A tool for tough conversations

Conflicts often go from a simmer to a roiling boil when a person or group feels powerless to affect the narrative. Maybe there’s a quiet person who needs extra time to process or doesn’t like to interrupt. Or someone on the fringes who feels self-conscious putting forth a minority viewpoint. While it seems simpler in the short run to let the loudest voices propel a cause, those who feel ostracized may leave the conversation altogether or nurse resentment that later manifests in destructive ways.

Power sharing is one answer to this imbalance. Recently one of my coachees introduced me to the concept of mutual invitation as outlined by Eric H. F. Law. In this process the leader gives his/her perspective on the issue at hand, then invites someone else by name to do the same. That person can speak, pass for the time being, or pass altogether. He/she then invites the next person to share. These steps repeat until everyone in the room gets two choices: whether to speak, and whom to invite to speak next.

Creative Commons "Invite friends to discuss" by Abraham Williams is licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “Invite friends to discuss” by Abraham Williams is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Mutual invitation could be a very useful tool for potentially divisive conversations. Each person has the chance to contribute uninterrupted, and no one can later say that he/she was never given a forum. And since people invite one another to speak by name, everyone has not just a listened-to voice but also an acknowledged identity in the process. Mutual invitation would work well with a leadership team or other small gathering. In larger groups, it could be employed in table discussions, with findings then reported to the whole body.

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