Meaningful Conversation

The role of Inner Condition in Meeting Effectiveness

A big factor in the effectiveness of any meeting is the attitudes of the people within it.
One person who has done a lot of work in understanding how the attitudes people adopt within a meeting can affect the quality of dialogue and the overall effectiveness of the meeting is Otto Scharmer of MIT. He has developed an ‘Inner Condition’ model which helps people to become mindful of their own perspectives and motivations, and whether that is leading to the conversation becoming more open and emergent, or more closed and polarising.
It is based on a picture of ourselves which is reflected in the diagram below.
Diagram courtesy of input from Otto Scharmer and Andy Denne
The idea is that, in conversation, if we monitor our inner condition, we will become aware that we are tending either to:
  • judging what we are hearing and seeing, … or … we are becoming curious about it;
  • being cynical about situations, … or … feeling compassion for those who are involved;
  • sensing stress and defensiveness in our bodies, … or … the energy that accompanies courage
Or we maybe somewhere along a spectrum between the two. And that as we sense we are moving toward one end or the other, we will have a corresponding effect on those we are talking to, and that can either tend to open the conversation up to new possibilities or close it down into established positions.
Clearly, in developing insight and ownership in yourself and in your colleagues with whom you are meeting, tending toward green is far more productive than tending toward red. However, in the detail of the meeting it is easy to lose sight of our own attitudes. All too often, as the pressure of the meeting intensifies, people both drift to the red and at the same time lose their awareness of having done so. As a result, their contributions promote similar reactions in others, and at the very point that the meeting most needs creativity, insight and understanding, those qualities are at their least available.
Enabling the in-meeting feedback features of Inspirometer provides useful checkpoints for the group to collectively monitor where they are in terms of their inner condition. There is high correllation between the value-add of a discussion and the attitudes we bring to it, and that correllation extends to the linking of the red/green colours of the Inspirometer faces and the Inner Condition model.
Taking a few seconds to provide feedback enables people to lift themselves out of the detail of what has been going on and to take a meta-level perspective of the process and their own part in that. The ability to immediately see the results enables the meeting to consciously and collectively move past any red that has developed, and for individuals to reset their own individual thinking back to green. The provision of participation feedback enables people to track their self-perception on their own inner condition and to calibrate that against the perception of their colleagues.
As Thomas Jefferson observed – ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ – we will only be free of the ‘red’ if we are continuously mindful to monitor it within ourselves.
For more information on Otto Scharmer’s work, take a look at his website.

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