Life always avails the option of seeing the truth, no matter how blind and prejudiced we may be. And if we have the courage to respond to the option, we have the power to change ourselves profoundly. Only through the truth do we come to grace. ~Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
Making and executing decisions is a substantial part of leadership. Yet, what I see frequently in organizations are leaders choosing to take the hard road as opposed to the high road when it comes to decision making. Here’s what I mean.
What I see frequently is a decision making process that looks something like a) decide, b) debate, and c) demand. We go into discussions having already decided what we think should be done. Then we debate with one another and debates tend to have winners and losers based on the belief that there is a right and a wrong answer. That's followed by demanding that our view be the option that is implemented. Sound familiar?
The alternative to decide, debate, and demand is to a) discern, b) dialogue, and then c) decide. In all organizations – large, small, for profit, not-for-profit – we've veered off the path of discernment and dialogue before we make a decision.
What does it mean to really discern? One of the definitions of discernment I've come across is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to understanding. Another way I've heard it stated might be "am I willing to say that I could be wrong." In Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline he describes preparing for dialogue by "suspending your own assumptions." He suggests that we visualize our assumptions about an issue as if they were suspended in the air, available for both us and others to observe and assess. If we are in a state of true discernment, we are more likely come to a decision through truth.
Then instead of engaging in a hearty debate, we create a pool of shared meaning through dialogue. Crucial Conversations provides an example of dialogue with the acronym, STATE, to state your path.
- Share your facts. Earn the right to share your story by starting with the facts. Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.
- Tell your story. Why share your story in the first place? It's the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face dialogue.
- Ask for others' paths. Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
- Talk tentatively. State your story as a story – don't disguise it as a fact.
- Encourage testing. Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.
Once we've spent time in discernment and dialogue, we can make a collective decision that is laced with truth and grace, as opposed to the casualties of debate: winners and losers.