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Dave Snowden

The sounds of silence

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Not the easiest if cartoons today, its not a condition I often face! But silence is something I use a lot in facilitation. One of there basic techniques is to have say five groups working on the same issue in parallel. Then each table appoints a spokesperson who moves to the next table to present the results of their discussion. This is done to complete silence; no questions of clarification is allowed. At the end four minutes, or when they finish it is not their turn to be silent as their audience now answer three basic questions: What was the same? What was different? What really surprised you? Once complete they rotate again and repeat three times. This means they have heard four different responses and can use that to modify their discussion. The group they return to has also heard four different ideas which may modify their own response.

All of this is about reducing the footprint of the facilitator, but also preventing the first presenter (in a conventional feedback) from over influencing what comes after: setting the tone as they say. The three questions force diversity of response and we have a side benefit – you learn how people interpret your material without any right to correct, explain for justify. Good education, but also good for increasing the range of what is scanned and increasing the overall decision resilience of the community concerned. Silence means you listen better. Tomorrow I will be walking Rhinog Fawr which is remote peak in the south of Snowdonia. Its a rough walk in an area without many walkers. Silence in the mountains provides a special sense of place of presence. The sudden cry of the Raven, the haunting call of the curlew of the joy of larks rising all punctuate, but make more profound the wider silence. There is a place for company and conversation and there is a place for silence and reflection.

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