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MLK and Constructive Conversations

| January 19, 2021

by David Sweetman

MLK and Constructive Conversations

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Dr. David Sweetman, MOR Associates Leadership Coach and Consultant.  David may be reached at [email protected].]

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr Day, the United States holiday marking the birth of Dr. King.  We can reflect on the past, the journey our country has been on to achieve greater racial equality.  We can also reflect on the future, the journey ahead for us to fully realize Dr. King’s vision that we will be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. 

As we consider the many lessons of Dr. King’s that are as meaningful to us today as they were sixty years ago, three quotes stand out as being especially relevant to us in our roles as leaders at this point in time:

  • The ultimate measure is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands at times of challenge and controversy.
  • We must keep moving, we must keep going.  If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving!
  • People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.

2020 was much more a time of challenge and controversy than one of comfort and convenience.  And those challenges and controversies did not go away at the stroke of midnight on Dec 31; they will remain with us for the foreseeable future.  To keep moving means to continue to make progress.  How can each of us continue to make progress on such complex and large challenges?  There are many answers to that question.  One is engaging in dialog so that we can create a more inclusive environment as leaders.

This involves engaging in dialog as opposed to debate.  When we debate, we try to convince others of our rightness while listening for flaws we can use to oppose the other’s point of view.  This is surely not a way to be inclusive.  When we dialog, on the other hand, we engage with curiosity, listening for mutual understanding and creating solutions together.

If we want to value diversity we need to listen to learn about other people’s experiences or how others may even be experiencing the current climate.

At MOR, we teach a simple 4-step framework to help us structure inclusive dialog, the 4 A’s: Ask, Acknowledge, Articulate, and Address.  To make the most of this framework, consider a challenge or controversy you are experiencing where someone else sees things differently than you.

Ask.  Inquire and learn about the other person’s point of view. Listen fully and let them talk until they’re finished.  Stop yourself if you get the urge to interrupt, which can sometimes be difficult.

Acknowledge. Paraphrase to show that you understood the other person and allow them to clarify anything that you may have misunderstood.  This validates the other person.

Articulate. Once they’ve shared, now you articulate your point of view.  Focus on clarifying your perspective without minimizing theirs.  Speak in “I” language to state what you think and feel. 

Address Options.  Continue to use inquiry to find something that you can work and build on.  Resolve the problem together; negotiate by asking “how can we make this safe for both of us?”

You are encouraged to identify at least one specific relationship that could benefit from this focus on inclusive communication and understanding this week.

In reflecting on Doctor King and the racial justice issues that are front and center, take a few moments to envision a society where we have created an inclusive culture thus leveraging the diversity and there is justice for all.

Please make your day a leaderful one for you and your team