Video and transcript from Joshua Davies’s talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Joshua Davies.

Joshua Davies, Founder and Lead Conversation Architect at Knowmium, examined how conversations operate and move in our facilitations. If we are to reach an understanding with others, we must have a path to empathy. Too many conversations are treadmills, endless, going without ever getting anywhere, or broken parallel monologues in search of true dialogue. In his session, participants explored practical techniques for better awareness and co-creation in discussions using conversation mapping, contrasting, and cadence control.

Types of conversations: understanding, problem-solving & exploring, blocking/telling, storytelling/persuading.

Watch Joshua Davies’s talk “Moving Minds: Exploring Conversation Maps in Facilitation” :

Read the Transcript

Joshua Davies:

All right. Thank you very much, Kara. And I should say, hello from beautiful, very, very sunny, 2:00 AM Hong Kong. So, a little bit later in the day.

So, let’s just jump right into the deep end, right from the start. I’m going to toss you into a conversation, which you’ll see on the screen now, between Robert and John. And this is a debate about a project management role. So, it’s a project, they both know about it. And this is a conversation. It’s a real conversation. It’s a debate between the project management. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, except for Robert, his name, that’s my colleague, he insisted I keep it in place, come what may

So, we’re a few minutes into this conversation about two, three minutes in. And the debate is going. The discussion is going on. And just take a quick little look at that. I’m going to pause ever so slightly. Just take a quick little moment and see if you noticed any patterns of their interaction.

And what I’d really like you to be focusing on here, is how do they pass the ball to each other? What do they do with what they are given? So, when Robert finishes his sentence, and in this case, there’s no interruptions happening, they are actually waiting for the other person to finish, he’s tossing the ball to John. And John has a couple of different things he can do to it. He can completely ignore the ball, just let it fall to the floor and go to what he wants to say. He can take that ball go, “Oh, I understand you.” Or at least pretend to understand, drop it and go back to what he wants to say. Or he can in some way, return the ball, asking questions, taking things that Robert has set and leading to what he’s saying.

Basically, what I’m asking is, how many different ways could this conversation go? So, many times in our conversations, we forget that every conversation has many possible conversations. There are many possible ways to go, but when we get to the end of it, we feel like it inevitably led to that final place.

Elizabeth Stokoe, author of one of my very favorite books on conversation analysis called, Very Aptly Talk, says that all conversations have a landscape, a conversational racetrack. And well, many of these conversations, quite honestly, many of them are, well, stuck. We’re on autopilot. And it’s like the conversations in the very classic movie, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray is living the same day again and again, and again. And he begins to finally see that there is a huge predictability to the interactions. He knows every sentence that’s going to come up. And I’m citing him here, not just because I stole his tips on beard grooming, but because way too often in our own conversations, we are parallel monologues desperately in search of a dialogue. And unlike Bill Murray, we don’t even know it. We’re not even aware of this.

This image right here is called the Troxler image. It’s a Troxler effect. So, if you stare at this long enough, it’s about like 30 to 60 seconds, the colors will begin to actually disappear and it will completely fade into gray. It’ll completely fade into gray. And what’s interesting about this, is that that fading, it’s not just in the eyes, but a good chunk of that fading happens in the brain. And the same thing is true with so many of our conversations. We’ve been having the same conversation so many times after, again and again, and again, that we don’t even realize that we’re so stuck.

So, how do we get out of this? What actually is positive influence? Now, when I say positive influence, what I really mean is, what’s left? After the conversation, what do we actually walk away from and with? Are we just walking away with it from the conversation with what we’ve brought to it? Have we learned absolutely nothing? Have we listened to absolutely nothing, and we’re just walking away with our own thoughts? Or have we actually created something new? Okay.

I love this quote from Paul Watzlawick, that really one of the biggest, biggest dangers is that the belief that one’s own reality is the only reality, is one of the biggest of all delusions. Similar to Anais Nin, who said, we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.

So, my question is, how do we get beyond this? How do we get beyond this series of monologues? So, ultimately, I’m a big believer that good influence is coming from a recipe. And it’s a recipe that’s very much built up of two people. It’s not just built up of the ingredients that I’m bringing in, but good influence is co-created. Now, I might want to add spice to this recipe. And I might have to convince you, “It’s not too spicy. Just have a little taste.” But ultimately, half of the ingredients are coming from me and half of the ingredients are coming from you. And if I’m not using all of these ingredients in forming this conversation, then ultimately, it’s going to be burned or half-baked.

So, the question is then, how do we actually do this? How do we make a recipe that really co-create a positive conversation that moves forward, whether that’s in a negotiation, a meeting, a facilitation session, talking with our friends and our loved ones, how do we do this?

So, before I dive just a little bit deeper, I do just ever so briefly need to touch on culture. So, being based in Hong Kong, and like many of us working a bit of everywhere, my work is very, very cross-cultural. So, the question always comes up, “Yeah, that’s great. These ideas are great about influence and better conversation, but will it work here?” And the short answer is, well, it depends.

I like to look at this triangle when we’re about, how do we influence people? How do we have a better conversation with them? And it’s really this triangle of what we would call context, culture and character. Context being the situation. Is this a new relationship, old, upward, or downward influence, that kind of stuff. Character being the individual. Everyone is very, very different. And culture being, wherever we happen to identify with, identify whether that’s geographically and et cetera.

And it’s really dangerous to just start making giant generalizations about culture. I think my favorite actual book on this is The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. And she makes that clear, clear point that ultimately, in a conversation it’s not the culture that’s the determiner. We have to ultimately be aware of that, but listen to the individual. And one point that she makes in this, is that there’s a lot of things that we actually have in common. And cross-cultural research on influence does play that out as well.

So, well, yes, there are some things that we want to be aware of, mostly to avoid putting our foot in our mouth. Ultimately, we very much need to listen to the individual. Let me give an example of this and why this matters, and why having a bit of awareness on this matters.

My friend, Bob, Robert, from the previous example, if he falls down the stairs, I might say, “Bob is very clumsy.” But if I fall down the exact same stairs, 20 minutes later, I’m not going to say I’m clumsy. I’m going to say, well, the stairs are slippery. One of these is blame oriented. And one of these is situational. Guess which one we tend to use cross-culturally? We have a tendency to, as it said, to accuse others and excuse ourselves. So, it’s good to have that awareness of where the potential conflict areas might be in terms of directness, in terms of pacing. But overall, we have to listen to the individual.

So, some of the things that we have deeply in common when it comes to influence in all the studies is, well, number one, nobody likes upward pressure. No one likes to be bossed around regardless of culture. People do enjoy feeling included in the conversation. So, everyone likes consultation with a bit of rational praise and supporting it. And ultimately, in terms of information density, there’s all the enough similar information rate from language to language. So, that’s just a little tiny bit on culture. I’m not going to do a deep dive now, but just being aware that it is something that’s in the mix. But ultimately, what we’re looking at is stuff that works across the overall spectrum.

“It’s not perfect.” A quote from George Box, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” And in fact, all quotes are wrong because that’s a bit of a misquote of him, but some of them are still very, very useful.

So, let’s dive on deeper. Shall we? How can we actually look at conversations and begin to improve upon them? This right here is a really interesting look at conversations. This is from one of my favorite books called Dear Data. And this is an image by Stephanie Pacific. And this was actually a postcard she did, where she was tracking all the times she said, thank you, during a week, who she said it to, was it a genuine, thank you? So, she’s tracking her conversation.

And of course, this is not the only way to track a conversation. I’m not suggesting you go into the office and start making postcards that you send to everyone with thank yous all over them. But there are ways to track things. And a lot of people are trying to do this.

Out of MIT, we’ve got things like Riff Analytics, where this is a meeting platform, and it’s looking at how much time are we talking? Who’s influencing you? Who’s interrupting who? These kinds of things. And also at MIT Media Labs, one of my favorites way back with Alex Pentland and Honest Signals, was you can see this image on one side. It’s actually what the gentleman is holding up, is something called a Jerk-O-Meter. Yes, that is the actual term in the actual research paper. And it was measuring, how we’re coming across in the conversation. Alex has actually progressed far beyond that by now, and now he’s actually doing a bunch of stuff with coaching, where he’s beginning to predict conversations there as well.

But we’re going to go a bit more analog and a bit simpler. We’re not going to be using a bunch of fancy tech, though, we’ll use a little bit of digital in the workshop later. I just want to work on a very simple way to look at conversations that we call the conversation map. And it’s basically looking at anytime in a conversation, we are somewhere within one of these four boxes. We’re either hanging down, out in the red zone, where what we would call loudership. And that’s blocking your telling. Anytime you’ve got a conversation where it’s back and forth, “I understand you, but I understand you, but…” Statement, statement, statement. That’s where it’s living. Or potentially, we’re actually trying to understand the other person or going up and genuinely understanding them.

Of course, there is that profound difference between me telling you, “Hey, I understand you.” And you’re sitting there going, “No, you don’t.” And you actually going, “Yeah, you understand where I’m coming from.” Then, not just telling people, but actually showing them and bringing them along is storytelling and persuading. And fully going up into the green corner, it’s that problem solving and exploring area.

So, the question that we’re trying to figure out really is quite simple, it’s this idea of in any conversation, where are we on the map? Oops, skipped a slide there. Where are we on the map? And how can we actually positively move around the map? Basically, how do we actually catch the ball? And how can we do so better?

If we go back to John versus Robert in that conversation there, you can see them back and forth that they’re not really using what the other person is saying. Robert says something, he goes at the end, he’s talking all about this. And John goes into a question. Question is not a bad question, but it’s more of an interrogation. It’s a self-oriented question, where he’s just gathering information for his stuff. He doesn’t tag any of the concerns. He doesn’t really use anything that Robert has given him in the way he’s structuring his response. Basically, he doesn’t wear a very good one of these.

And this right here is not a paintball uniform. It’s not a military gear. This is actually an empathy suit. And this is designed by researchers who want to, in this case, be able to design products for people who are a bit older. So, this makes it harder for them to see, to hear, it makes them heavier, so that they can empathize and step into the shoes of that other person.

And if we’re going to actually get up into the blue box, pull out of that red box and really begin to understand others, we need to think about what are our empathy suits in conversations. We need to dodge nod-crafty. Now, nod-crafty is one of my favorite words. It’s an 18th century adjective. And it literally means the tendency to just nod your head and pretend that you’re listening. And we do that so, so, so often in our conversations.

So, we want to actually take advantage of that time, that differential between how long it takes us to speak or to hear and how fast we can actually think. And we want to use that to try to more positively engage with the conversations through a couple of different techniques.

One, if we’re really going to understand people, we have to be willing to name the bears. Now, when I say name the bears, I mean this literally, the word bear is essentially Voldemort, it’s that which shall not be named. That’s what it actually means. Bear is not the name of the animal. It literally means that brown furry thing that shall not be named. We don’t want to have that. We want to actually name our bears and bring things to the surface. Leaving them below the surface, isn’t going to help.

Second, of course, we want to actually do a bit better perspective taking. We’re on this side of the bridge, there on that side of the bridge. And there’s a tendency to just go, “Get over here.” To try to pull ourselves into that yellow zone, but not really bring anyone with us. And fundamentally, we’re not in that yellow zone unless they come with us.

Beyond that, we want to learn how to share the orange a bit better. What I mean by that? It’s a famous example from William Murray. He’s got two people in one orange. And he tells the story that, there’s two people, John and Sue. John’s perspective, “I want this orange.” Sue’s perspective, “I want this orange.” What’s the fair way for them to share this orange? Now, a lot of people say split it in half.

Best example, I was doing this training in Singapore. One person said, “Well, one of them should take the orange and the others should take the seeds and plant orange trees.” Very creative.

But ultimately, William Murray says that too much focus on what people want, stops us from understanding why they want it. Too much focus on the position, stops us from understanding the interests that are underneath that position. In order to actually do this well, we need to stop focusing on just what they want and actually ask a little bit more about why they want it, what led them there?

John wants to make orange juice, we need to actually give him the middle of the orange. Sue wants to make orange frosting, we could get her perfectly happy by giving her the peal. But too often in our conversations, even though they’re more complicated than oranges and orange juice, we stay at that statement level and we don’t really go any deeper.

Last but not least, we have to be willing to be influenced ourself. If we think influence is just coming in and getting what we want, we’re not really open to change. We’re just using those ingredients we brought with us. We have to be willing to take on that which is out there. So, how can we do this? Moving down into that yellow quadrant, we’ve got to think about what our mental model is. How do we actually see this?

Now, this is an image. It is, yes. You’re not missing it. That is the Taco Bell Zodiac by Valerie Niemeyer. And if this is my mental model that the world it’s controlled by tacos, I’m a Leo, which means I am a grilled stuft burrito. I’m extra large and et cetera, et cetera. If that’s my mental model, then that’s the story I’m telling myself. That’s what whoever’s trying to influence me, needs to work with, if they want to try to move my mind. Okay?

So, what we think works in terms of moving minds, and this is a great meta study by [inaudible 00:15:55] and a bunch of others, what we think works is rational persuasion, just dumping a bunch of information out there and, “Oh yeah, they’re just going to buy it.” And if you actually go further in that conversation with Robert and John, that’s what John does. He just goes through all the reasons why, “I’m amazing. I should have the head of this project. It’s great. It’s fantastic.” Nothing to do with what Robert cares about, but very much John oriented.

But what actually works cross-culturally, that’s what I mentioned a little bit earlier, this idea of consultation and inspiration. Now, inspiration, it’s not this vague concept of, “I inspire you.” It’s this idea of not just telling people that there’s a way forward, but actually showing them and bringing them along.

As Seth Godin really nicely said, persuasion is the transfer of emotion. It’s not that we are illogical. It’s that our logic is actually curated by our emotions. And we have to actually recognize that.

So, if we’re the stories we tell ourselves, if we’re just telling people, and I’m trying to persuade you that Lanikai is the best beach in Hawaii, 76% of people living in Hawaii agree, maybe you believe me. But what you’re going to do with that information is create your own mental model based on your experiences. And oftentimes you’ll go, “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

So instead, I really want to show you and bring you along, tell you that as a child, I used to play on the beach with my brother. It’s beautiful, fantastic. And if I really want to take you along, I need to engage you and ask, “What would you do on that beach? How can you follow along with me?” And this is so critical to actually work with what grows there.

There’s two ways to make your lawn look nice. You can put out a bunch of grass, that’s just going to end up having to be watered and die, and stuff, try to force it through. Or you can actually look at what grows there and try to build from that. This is not to say everything should be dull. We can actually do interesting contrasts.

But ultimately, we need to watch for the desire paths, the way people want to go. And we need to remove obstacles and help them forward. And this really the only possible way to do it well. (silence)