Cognitive science is increasingly interested in the ability people have to dialog and cooperate. Why can’t people understand each other? Why do we favor status quo instead of moving forward? Most of the time, it is because we think along different lines or patterns, and because beyond our differences in opinions, we have different representations of a same reality. The example below is a good illustration: what would you have seen in the following figure?
To effectively establish a dialog and understand each other, we need to realize that each of us uses a different frame of reference and representation system. We need to try and define a shared frame or representation, or at least try and temporarily adopt the other person’s frame of reference in order to understand the reasoning behind her thinking.
Ideologies and dogma are made to prevent any incursion in a different vision of the world. Prejudice has the same effect: they rigidify the frame and representation system. As a consequence, even the idea of difference or change becomes threatening and has a paralyzing effect.
Several techniques have been developed in organizations to facilitate mutual understanding and cooperative problem solving through a dialog intended to free expression and vent out concerns and fears, and where each one tries by “informing” the other to understand the blocking factors and to overcome them. This process contributes to reduce threats and worries. The half empty glass has a chance to become half full.
One particular example of these techniques: the proscription of questions that can be answered by yes or no. These questions indeed offer the possibility for the one who replies to hide behind a small word without a slight incursion in the reasoning. By the same token, why-questions are prohibited as well, because even when they try to get to the causes, they often generate responses that are mere justifications, fruitless to move a debate forward.
To progress not only in the corporate world but also in our societies and the world as well, I would be favorable to teach dialog as a “civic skill” at school!