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Make Sure Good Ideas are Heard

Do you ever feel like you don’t get enough credit for your good ideas? Do you occasionally make decisions before getting input from everyone in the group? The holidays are a great time to practice some techniques to help you avoid these problems.

Holiday gatherings provide many venues to engage in conversations with friends, family, and colleagues. For the talkers amongst us (whom we will callExternal Thinkers in this blog), these occasions provide opportunities to share our personal viewpoints and observe how people react to them. Those of us who are quieter (whom we will call Internal Thinkers), on the other hand, would prefer to have a minute or so of silence to think about an issue before we are expected to formulate a comment or a response. Are you an External Thinker or an Internal Thinker? Most analysts fall into the second category.

In most situations, External Thinkers will dominate the discussion while the thoughts of the Internal Thinkers go unspoken. This would suggest that we have a real problem—a lot of good ideas are not being heard. If given a chance to reflect, Internal Thinkers may have opinions to share but are reluctant to express them, especially in front of a large group. Should the discussion, for example, turn to where to go on the next family vacation, ways to reduce holiday stress, or the impact of the new US tax bill, Internal Thinkers might have better insights than their more extroverted counterparts who usually dominate the conversation.

So, what can be done to fix this problem?

  • At a minimum, External Thinkers should try to notice when Internal Thinkers are not participating as the conversation progresses, and make a point to ask them for their opinions. One way to make sure the entire group is included is to go around the table or conversation circle and ask everyone what they think.
  • Another technique is to physically divide the group into External Thinkers and Internal Thinkers. For example, you could arrange for each group to sit together at either end of the dining room table. TheExternal Thinkers might get a little loud at their end, but the Internal Thinkers will respect the desires of those around them to allow a little silence while they take time to think.

In a work setting or a more organized brainstorming session, you can practice:

  • Silent Brainstorming. Pass out note cards to all participants at various points in the session and ask them to stop talking for a minute or two and write down two or three of their best ideas. Then ask them to pass their cards to you to share with the group by reading them out loud anonymously. If someone in the group is talking too much, then surreptitiously put his card on the bottom of the pack and read out the cards from the Internal Thinkers first.
  • Pre-thinking. In advance of the session, tell the invited participants what will be discussed, and ask them to jot down some initial ideas to bring to the group. You can collect them and post them on a white board or easel. This is a great way to launch the discussion!

If you are interested in learning more about small group dynamics, Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 2nd Ed. dedicates a chapter to the topic.

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