Facilitator Journal | Issue #0541, June 6, 2012
Much of the trouble we encounter with communication lies in unspoken
assumptions--ideas that we've accepted as true without verification.
When we react to our assumptions, we react to the unreal, and often,
to the projections of our worst fears. As facilitators, we provide
a great service when we help people get conscious of their assumptions,
which often present huge barriers to clear communication and understanding.
This week's article, Turn on Your Crap Detector offers an exercise for us each to experience our own assumptions
and some guidelines for detecting and moving through them in our
work with groups.
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on Your Crap Detector
your ability to detect and expose assumptions
Group Process Skill
In order to be a great writer, a person must have a
This quote by Hemingway,
as a writer for writers, applies equally well to facilitative leaders.
So often we communicate with one another through unspoken assumptions
and agendas, often without realizing it. Unconscious assumptions present
huge barriers to clear communication and understanding.
As group leaders, one of the most powerful things we can do is to act
as detectives in search of assumptions, rout them out, and expose them
for what they are, ideas that we've accepted as true without verification.
Once our insidious assumptions are discovered and labeled, deeper relationships
can be cultivated based on mutual respect and understanding. But when
we react to our assumptions, we react to the unreal, and often, to the
projections of our worst fears.
Are you operating
free of assumptions?
It's possible, but unlikely. Ponder the following story then revisit this
What choice would you make?
A group of children are playing near two railway tracks - one set
of tracks is still in use while the other isn't. Only one child plays
on the disused track, the rest on the operational track. The train comes,
and you are beside the track interchange. You realize you could make the
train change its course to the disused track and save most of the kids.
However, this would also mean the lone child playing by the disused track
would be sacrificed.
What would you do? Let the train take its predetermined course
or intervene to save all but one of the children?
Take a pause to think what kind of decision you would make...
- Analyze the situation.
- Think and reflect.
- Decide on your answer and write down the assumptions you made.
What do your choices say about your assumptions?
Many would choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice
only one child. To save most of the children at the expense of only one
child is a rational decision, morally and emotionally.
But, did you consider that the child playing on the disused track had
in fact made the right decision to play at a safe place? And the other
children were aware of the risk and are in a better position to be alert
and run from the danger when they hear the train?
If the train
were diverted, that lone child would likely die because he wouldn't think
the train could come over to that track! Moreover, that track was probably
not in use because it was not safe. If the train was diverted to the other
track, the lives of all passengers on board could be at stake as well!
This kind of
dilemma happens around us everyday. In the office, community, in politics
and especially in a democratic society - the minority is often sacrificed
for the interest of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the
majority is, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the minority is.
There is an
unspoken assumption that sacrificing the minority for the majority is
the 'right' thing to do, but challenging this assumption with the train
story brought to light far more layers to the situation.
While we are
all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be made, we
may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the best ones.
"Remember that what's best isn't always popular... and what's popular
isn't always best."
How do we detect assumptions? David Bohm, quoted by Peter Senge in the
"Fifth Discipline," identifies three types of incoherence in
our thinking that lead to assumptions:
1. Denial that you are a participant (It's not my fault! Look at
what they did!)
2. You stop tracking with reality and start running your program (did
you run a societal program in the exercise above to make your choice?).
3. You establish your own standard of reference for fixing problems,
problems this frame contributed to creating in the first place (e.g.
when someone harms us, we have to harm them in return).
Three conditions necessary for true "dialogue
Senge goes on to suggest three conditions necessary for true "dialogue":
1. All participants
must "suspend" their assumptions, literally to hold them
"as if suspended before us."
2. All participants must regard one another as colleagues.
3. There must be a "facilitator" (that's you!) who "holds
the context" of dialogue (i.e. attends to group process).
Add Your Comments
Think of a task or
problem you are working on right now. Chances are, you have some assumptions
about the situation or people involved. Use the above criteria for detecting
assumptions to figure out what they are.
Please click on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this matter.
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