Summits, dialogue and listening

I find myself pretty excited about the summit that Kevin Rudd has called. There will always be skeptics (John Faine did his usual job this morning) but I reckon the idea of getting good thinkers together to tackle the big questions is exactly what this country needs. In the wake of a season where we (or more precisely, the economy) have been ‘managed’, it is good to see the activities that are typically associated with leadership.

Of course getting people together to talk will not automatically mean we will see good outcomes. I think the success of the summit will to a large extent depend on the capacity of the participants to practice what I call ‘collective listening’.

It is a well known pop statistic that people rank their of fear public speaking above death. There is any number of training courses and coaching out there to help us speak more effectively in public. All good. But there is a dearth of an appreciation of the need for public listening, let alone practical support to help us do it better.

Public, or collective listening is the foundation of public dialogue. Without collective listening, you get a series of monologues where you come out with a bigger set of ideas, but no new elements. Genuine dialogue moves us into new territory rather than simply exchanging ideas.

At its core there are 3 sequential pieces that form the foundations of genuine dialogue:

1. suspending judgement – choosing not to filter an idea through our existing paradigm

2. presencing – allowing diverse, even conflicting ideas to sit, facilitating the possibility of emergence, the coming of new possibilities

3. realising – experimenting and testing the application of the new

So I hope the summit will move beyond (i) Politeness: shared monologues, through what William Isaacs calls, (ii) Breakdown: controlled discussion via (iii) Inquiry: reflective dialogue to (iv) Flow: generative dialogue.