure 2 below shows how easy it can be to take big jumps around the map and get off topic. This is how mind naturally functions - but this is also how we create metaphors, analogies and similes, and generate new understandings.
For example, in figure 2 if we start at Politics and then chunk down to examples of political systems we can have some fun. We could say a democracy is where everyone has to cast their vote on the train's destination but if you happen to be in the minority then you still have to go along for the ride. Facism is where one person has the power to decide not only the direction of the train but who gets on. Socialism is where there is only one train; you have no say in when it leaves or where it stops; you always have to que and if the conductor does not like you they kick you off. A meritocracy is where the artists and musicians run the show. They invite everyone to ride on the train on the condition that you celebrate the journey.
The way I created that metaphor was to look at trains on figure 2 and then move across to the logical type of politics and search for comparisons. In another example, we could say Allopathy (Western Medicine) is to airplanes as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to walking. They both get you to the destination but the TCM is more gentle with out the bumps and the ups and downs. To create that metaphor all I did was choose a random element at a different logical type and search for a comparison. The elements do not even have to be at the same logical level - they can be at any logical level or type.
Metaphors give us other ways to think about things and help help us create new frames of mind such that not only can we update our map of the world but we can extend the boundary of the map and discover previously unchartered territory. So how do we construct a metaphor? The easiest way is to construct an isomorphic metaphor, that is an analogy in which there is a one-to-one relationship between the elements of one thing with the elements of another thing.
For example in figure 2, let's start with the engine of a motor car, keeping in mind that we can chunk up on motor car to transportation or we can chunk down on engine to the parts of the engine. So we ask, "What is an engine?" Our creative self answers, "An engine creates the power to turn the wheels and move the vehicle forwards. The more powerful the engine then the more weight it can transport and the faster the vehicle can move. How long the engine will last, how much power it can generate and how far the vehicle can travel is related to the quantity and quality of fuel that you put in the tank."
Now that we have identified some elements of the motor vehicle and their function we can start drawing comparisons with other things by shifting logical level and type and asking, for example, "How are the elements in a motor vehicle like the elements in a human body?"
We might say that wheels of the car are like legs of the human body; the engine is like the gastrointestinal system; an exhaust systems is like a colon; a carburettor works in much the same manner as the body regulates blood sugar levels; the air filter is like the lungs, and fuel is like a food. From this the understanding may arise that food is fuel for the body. Food should not be so much about reward, managing your emotional state and socialising but more that food is fuel for the body and if you want the body to work efficiently you need to eat top quality food.
So by shifting logical level and type, and by drawing comparisons we come up with a new way of thinking about food that can help people to improve their health.
Chunking is the process of grouping information into sizeable bits.
Abstracting is the process of chunking information to levels of more or less specificity. To chunk up ask. "What is this an example of? For what purpose?" Abstract up to find sameness. Abstract high enough and you will find oneness.
To chunk down ask any Meta Model question, for example. "What is an example of this? What are parts of this? What or how specifically?" Abstract down to find differences.
The philosophy of chunking. No matter whether you chunk up or down you always find a noun. Time is the measure of a sequence of events (nouns). A process is the sequencing of actions (verbs) over time. If we take a snap shot of an action we get an event. The question is, "If you chunked down to the level of molecules, atoms and electrons would those particles be in a constant process of movement or could there be a context in which they become still?"
A logical level is a natural grouping or range of specificity. We shift up or down on a vertical axis like moving up or down the rungs of a ladder. In some cases a level that is higher than another level is termed a ‘meta level’. “Thinking about thinking generates thoughts/feelings at higher logical levels so that we experience states-about-states. A meta state is a state about some previous thought, emotion, concept, understanding, etc.” (L. Michael Hall, Meta States, second edition p4 2000 )
A logical type is a different group at the same level of specificity. We shift across from the rungs of one ladder to the rungs of another. Logical types are mapped out on a horizontal axis. It is a lateral shift in thinking.
Metaphor, analogy and similes are constructed by searching for relationships between ideas at different logical types at the same or different logical level.
When we shift an object from one category into another the entire meaning can change. For example, granting dolphins person hood would change entirely the way that we look at them and treat them.
We chunk down from abstract nouns (nominalisations) to process words (verbs) to understand specifically what is meant by the nominalisation. [NLP Meta Model]
Each element on the grid is the label for an object, that is a noun. How two or more objects interact and relate to each other over time is a process.
The ability to chunk and sequence processes may be related to status and income level. For example, in an organisation the person at the top has the responsibility to deal with big chunks of information and may not even know what the job description is of the lowest paid worker who has the job of dealing with the basic details. The responsibility of the person at the top is to make decisions while the task of the person at the bottom is to do some physical activity.
Arguments are about differences in meaning. We are the meaning maker and as such we create meaning. Meaning is not inherent in an object or an event. By bringing frames of mind like curiosity, fascination and playfulness to a conversation we can explore how we each map the world. The NLP Meta Model, Meta Programs, Hierarchy of Ideas, Meta States, and Peace Mapping models gives us a way to systematise that process.
Peace is found by nurturing the process of inquiry. Some political systems, religions, business cultures, societies and families aggressively suppress the natural process of inquiry, which is actually hardwired into all human beings. (Self actualisation) The freedom to ask questions and express one's opinion without fear of harassment should be a basic human right. A satisfactory outcome to a conversation can only occur if all parties to the discussion listen with an open mind and respect the others point of view.
In summary, we define the topic and set boundaries for the conversation; then we focus on agreed upon elements within the logical levels and types grid, dealing with each element one at a time and tracking the process so that we know exactly where we are at any point in time and remembering once in a while to step back and see how each element interacts within the bigger picture.
Keep in mind that thoughts drive your actions. If you don't like the action then change the thoughts that drive it - you do that by asking questions that help you map out the structure of the action and setting a well formed outcome. Transformational change arises out of asking the right questions not from telling others or yourself what to do - and we do this by holding one conversation at a time.
And this is the challenge that I leave you with - to learn to squeeze the juice from each and every moment such that at the end of the day you look back, and you know in your heart that it was a day well worth lived
__ © Author Abby Eagle
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