Quality eLine Newsletter
December 2004
Vol. 6, No. 12

Six Sigma and More: 
David Schwinn dialogues about dialogue.

by David R. Schwinn

Over the weekend, I was listening to a piece on National Public Radio (NPR), entitled “Bridges.” In it, the commentator was asking negotiation consultants how to get your way in a negotiation in which you have no power. He got several good answers. The one he seemed to like best was “Seek first to understand.”

This idea of seeking first to understand took to me to another recent experience. A young Japanese student in my Managing in Circle class led our circle by asking questions that had been bothering her. These were questions that her counselors suggested were too dangerous about which to inquire. She asked us what we thought about the United States, President Bush, freedom, democracy, religion, and the war in Iraq. We had a wonderful conversation that enlightened all of us. We unintentionally found common ground in unanticipated places. The dialogue process we used permitted us to disagree without attacking one another. To refresh your memory, dialogue involves:

1. suspension of judgment
2. assumption of identification
3. inquiry and reflection
4. listening

Another simple way to describe dialogue is to contrast it with discussion, the mode of verbal discourse about which we are most familiar. Here’s a summary comparison:

Dialogue Discussion
Learn and discover Tell and sell
Ask questions Justify and defend
Explore multiple perspectives Gain agreement on one perspective
Uncover and question assumptions Defend assumptions
Consider both/and Consider either/or
Suspend judgement Judge right or wrong
Respect one another Seek power over one another

Dialogue is a tool that enhances connections. Enhanced connections provide social glue. Social glue is one way to describe culture. Turning Six Sigma into a culture is a powerful way to strengthen the effort.

So here’s this month’s challenge. Ask people what they think about your Six Sigma effort. Begin the dialogue. Ask your boss. Ask your peers. Ask the people who work for you. Ask your suppliers. Ask the people who provide you funding. But start with a sincere effort to seek first to understand or you are likely to hear what your partner thinks you want to hear instead of what they really think. The dialogue will strengthen the connections. The content will provide “treasure” that can make your Six Sigma effort better.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your input. I’m at support@pqsystems.com


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