This is the fourth “writing out loud” excerpt from the working draft of Adam Kahane’s new book, “Collaborating with the Enemy: An Open Way to Work with People You Don’t Agree With or Like or Trust,” to be published by Berrett-Koehler in 2017. Adam is keen to engage with interested readers around this material as he develops it. If you have not yet subscribed and would like to continue receiving updates and participate in a conversation about them, please sign up here.
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Michael Chender says
Very clear, enjoyable and provocative.
First, a typo, 8th sentence from the top of page 4–a word is missing between “forecast-based” and “used.”
A few things stood out for me. One is the power of friendship and the (other-) humanizing aspect of being, eating, drinking and doing other things together. (How do we do this with groups that these days engage primarily online? What protocols could we introduce into Skype, Zoom, etc that could deepen our on-line interactions?) Another is realizing as I read that in my own mind I make the examples more quotidian—the different stages of listening, the power of time spent together, the realization of multiple truths–in terms of conflicts (incredibly rare, mind you) with my spouse, children, etc. I feel it helps my limited listening capacity to develop to remember that the same challenges of engaging a multitude of truths is constantly there, at different scales —down to my own inner voices.
I think that the realization that there is no single truth and that greater empathy and communication, rather than nihilism, flows from that is getting pretty close to being a meta-truth!
Finally, how the hell did you get research postings to Vancouver, Vienna, Paris and Tokyo? This points to a skill you haven’t come clean on in your recounting of your journey!
Adam Kahane says
Michael, I think that these research posting are examples of the assertiveness/ambition/power part of this story. My mentor Bill O’Brien once told me that driving personal ambition (of this sort) is admirable in a 30 year old and pathetic in a 60 year old.
Bill McIntosh says
Congratulations on another excellent and important piece of work! The concept that all participants in a dialogue bring their separate realities an truths to the process can be outlined easily enough; far more difficult is explaining what to do about it, and how. I think you’ve done that beautifully. Illustrating your points with sketches from some of the stories developed in your previous books worked well for me, and I think will be appreciated by most readers, whether or not they’re familiar with your earlier writing.
Most interesting to me was the “How to work with multiple truths” section: your use of Scharmer’s four-stage model, and your explanation of the three key practices required for moving from debating to dialoguing (suspending, redirecting and letting go). A suggestion: consider adding two pre-conditions for success you’ve discussed previously in the context of generative dialogue (i.e. the participants’ awareness that they have a important interest in the outcome of the discussion, such that they can’t afford to walk away, and second, their recognition they’re unlikely to be able to achieve their objectives on their own).
There’s a typo on p. 12 – first paragraph, last sentence : “Suspending is a crucial act because in doing so I am explicitly acknowledging that my idea is not the whole of the truth about the situation and that my idea is not the same as—is not identified with— me; you can attach my idea without attacking me.”(“attach” should be “attack”)
Martin Rausch says
Thank you Adam:
Your narrative writing style is very engaging for me. Works wonderfully again for me and congratulations!
> At the start of the chapter I was looking for an introductory paragraph in regard to the purpose of the chapter and in the chapter some Voice-Over referring to the purpose again. I think – for people like me who like to follow a thread of thought – it would be helpful. I think this could be done with a few sentences.
> You might want to look at some neurobiological implications that help – on a physical level – to better understand when a person can engage with the other without any guard. Stephen Porges has significantly contributed to this understanding with his Polyvagal Theory and has influenced trauma-therapy practices significantly. Bruce Perry also produced a table which highlights which part of the brain actually works when we have passed the downloading and debate phase. For more – two short documents I put together for my own purposes:
I am explicitly acknowledging that my idea is not the whole of the truth about the situation and that my idea is not the same as—is not identified with— me; you can attach (attack) my idea without attacking me.
Our objective was not so much to be right—to accurately forecast the future, so much as to be useful—but (is missing) to help the company adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world.
Much gratitude and best wishes for your significant contributions for making our world more capable in dealing with our challenges!
Charles M Lines says
‘Feeling superior as a condition of being’. Yes, as you say, part of being able to collaborate within difficult contexts is being able to suspend ego: to know when, where and how to be ‘assertively selfless’ — to listen to people’s views and sometimes support people’s goals even when, maybe, we do not appreciate either or see their value. I think developing the skill of being assertively selfless, because it is so counter to many people’s cultures and ways of being and doing things, is the most challenging to develop and use.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this helpful elaboration Charles.
Milton Dawes says
From a general semantics perspective (mine): Re. “pluralism”: a label for our recognizing the fact that whatever name, tribe, belief system, world view, cultural origins, etc. we identify with…We are members of the same human tribe. I believe that politicians might avoid much controversy, and could do well to emphasize the above expansion, or offer what they intend when they use the word “pluralism”. Many ‘critics’ do not seem to re-cognize that “pluralism” can be also be about “unity”.
Re. “the truth”: I think it’s most unfortunate that we humans have hung on to the word “truth”. In so doing, we have ignored a quite easily illustrated factor (for anyone caring to look, listen, or touch) that “a word is not and cannot be the same as what that word is about”. No two things are identical (the same in all respects (general semantics “principle of non-identity”.) The relatively static words offered as “the truth” cannot be the same, does not describe constantly changing actualities. A statement offered as “the truth” does not and cannot say all about whatever non-verbal situation it is supposed to be about (general semantics “principle of non-allness”): With training, and much resolve, we behave less like the blind men identifying their little increments as the whole thing. A great deal of our human problems can be attributed to our thinking-believing-feeling we know “the truth”. I avoid using or thinking in terms of “the truth”. I substitute “a point of viewing”.
We naturally identify and engage in “identifying and ‘allnessing’, and It is very difficult for anyone to recognize doing this…In identifying, we are one with our ideas, beliefs, opinions, etc.: There is no active ‘cognitive department’ to critically self-evaluate or disagree, suspend or imagine that there are, or could be many ways to see, understand, think-feel about a situation or resolve a problem. For instance: In a mode of identifying, it’s unthinkable to say “maybe”, “perhaps”, “possibly”, etc. or utter “In my opinion”, for there is no separate “my” there: A person in a mode of identifying is one with their opinions, ideas, belief, values, etc., and will quite naturally and understandably strongly resist anyone offering other points of viewing for fear (not necessarily conscious) this might result in cognitive, psychic, and spiritual dis-integration…It’s tantamount to shattering their world, wavering, being not sure…showing uncertainty is like “Losing “faith” and this is like losing face”…unthinkable and unacceptable. Identification can be minimized… but usually from help from the outside…books, lectures, seminars, listening, etc. (The illustration with music (an exercise i have done over many years) can help one start identifying less through transcending a personal either/or, two valued thinking “I like, or don’t like”) to appropriating a more structural (many dimensions, more increments of information) approach where one ‘sees’, hears, understands, more, becomes better at changing old ways towards better relationships.)
Re. listening: When we listen to ourselves we can catch ourselves doing much of what others do. This self-understanding and recognition helps us anticipate, recognize, and improve our ability to help others become better ‘listeners’ to themselves and others, and so improve the way we treat or relate with others. Adam in his writing illustrates for me a fantastic evolution in listening. From his own experiences, and self-critical evaluations, he has developed skills in helping others come to an awareness of how they are being and how their way of being and relating is not the only way. Political and other ‘leaders’ might do better through listening. They might discover that peoples are talking differently…Many are no longer afraid to speak, and are ready to die.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this thoughtful reading Milton.
What do you mean when you write: “‘pluralism’ can be also be about ‘unity'”?
milton dawes says
In the system “General Semantics” there are the notions “levels of abstraction”, and “multi-ordinality”. These can be thought of in terms of “context differences”, “dimensionalities”, “multi-meaning”, “meaning given depends on context”, “intensionality” or “verbalism”…giving words more importance than what the words are about…as opposed to “extensionality” (appreciation of related structures and operations). Re. levels of abstraction: For instance the labels “nutrition”, ” food”, “fruit”, “apple”, “pink lady”, or “McIntosh”, point to different levels of abstraction. Note that as we go across these labels there is more specificity. The term “nutrition” is qualified as a “higher level of abstraction” (more inclusive) than “food”, a higher level than “apple” and so on.
A great deal of misunderstanding and conflicts arise when one party is not sufficiently specific in their wordings — and others fearing being considered or appearing ‘stupid’, do not ask…but non-consciously interpret what they hear from a level of abstraction that often does not improve communication or relationships: (Although ‘smart’ ones can deliberately shift context (for instance: deliberately avoid responding in ways they think disadvantageous). As you mentioned: “The key to employing this model is to learn how to be aware of and to shift how we are talking and especially how we are listening”…if I interpret this correctly: contexts shifts from “downloading to debating to dialoguing to presencing”. I hope the above is reasonably clear.
Pluralism” from one level of abstraction can trigger the simple but more familiar notion of “more than one”. But from another level of abstraction the “philosophic”: “Pluralism” can be thought of as “The many different members of a society “being united” in their acceptance of the development of their traditional culture “within the confines of a common civilization”(my quotations). (Webster’s Collegiate, 10th. Ed.)
Ah, application of General Semantics – cool. Love that, and its the same issue that Korzybski was struggling with – how do we build a human society using language that is strengthening rather than weakening and undermining.
Colin Mitchell says
Very thought provoking!
All too often one assumes that just by “coming to the table” there is an acknowledgement of a need to do something better or different. This would seem to be a fatal flaw in many (most) facilitated change processes. The reality is, and your chapter seems to make a case, that people are at the table for many different reasons – because they were told to be there; from fear of missing out; the need for a better understanding of how to amend ones tactics to maneuver within an emerging reality; or (unlikely?)idealistically to really search for utopia? Would it be cynical to simply view the outcomes from any such process as being the best you can get under the circumstances but better than what we had before? I guess a hairy question then is whether the people who were part of the problem are every really capable, or the best equipped, to manage the transition to an alternative / new reality.
In the political context has a revolutionary force ever become an effective (whatever that means) government?
Martin Echavarria says
I enjoyed the chapter and as I read it, several thoughts came to mind. You talked about “smart people” and it reminded me of corporate elites who think they’re smart, but often times are no smarter than anyone of us. They have knowledge, but intellect and smartness are all together something different. I thought your comment regarding “the truth of the situation” was hilarious. And although I do believe in the search for truth, often times people get confused as to what that could actually be and there goes the problem. I also enjoyed the idea that there is multi-dimensionality to truth or the “right answer” and that reminded me of a diamond, where each face represents an aspect of the truth and when put together the wholeness of the diamond shines through. From a practical point of view, I find the idea that multiple right answers can exist and from those right answers groups can work together to formulate actions on each and test and learn.
This aspect of learning, I believe is a critical perspective because the feedback of the convener onto himself or herself is also part of the process from which the group must also learn. And that this learning requires that we take a look at our own interests as they relate to the group and how we as facilitators can unavoidably and unknowingly (without reflecting and using a method) get in the way of what is waiting to emerge within the group.
Where I think I disagree in how you talk about it is page 3, is the idea of the development of a wholly new narrative, in my point of view, that new narrative or creation of the new narrative is woven over time and not till its complete, the new one that is, do you notice that you may have a new one, but you don’t live from there unless you live primarily in your head, but that’s another conversation. I would suggest the simply task of “letting go” of ideas, assumptions, concepts that are not helpful to the task so that the group can be successful in its work to create new future possibilities. As I leaf through the document, having read it last week, I notice you mentioned this part toward the end. But still, I think people misunderstand narrative and believe that you just have to change the narrative to change your life, I tend not to believe it because it avoids the emotional and somatic subjective real-work of feeling and experiencing from where you come and then discovering the “new narrative” through this development.
I agree that people can hold on to being right, as an existential problem, and I also think this is why adults can be so stuck compared to children who don’t have these hangups. This holding on from a group perspective comes from the fears latent in groups that can often restrict learning and the process of letting go. I like Sharmer’s work and this also reminds me of Bill Isaacs work. They have worked together and share some common threads – we all do in this work I suppose.
Overall, I enjoyed this chapter and how it ties together – loved the to open up, let go, and particularly the “stretch”. Excellent.
Steve Gunther says
A great chapter. A compelling narrative – I am swept along by it. Thats a warm fuzzy feeling, and you underline that with theoretical references and important conculsions. But to not just be left with a warm glow, perhaps you could dot point some elements at the end of this – and perhaps other chapters. Or even better, add in reflective questions for the reader.
Reading this also makes me think of the work and writings of Mediators without Borders founder Ken Cloke – I assume you are familiar with his work? He has some sophisticated analyses of working practically with various types of political and social conflicts.
I actualy compiled a list of useful self reflective approaches – will send to you.
Eileen Moir says
Another great chapter Adam. There’s much that resonates. Particularly the section on pluralism as a founding principle of collaborating with others who hold diverse perspectives. It changes the lens and provides an alternative to forging ahead in pursuit of a single truth. The analogy of the blind men and the elephant brings the idea wonderfully to life. Otto Scharmer’s ways of talking and listening as a set of practices for finding a way forward are crucial but I wonder if it underplays just how difficult it can be to integrate these practices as a way of relating. For me they’re fundamental yet require constant mindful realignment to avoid slipping back into downloading and judgement.
I like the section on origins picked up by Khalil Shariff when he reflects on your Canadian roots and the extent to which this deeper genesis might have influenced your work. How tapping into our origins can help us understand more fully who we are and why we might be reacting in a particular way. Martin Rausch’s contribution on the neurobiological theories that help to better understand why a person might or might not be able engage with the others depending upon their origins is fascinating in this respect. It might not be where you want to go at this stage but it’s worth exploring and surfacing the dynamics created by the cultural underpinnings of people who are trying to work together. While it might seem like a detour it may end up being the very thing that releases a group.
Thanks again for a thought-provoking read.
Thanks Adam for the opportunity to read this new chapter; in my opinion it provides useful perspectives and concepts to help stakeholders on complex situations or circumstances. I wonder if you have read about the meaning of the word “circumstance” from the point of view of the philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, which establishes an inseparable and meaningful for life relationship between the individual and her/his circumstance; somehow that concept came to my mind while reading the chapter.
I like the use of the term “problematic situation” instead of “problem” to describe a case of concern( I thought it came from the SSM systems analysis) , and I would like to ask your opinion on situations where some party does not seem to have that need or interest on addressing “a problematic situation” since they do not perceive it as a situation that could be improved or in need of any improvement. ( Could that be the case in Venezuela?) Therefore there is no way to initiate the “conversation”, not even the “downloading”.
Jeanne McPherson says
This chapter especially engaged and challenged me, Adam. Its message is the crux of what I am trying to achieve in my own programs. Thank you for more wonderful examples and personal sharing.
p 3, 2nd paragraph typo …”not been doing” (rather than “being doing”)
pp 5-6 Great points: “…’Often we do not need to have a consensus on or even to discuss principles,’ he said. ‘The most robust agreements are those that different actors support for different reasons’. People who have deep disagreements can still get important things done together.”
Great example–Shariff had a thoughtful perspective on the culture of Canada that I had never heard before: “In the world as a whole, the notion of homogeneity is quickly disappearing…. I wonder if the capacity for pluralism might be the source from which all others stem. If you can build the social capacity to deal with pluralism, then you can deal with a host of other questions. The scaffolding of Canadian society—this commitment to pluralism…is embedded in us.” Not so in the US, a major challenge for us. Thank you for this example.
Another great example: Political philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
p 9 “Collaborating with diverse others does not usually or primarily involve reaching an agreement on a single truth or answer or solution. It involves finding a way to move forward together in the absence of or beyond such agreements.” Nicely stated–this is what I’m trying to get to in my work.
Just a thought: Sharmer’s model, wonderful as it is, may prove difficult to “get” for readers who haven’t seen it before (depending on your intended audience).
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this feedback Jeanne. In the next draft I will trim back my exposition of these various models and diagrams, and instead rely on the stories and my conclusions from same.
Timothy Smith says
I really enjoyed reading chapter 3 and it opened up some possibilities in my thinking with a team of Healthcare Leaders (esp re: suspending judgement) I am working with, who do not trust or like each other… and thanks for that 🙂
The chart on page 10 might have more impact if it was broken down a bit for simple minds (like mine) – Maybe a progressive build over 2 – 3 charts to illustrate the dynamic lessons in the chart more vividly.
have a great day, Tim