Skinny Dipping

Skinny Dipping

The Pool

“The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy

Kerry PattersonCrucial Conversations

Note: It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen this particular quote, containing as it does a reference to synergy, and indirectly to the synergistic mindset (c.f. The Marshall Model).

In Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson et al use the term “Pool of Shared Meaning”.

“People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool–even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs.”

Two good things happen when the Pool of Shared Meaning swells:

1. More information means better decisions can be made. This just makes sense. The IQ of the group goes up with the addition of more information. And the EQ of the group goes up as people become more comfortable with revealing themselves and their thoughts, and build vulnerability-based trust.

2. More information from more people encourages “buy-in.” Buy-in means people are engaged in finding answers TOGETHER…and will be more willing to work to find solutions.

Skinny Dipping

What does it feel like when folks first realise they’re expected, or have the opportunity, to add to the pool of shared meaning in their workplace? A bit like skinny dipping. Embarrassing, awkward and a little exhilarating. Folks can feel shy, reluctant, and very vulnerable.

The water may be lovely, but folks are likely to avoid taking the plunge unless they feel safe and happy.  Even a few tentative toes in the water will be discouraged by the presence of onlookers who are just there to gawp rather than be prepared to strip off and join in, too.

And like skinny dipping, it’s pretty much impossible to force, mandate or cajole folks into taking part.

So if you want to see the Pool of Shared Meaning deepen and grow within your organisation, be sensitive to the feelings of the folks in question, take it gently, and bring some joy to the experience. After all, skinny dipping is meant to be fun!

– Bob

More Reading

Crucial Conversations – Kerry Patterson et al
Defensive Routines and Organisational Learning – blog post
Communicating Without Defensiveness – Article
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni

1 comment
  1. I like this post a lot, Bob. When you say “it’s pretty much impossible to force, mandate or cajole folks into taking part”, it really resonates with me. When I’m working with people to unpack and rehearse “challenging conversations”, I teach them about ‘warm up’, which is that state when our will is warmed up to carrying out a particular thing. Without our will, nothing can be fun. Even challenging conversations can be ‘fun’ (of sorts) when we are there with our full WILL in gear because we are bringing our whole selves to them.

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