Have you ever had those conversations that move beyond opinions and stories, where you listened or were listened to in a way that enabled you  to think and speak creatively, where you were surprised even at what emerged? We call them generative conversations.

We’ve just done an exploration into the way people have conversations around Wicked issues as part of a global initiative known as Ulab https://www.presencing.org. 

Folks reported that conversations sometimes feel like a battlefield where everyone’s loading up the ammunition of their arguments to fire at one another. Other times it’s a race for the pause, where the fastest thinker gets their point in. You know those conversations? They can leave you feeling really dissatisfied, right?

We love generative conversations where we can pause in the stillness and feel into liminal spaces, where surprise and surprisingly deep connection awaits us. Here’s what one our our participants in Ulab had to say

…it is not so much the quality of the conversation that was different but perhaps what was different was having that quality of conversation with people I haven’t worked with or known over a long period… Michael

We believe in the power of  talking differently.  We’re frustrated with the debating conversations that seem to go nowhere, where action of Wicked Problems gets stalled. We believe, as a culture, we need to get beyond ideology and polarized debate, those spaces where we’re stuck in our defensiveness, can’t step beyond our view, so keep on generating the same, go nowhere, results. Effective action is continually compromised.

Why is it so hard? Research in neurophysiology suggests our ‘western’ culture has largely been left-shifted, that is, shifted into predominantly operating from the left hemisphere of our brain. This is the part of the brain where we focus on assembling our stories of what is ‘real’  and true. This ‘storying’ mind builds on past learning and, more importantly, past experience. We problem-solve from what we know, what we believe, what we value.  In this part of the brain we judge others or ourselves and build alliances based on largely unconscious personality patterns. 

The left brain has very short neurons and can only integrate painful experience through judgement and blame. It brings us into and reinforces our sense of separation.

The research indicates If we’re trying to bring about social change through the left hemisphere we will evoke opposition. This is why working to get people to understand the ‘facts’ doesn’t work, why being talked at by experts is unsatisfying, why problem solving from what we know leads to more and, oftentimes, bigger problems, lasting divisions and often a growing inability to collaborate around much simpler tasks.

The right hemisphere of our brain conversely has very long neurons. It is the right brain that senses the connection between things, helps us see a bigger picture, helps us connect to deeper parts of ourselves and to have empathy for others. It integrates painful experiences through presence to feelings, the whole body, through mourning, through finding resonance with others who are feeling the same. It builds bonds beyond our separations and creates the sense of belonging – where we’re able to ‘be-in-the-longings’ we share. The right hemisphere accesses a greater field of knowing. it enables connection and enables us to be in those generative spaces that we find so satisfying.

To work with complexity where there are no simple solutions, no one right way, we need to bring right brain perception, empathy and connection to left-brain problem solving. By doing this we access that larger generative field, generate multiple response pathways and have more satisfying interactions.

WE, Wicked Elephants, have created WEtalk. It’s a way of talking, of making sense together of complex issues by loosening our attachments to rationality, logic, theories and concepts, experts and authorities. We involve the whole body in conversation as it’s our best sensing organ. We build WE, that is, connections to create trust, playfulness, deep listening spaces where we all lean into more of our embodied and collective wisdom. We bring a broader field of knowing to problem solving and generate safe to fail, reflexive actions through which we continually learn. We know the value of  lightening up with one another, admitting that we don’t know everything, that we’re learning beings, evolving through challenge and support, evolving as part of evolving life.

Wanna talk? Let’s WEtalk – differently!

Reference: Sarah Peyton (2017) Your Resonant Self. W.W. Norton & Co. NY

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Linda Ivey says:

    I really resonated with this. Empathy and open conversation, freedom without judgment, holding the space open to be heard, and enlightenment.
    The time is now. 🙏

    • The time is now Linda! We have to find pathways across the divides that separate us and cause harm to people and the earth, to find ways of acting together while allowing our difference. I hope you’ll join us in an upcoming WEtalk!

  • Duncan says:

    Love this, Elab.
    While studying Social Ecology loved the experiental learning stuff, and systems thinking theorising, critical thinking and analysis, but it took me years to integrate and relate to everday life and culture.

    You people have explored that thread I have always enjoyed but had too few opportunities to practice, being a bush boy. I spent 10years since building boats, a deferred childhood dreaming, through which I reflected much on SE theory and how to operationalise it.

    Ironically from my bush boatbuilding camps in the tropic siestas, i gradually learnt to use Facebook as a positive conversational platform. Social media is a powerful but two edged sword, clumsy in the hands of neophytes.

    SE theory, has been very usful in framing and facilitating the conversations, and have made many treasured new virtual friends. I am looking forward to hearing more from you folks on your experiences and theories of conversation and collaborative storybuilding.

    In my quest for positive transformative change to head off our looming existential crisis, I have come to more clearly appreciate the role of story in creating cultures, for ill, or for good.

    Nowhere has this been so powerfully crystalised than by Jason Yunkaporta’s, “Sand Talk”. Explaining in English the deep and lifelong transmission of stories about how to care for people, country, ancestors and culture. So deeply learnt that few would dream of harm their existence. Making centralised government of any form highly unnecessary and yet able creste and sustain an anthropocentric universe for 50-60k years. Also explaing the 10k year carnage of power seeking human Imperial culture; and explaing how Aboriginal culture prevented its eruption.

    Can modern man match that record, and if so how might we reconstruct our cosmology, our paradigm and rebuild equally powerful stories of how to live in the multiverse simply, peacefully, happily and in harmony with it?

    • Thanks for sharing a little of your story Duncan and for sharing your perception that story is so integral to us coming together to meet across our differences. It is something we’re committed to exploring, in a field of practice with others. I/We are really interested in how the stories, not just the stories of ‘things that have happened to us’ stories but those located deep in our bodies and beings, how these come into dialogue and generate surprising outcomes. I’m certainly looking for the ‘surprise’, beyond the known and how this builds connection!

      Sand Talk…thanks for the reminder! It’s on my pile to read. Better shuffle it to the top! Cheers.

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