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Generative Conversations

Communication is considered to describe things, not generate them, to be the transfer of information, with an emphasis on good presentation rather than listening skills. However, language is generative in addition to being descriptive. We focus on the aspects of language and communication that generate action and thereby results; that generate possibilities, meaning, value and satisfaction for ourselves and others; and even generate moods and emotions in our experience.

The relevance of speaking and listening for organizations, leadership and coaching is to recognize the generative power of language. One way that language is understood in our current age is as a description of our world, a set of linguistic tokens for entities in reality, a medium for the transfer of information. Much research in language has worked in this framework—that words correspond to entities and phenomena in the world. We see that a word like ‘chair’ corresponds to an artefact by that name in the world. As I have said, this perspective hides that language is generative, not just descriptive. Language has the power to generate action, the outcomes of action, possibilities, commitment, identities, opinions and much more.

In the 1940s, Oxford philosopher John Austin pointed out that we perform acts in language that are not descriptive, but that generate commitments and the future. He discovered that when we make a promise, for example, we are not describing something in the world. Instead, we are making an act, and the act is one of commitment—showing what the speaker is committed to—for the future. A request is a similar act, in which we do not describe something but rather make an act that shifts the future through the commitment that is spoken, listened and asked for. Austin called these linguistic acts ‘speech acts’*.

Generative language has the power to create new futures, to craft vision and to eliminate the blinders that are preventing people from seeing possibilities. It does not describe how a situation occurs; it transforms how it occurs. It does this by rewriting the future*.

Generative Interpretation

At IGL, we state that for an interpretation to be generative, it must

  • be observable,
  • be executable,
  • be learnable through practice and
  • generate the desired result.

Generative Practice

A generative practice is a conscious choice to embody a behaviour that can be used in whatever situation we find ourselves in. It is a commitment to a way of being in the world. It is life affirming, creative, and it produces a reality by how we orient to our life situation.

Learning to type, on the other hand, is a specific practice; it is specific to a certain context and it takes care of a specific concern. But typing is useful only when we are typing. A generative practice we can use anytime, anyplace, even when we are learning to type*.

Grounded Assessments

Grounded assessments are assessments that have answered a set of questions that require clarification before the listener can accept the assessment. These questions concern care, standards, domain and evidence.

Grounding is a practice to make assessments about assessments. If an assessment is ‘grounded’, then it has evidence to an acceptable standard, and is more likely to be effective in producing a desired outcome than an assessment that is ‘ungrounded’—lacking clear standards, evidence or specification of the domain of concern. Grounding does not make an assessment true; it only provides evidence and argument that it is a good assessment for our purpose. And ungrounded assessments only mean the assessments lack relevant evidence to trust the assessment. In grounding, we recommend that you ask certain questions.

To ground assessments, we find answers to the following questions:

  • For the sake of what future action?
  • In which domain of action?
  • According to what standard?
  • What true assertions support the assessment?
  • What true assertions are against the assessment?

So in general, grounding is a way to produce more trust in an assessment.

*Extracted from the papers authored by Robert Dunham, for IGL.

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