Much of Intentional Practice work is about process, and a significant part of process work requires that we talk with each other. I realize that humans exchange ideas verbally all the time, although given we live in the screen age (computers, phones, and pads), perhaps people are conversing face-to-face less and less. And perhaps, as well, we need practice convening and having productive conversations. This third principle of the seven principles of Intentional Practice is staff using inquiry and active listening to understand and appreciate varying viewpoints; it is about having productive conversations that support the work of your museum. It is a principle because open, productive conversations among staff are necessary if a museum is to achieve impact.
#3: Staff use inquiry and active listening to understand and appreciate varying viewpoints.
RK&A uses inquiry (e.g., ask open-ended questions) for several reasons: 1) inquiry, with a few ground rules, creates a neutralizing and democratizing atmosphere that invites and welcomes all viewpoints; 2) inquiry promotes others to ask questions, and it is through conversation and dialogue that social, professional, and personal learning emerges; and 3) inquiry allows staff to come to their own understanding about an issue or topic; and 4) asking well-articulated and purposeful questions allows everyone to explore their thoughts, come to know their perspectives and the perspectives of others in their group, and reach a collective appreciation for all ways of knowing. I realize that my view of inquiry and active listening may sound Pollyannaish, but because I have seen such conversations reach useful and invigorating ends, I believe fully in the principle. I realize, as well, that the four points above are complicated and deserve their own individual blog post, if not a chapter in a book (which is forthcoming by the way—in about 18 months if all goes as planned), but, for today’s post, I have chosen to focus on the ground rules, as without rules of engagement, conversations easily can go awry.
Ground rule #1: Participate with authenticity
First, in workshops we invite and encourage all workshop participants to contribute with authenticity. We ask all participants to respect all others in the gathering as well as the purpose of the gathering; authentic and genuine participation is essential to a successful planning process. We want to hear everyone’s genuine thoughts about the ideas under discussion.
Ground rule #2: Listen to first understand, then respond
Second, while we encourage everyone to be themselves, we also request that everyone be respectful as the conversation ensues. To that end, we encourage listening to understand—not to respond, at least not right away. We recommend allowing ample time to process and understand before responding, so as to avoid knee-jerk reactions to potentially unpopular positions. We respect what all individuals bring to a situation, and we recognize that all bring a unique and valuable intellect, commitment, passion, and experience to the group conversation. If someone does not fully understand what someone is saying, we support asking additional questions to clarify a point that may not have been clearly expressed initially.
Ground rule #3: Realize process work is an art and science
Finally, the Cycle of Intentional Practice work is iterative and process-oriented. Process work can be messy, and it also can be uncomfortable for some. While most of the gatherings (e.g., workshops) may have a defined agenda, framework, and theory to support the work, we cannot anticipate exactly what will unfold throughout the course of the workshop; if we knew, we would be dismissing the uniqueness of the institution and individuals’ contributions. The art emerges as we all respond to each other’s thoughts and we end up in an unexpected place of understanding; the art also emerges, with a little bit of science, in how we ask the questions, ensuring that we and others are asking balanced, non-leading, and unbiased questions.