How many times do you find yourself in a situation that feels uncomfortable, perhaps with someone who you just can’t see eye to eye with? What is your first reaction? Do you feel that fight or flight sensation? Do you respond by looking for a way to agree with them, backing down your position in the argument or do you look for a way to convince the other party that they are being unreasonable? Or do you try to change tack and look for what you both share in common? In Richard Sennett’s new book ‘Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation‘, he explores the history of cooperation and posits that most of these tactics are actually making it harder to reach a position of real cooperation. I went with some friends to hear him talk about his new book- here’s my reflections.
- Practice dialogics not dialect
ics. Dialogics is all about creating understanding, but not necessarily agreement. Dialectical conversation is focussed on the premise that one person’s perspective will be superior or that a compromise will be reached. Dialogics says that we should both aim to understand the other’s position without trying to change ours; the end outcome being a mutual respect and knowledge of both realities. There’s a nice explanation about the difference here.
- Use the subjunctive, not the declarative. e.g. ‘Have you ever thought that perhaps the world might be like this….’ Rather than: ‘I think youre wrong because… My idea is this… I think we should do this next’. This takes practice, but it’s all about being ok with ambiguity.
- Informalise conflict. Complex cooperation improves in informal contexts. Robert’s Rules of Order for running meetings may make everyone feel like they have an efficient meeting and the agenda is being ticked off, but have you ever been in one of these meetings and felt like you’ve been heard? Conversely, setting out loose parameters for the time and allowing the conversation to flow enables previously unsaid issues to rise to the surface.
- Invoke empathy not sympathy. Frequently confused with each other, empathy is all about exercising curiosity – it’s about asking questions in a neutral tone, being genuinely thoughtful and curious about why someone is hurt or upset. Sympathy is when we say ‘I know how you feel, that must have been terrible’. It create an assumption that I can really know how you feel without first understanding what has happened. It lacks respect.
- The nature of work has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Labour has shifted to be increasingly focussed on service based interactions, people-to-people rather than people and machine.
- It’s also much more complex, requiring more self-management and range in skillset and outlook. However, the infrastructure of work hasn’t changed much – most of us still rely on a 40 hour week Monday to Friday construct, and offices with rows of desks which still echo the old factories from the birth of the modern firm hundreds of years ago.
- Sennett makes the argument that there’s a lot of rhetoric about cooperation but it doesn’t really address the real nature of complex cooperation, for instance, most MBA classes these days have a class on the subject. Making something more apparent doesn’t always mean we achieve good results.
“In these later days we have come to recognise the service, heroism, and devotion of the “rank and file” of the great army of progress—the “unnamed demigods” as Kossuth called them, whose bones lie in unnoted graves, but whose valour brought the victory. In co-operation all are workers, and many who are never named after their death, are honoured in their day and recognised in history. In a co-operative society all officers have been workers—and are officers because they have been workers. There is no privilege in co-operation, save that of service.” G. J. Holyoake, from The Jubilee History of the Derby Co-operative Provident Society