Process of Communication:
This process for communication and running meetings is being developed and agreed upon by consensus in an inter-faith religious group that my friends and I are forming. This process uses a set of rules of communication.
- There may be one or more moderators to check that people follow rules. However, everyone's participation (and role as a moderator) is necessary to ensure that rules are followed; the moderator is not a substitute to individual participation.
- Anyone can enforce the rules of communication at any time, by interrupting anyone speaking. Interruptions can take one of two forms:
- Asking a question: "Do you think that you are exaggerating/using a should statement/analyzing someone's thoughts when you are saying..."
- Making an I statement about disagreement with facts: "You said X, but I don't believe that; can you rephrase that as an I statement?"
- It is okay to share quotes, paraphrases, or ideas which break the rules of communication, so long as they are broken within a descriptive mention, rather than broken by direct use of language.
- After an interruption, the original speaker can choose to reword their statement, according to the rules, or abandon the line of thought.
- Any statement that breaks the rules is off the record and does not go into any official document. However, for meetings that are recorded (either by audio/video or transcript), both an original unedited version, and an official version will be kept.
- If you sense that someone is uncomfortable, you can ask them if they are uncomfortable, or if there is something they want to say. You can interrupt with an I statement: "I'd like to check in with so-and-so."
Rationale behind this process:
This process is radically different from most other processes for running meetings.
Why interruptions are allowed:
The norm in many meetings and cultures of communication is to not allow interruptions, viewing them as rude or confrontational. However, the interpretation of an interruption as negative is subjective, and interruptions can just as well be viewed as positive.
In our group, we view following the rules of communication as something positive and essential to the functioning of our group. We have all agreed upon the rules by consensus, and we are constantly refining them. The purpose of the rules is to ensure the most productive and positive dynamic possible in the discussions. The base assumption is that when people break the rules, they are doing so unknowingly, so they want to be corrected ASAP. Our process involves an immediate interruption rather than a statement after hearing the person out because:
- Being interrupted immediately after breaking a rule provides immediate feedback which is extremely helpful at developing people's skills at actually following the rules. People tend to break our rules of communication unconsciously, so if they are allowed to continue talking, when pointing out how they broke the rules, they may not remember the exact statement they made as clearly (or at all). Interrupting immediately will ensure that people catch the ways in which they are breaking the rules, so that they actually get better at following them.
- Many of the rules are related to maximizing factual accuracy and truthfulness in the conversation. If a person is allowed to continue speaking after stating something that is less than fully truthful, the person might draw conclusions based on their statement, thus reasoning from a shaky foundation. This wastes the group's time.
- In a discussion, if someone states something as fact that others disagree with, and then proceeds to reason from their "fact", the others who disagree may start feeling defensive and stop listening. Interrupting the original speaker and having them rephrase the statement as an I statement can help disagreeing listeners into a place where they can listen more comfortably and fully to the person's reasoning without feeling the need to close off.
- Some of the speech patterns associated with breaking our rules of communication correspond to states of mind which are associated with depression, anxiety, anger, or other states that are generally not productive in discussions. The process of interruption, once people get beyond the immediate negative connotation that our society attaches to interruption, can actually provide an immediate mood boost to the original speaker, once the speaker rewords their original statement. For example, someone might feel frustrated and say: "She is so difficult to deal with, she was just being an obstructionist." at which point someone could interrupt and say: "Do you think you're using a black-and-white category or subjective negative labels?", and then the original speaker could say: "I'm sorry. I was feeling frustrated with her yesterday after she did not agree to make an exception for me." -- The act of rewording a statement using language that takes responsibility for one's feelings and is more specific and factual about what happened often leads to an immediate calming of frustrations.
Another way of looking at the interruptions is that they keep ideas that break the rules of communication out of the group. Many of the ideas that correspond to breaking the rules of communication are ones that the group sees as harmful or hindering of truth, for example, negative generalizations about people (which, when carried to an extreme, can lead to anger and hate) or subjective opinions presented as fact (which can hinder or confuse the search for the truth, and/or cause unnecessary conflict). If people state an idea that breaks the rules, without being interrupted, people in the group may start to believe these ideas, which might push the dynamic of the group as well as the emotional state and/or belief system of the people in the discussion away from a healthy state.
The interruptions are thus intended to keep both individuals and the group as a whole in as healthy a state as possible.
Other types of interruptions:
Our group does not universally support interruptions of any sort. In some groups, people interrupt because they want to seize the conversation or share their own ideas. The interruptions used in our group are do not serve the function of seizing the conversation...they are intended to be brief and to elicit a response from the speaker who was interrupted, who can then continue speaking.
Why the process of having the speaker reword their statement or abandon the line of thought?
The point of interruptions is not to argue or stop a person from talking, but merely to keep the discussion on a positive track and within certain bounds. The process is designed to have the discussion flow continuously, rather than stagnating.
After an interruption, the original speaker thus has the opportunity to reword their statement. So, for example, if someone said: "I think we should do X." and someone interrupted them by asking: "Did you just say should?", the original person could continue: "Oh, I just said should, sorry...I would like us to do X." Or, if someone said: "That vendor clearly did not have our best interests in mind, and was just trying to sell us something." and someone interrupted with: "Are you analyzing that person's intentions?" the original speaker could continue: "Oh, yes I am, I'm sorry. When I was talking to that vendor, I did not get the sense that I could trust that they had our best interests in mind."
Why interrupt by questions?
There are two main reasons that can justify an interruption: a universal overstepping of the rules of communication (such as using the word "should") which anyone could catch, and a personal reason. In the case of clear-cut statements that break the rules, it might be tempting to make accusations when interruptions, like "You just said should." However, these statements can be a bit jarring, and have a confrontational tone. Questions are less likely to come across as accusatory, but they also help the person to realize and take ownership of the fact that they broke a rule.
In some cases, however, it may not be clear whether or not a person has broken a rule. For example, someone may interrupt by asking: "Do you think you are exaggerating when you say that?" and the original person make think about it and decide: "No, I do not think I am exaggerating."
Why interrupt by I statements?
The other type of interruption, besides a question, is an "I statement" expressing a personal belief or viewpoint, or a change in factual information. As an example, suppose people are discussing abortion, and one person makes a statement: "Life begins at conception." thinking that everyone present agrees with it. Someone who does not share this belief could then interrupt, saying: "I don't believe that life begins at conception, could you rephrase that in an I statement?" and then the first person could say: "Apologies, I believe that life begins at conception." and then continue.
If someone makes a statement with a factual error, interruptions can also correct it. For example, suppose someone says: "Kathy is not free on Wednesday.", someone else might interrupt and say: "I just spoke with Kathy before the meeting, and she told me to tell everyone that she actually is free on Wednesday."
The set of beliefs or truths that are considered objective vs. subjective are different in different groups of people. Because people do not know which beliefs are held by or shared with other people present, interrupting with I statements is actually necessary in order to follow the rules effectively, especially as it pertains to stating only facts which are agreed upon as objective according to the consensus of the group.
Handling quotes, paraphrases, or ideas which break the rules:
The handling of quotes or paraphrases which break the rules of communication, or ideas which break the rules, can be summed up as the "use-mention" distinction: it is allowable to mention (and discuss) things that break the rules, but it is not okay to break the rules in your direct use of language. However,
- It would be permissable to say: "There was an editorial in this week's thursday paper that called the county commissioner corrupt." (a paraphrase or description of another person's statement) but it would not be permissable to say: "I think the county commissioner is corrupt." (this directly assigns a negative label) nor to say: "Whoever wrote that editorial in this week's thursday paper thinks that the county commissioner is corrupt." (this statement describes someone else's thoughts)
- It would be permissable to say "I keep thinking that I should do my homework." but not to say: "I should do my homework." because the first statement is an I statement that expresses that one is using a should statement in one's personal inner-dialogue, whereas the second statement is a direct should statement.
Comments are moderated. Follow Cazort.net's comment policy for your comment to be approved.blog comments powered by Disqus