Community Building, Community Development, Consultation

Conversing to Consult or Conversing to Convince: Implications for Community Building

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Living on different continents allows for the immersion into different types of cultures.  The way these differ is a great way of gaining insight into patterns of behaviour that affect our personal development and our contribution to building vibrant communities.

A really interesting surprise was the difference between conversation styles in different cultures.  In some, there is almost always a moment of silence after every comment shared; in others, there is a constant flow of interruptions, with most thoughts remaining unfinished before another one is interjected.

A lot can be said here about culture, social rules, etiquette, and habits of thoughts and patterns of behaviour.  But for the sake of not writing a TL;DR post, I’ll stick to just one.

(For now.)

The Reason Behind A Conversation

Perhaps one of the reasons for the difference between conversation style is the reason behind the conversation.  If we are in a conversation to consult about ideas and learn from one another, we will take the time to ruminate on every contribution.  If we are in a conversation to convince others of the superiority of our idea over theirs, we will try either to jump on every point that supports ours or to push down every point that contradicts ours.

In the first group, it seems that the silence allows each participant to think about what was said, to analyse each contribution, then to look at their own beliefs, to put the two together and see how they fit and how they don’t fit.  That silence could be seen as taking a piece of a puzzle and trying each side patiently on all the edges that are already available.

In the second group, as soon as someone has something to say to either agree or contradict with someone else, they throw it in the ring for consideration.  It is often a reflection of their enthusiasm for the conversation and not necessarily for devious, evil intentions.

Implications of Such Behaviour

It feels that, in the first group, because space is given to think about each contribution to the conversation in relation to our personal beliefs, we are able to build vision taking advantage of each person’s knowledge.  In the second group, even if the intention is the same, most people (including myself) didn’t feel like we were building vision during the conversation; it was only afterwards that each one of us, once we had the time to think, would think about what we remembered was said and build our own vision.

This might not seem as a big deal until we place it within the context of building vibrant communities in which all members are progressing together both materially and spiritually.  The challenge is that although we love the idea of creating such a community and we have the tools, at his juncture in history, to make sure it happens—well, we don’t know how.  To figure out how to create such communities, we have to put all our ideas together and build on them.

In other words, we have to learn to consult.

Conversation as Consultation

Consultation implies individuals placing ideas before the group, and the group analysing each idea and to determine how it fits the larger picture.  If we are in a culture in which we don’t listen—and I mean, really listen—then how can we build on ideas, especially if they seem so radically different one from the other?

I’m not quite sure how to affect change in the second type of group.  I have noticed that my making a conscious effort to take the time to think about what is being said comes at the cost of my being able to contribute to the conversation.  The only exception is when someone in the group actually asks me directly for my opinion, which I can then give with the needed time and space to attempt to bring together everything that has been contributed previously.

Any ideas or thoughts would be highly appreciated!

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