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July 18, 2006 Issue 76
is a system. That system not only includes
thought and feelings, but it includes the
state of the body; it includes the whole
of society – as thought is passing
back and forth between people in a process
which thought evolved from ancient times."
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when you register a team of four or more,
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helped us develop a common language, and,
more importantly, provides us with quality
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real life examples, it continues to challenge
some of our mental models and constantly
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in my growth as a systems thinker.”
—Jo A. Berry-Segna
Florida Education Association
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Shouting Heads to Shared Concerns: An Interview with Laura
• Best Registration Rates Extended
Through July 31
Rhyming for a Reason Celebration
Shouting Heads to Shared Concerns: An Interview
with Laura Chasin
worker and family therapist Laura Chasin
founded the Public Conversation Project (PCP) in 1989 to explore
the potential of adapting methods used with families in conflict
to disputes in the public arena. Since then she and her colleagues
have facilitated a number of important dialogues with larger systems,
including the inspiring one between Boston area Pro-choice and Pro-life
leaders. After recently handing over the reins to incoming executive
director Cherry Muse, Laura shared some memories, hopes, and plans
with Leverage Points editor Vicky Schubert.
Tell us how the Public Conversations Project got started. What were
the issues that drew you into the public realm?
It was not a particular issue that galvanized me but a more general
concern about a kind of “climate change” I had been
noticing in the public square. My graduate studies in American
and democracy had taught me that the political structures and
processes of democracy require an underpinning of what Robert
has since called “social capital.” That is, the existence
of rich networks of formal and informal ties both within and across
different groups, as well as norms of civility and constructive
debate. I was concerned about what I perceived as the subtle erosion
of that underpinning. Also, I had recently become a grandmother,
a shift that had sort of thickened my sense of the distant future.
I really was afraid that if the trend I perceived continued, my
grandchildren’s generation would not get to live in the kind
of democratic society I had known.
The idea that became
PCP was actually triggered by watching a televised debate about
abortion sponsored by the Better World Society on PBS. I expected
a constructive debate, but what I saw instead was shouting heads.
And for some serendipitous reason, during that debate, I suddenly
switched into watching with my clinical eyes. I got the idea that
if this conversation were happening in my office, I would know how
to interrupt it – as the poor facilitator did not. I assembled
some family therapy colleagues, and showed the tape to them. And
I asked them to think about what they would do if a conversation
like this was taking place in their offices. Together we entertained
a galvanizing question: could some of the approaches and methods
we used with families in polarized, stuck conflict be adapted to
disputes among bigger systems in the public square?
This was our founding
question, and it wasn’t rhetorical; it was a real question.
We decided to answer it with a modest experiment: we would see if
we could facilitate a one evening session between partisans on either
side of a divisive issue. We chose the abortion issue for two reasons.
A very pragmatic one was that we had access to people on both sides
of the issue. And secondly, we had some familiarity with the substance
of the issue. So, we began an action research project in which we
videotaped almost twenty groups of four to eight people over the
course of a year and a half. We had the advantage of not knowing
what we were doing; we didn’t know which interventions and
which ways of thinking would transfer. And so, we developed the
practice of asking, of adopting a stance that has been an earmark
of our work ever since. We don’t position ourselves as experts.
We position ourselves as learners who elicit what the participants
know and take our cues from them about how we can build on their
resources and complement them with ours.
the complete interview.
Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public
Resources from PCP
to the Volcano, by David Hutchens
Annual Pegasus Conference
Leading Beyond the Horizon: Strategies for Bringing Tomorrow
into Today's Choices
Waltham, Massachusetts, November 1315,
summer rates extended!
before July 31 to secure your place and save $400 off
the standard conference price!
for a Reason
An evening of poetry, song, and celebration
Monday, November 13, 2006, 8:00-10:30pm
option for wrapping up the first full day of the conference is a
spirited evening of original poetry and live music celebrating the
power of the arts to create social change. Meg Wheatley, Tim Merry,
and other performers will lead the festivities held in the glorious
José Mateo's Ballet Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
will be provided from the Westin Waltham-Boston Hotel to Cambridge
and back. The separate $50 entry fee will help support the Berkana
more information about Leading Beyond the Horizon, check out the
program highlights on the conference website.
by Diane Cory and Rebecca Bradley
is one of the highest leverage activities available to leaders for
improving individual and group learning and performance. Developing
partnerships with those we coach builds trust and respect and increases
creativity and rigor in our collaborative thinking.
coaching offers an alternative to managing and teaching. Its purpose
is to facilitate learning, improve performance, and enable learners
to create desired results. How? Managers (1) ask open-ended questions
that focus the learner’s attention on relevant details, (2)
create an environment that reduces interference, or negative self-talk
by the learner, and (3) make feedback “edible”; easier
for the learner to hear and use.
to Give “Edible” Feedback
“Edible” feedback consists of nonjudgmental questions
and suggestions that are easy for the learner to hear and to act
on. Here is a model for offering edible feedback:
I observed your meeting/conversation/presentation/etc. I have some
feedback that you might find useful . . . is now a good time? Before
I give you my thoughts, I’m interested in your perceptions,
- What worked
well for you during that presentation/meeting/conversation?
- What didn’t
work as well for you?
- What might
you want to consider doing differently next time?
- Would you
like me to offer suggestions that have occurred to me as we’ve
The coach is
now in a position to confirm the perceptions of the learner or add
a different perspective.
the complete article or see The Systems Thinker, V9N4 (May
to The Systems Thinker.
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