"My question is how to reveal people's mental models in a way that people
engage rather than defend or attack. And in a way that I am open to seeing
my mental models in a mood of partnership and inquiry with the client."
This has everything to do with whether a person feels safe. I believe that
safety within a group has (at least) two dimensions--whether I bring safety
myself, and whether I feel safe in the "container" I'm in at the time. The
former has everything to do with the latter. In my work with group process
in the community I lived in, we talked about a "safe place to be unsafe" as
the ultimate goal of a "container." There are many elements to providing a
"safe" container within myself and within a group. Some of these are:
-- Setting ground rules and empowering the group to enforce them.
This is a key piece to providing safety. If the group sets a ground rule that
"No fixing is allowed," then if someone feels my "inquiry" is trying to fix
them, then they can invoke the ground rule. This enables them to feel safe
without having to be defensive. Also a ground rule allowing inquiry that
everyone agrees on would be essential to uncovering mental models.
-- Use appropriate etiquette when "inquiring".
I use a variation on the 4-quarters model of inquiry (or giving feedback)
that goes like this:
0) FIRST ASK PERMISSION TO INQUIRE (if it's not given, don't even bother.)
1) State the data ("I heard you say [such and such])
2) Ask (gently) to inquire as to what they meant by their statement, either
asking for any data supporting their statement (see ladder of inference)
or what they meant by their statement.
IMHO, Dialogue, as practiced as a formal discipline in groups, is one of the
most effective ways to uncover mental models I've come across. Dialogue is
not about fixing, it's about holding the tension in the dilemma or conflict;
it's not about coming to decisions, it's about uncovering mental models that
are at the root of the problems, and it's about balancing advocacy and
inquiry, which is about advocating my mental model to the group, and
allowing them to inquire into it so I can uncover it better in myself.
Robert Levi | voice: 303/665-6679, x361
Alexander Dawson School | fax: 303/665-0412
4801 N. 107th St. | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lafayette, CO 80026 | Director of Computing