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Basic Discussion

Use the Basic Discussion Method to prepare for small group and interpersonal communication, reports, presentations, and leading meetings.

The basic discussion method consists of a sequence of questions directed at the four levels of the thinking process: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional.

For example, you need to establish work priorities for a major project that you are responsible for implementing. The project has several parts and a time line of three months. You will be meeting with your team to determine priorities and you have already provided team members with a copy of the project description. You have established a rational objective - to plan for the team to successfully complete the project - and an experiential objective - to give the team confidence that they can do it. Next, you draft an opening statement to the team and compose questions that will elicit responses in each of the four levels of the thinking process:

Opening statement:

We have a big challenge in the next several weeks, but we can do it if we set clear priorities and develop a time line. Let's review our assignment and what it will take to do it successfully.

Objective (get out the facts):

  • What are the main parts of the project?
  • What are the deliverables?

Reflective (associate the facts with experiences or emotions):

  • What will be relatively easy for us to deliver?
  • What will be difficult for us to deliver?

Interpretive (highlight the meaning or significance attached to the subject):

  • What are the main tasks involved in completing the project?
  • What strengths do we bring to this project?
  • What skills and resources are needed, and which ones are missing?
  • What could we bring in from other units or divisions?
  • What issues will need to be resolved?
  • Given our strength, skills, and resources discussion, let's return to the list of main tasks: Which ones are top priority? How can we sequence these tasks to be most effective?

Decisional (allow individual team members to decide their response to the situation):

  • If we have three months to finish the project, what are the main tasks for the first month? The second and third?
  • Who will work on each task?
  • As we have laid this out, is there anything missing?
  • What will you need to be successful in completing your responsibilities? (Go around the table to hear from each person.)

Closing statement:

It is impressive to see what happens when we think things through together. Let's be sure to coordinate early and often to be able to adjust when needed. I'll see that the meeting notes are written up with a calendar you can share.

Footnote: Remember that each member of a project team has a partial picture of the project. The discussion can help them develop a complete understanding of the project and other team members' perspectives. Make sure you allow enough time for the discussion.

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