I’ve been thinking about David Bohm’s ideas about Dialogue, partly in response to recent experiences of groups where I felt dissatisfied with the level of conversation. As someone said (it might have been Bohm himself), in many discussions people are only “talking, or reloading”. I’m interested in methods that get a bit further than this.

Rambling around I found this rather garlicky passage in a paper by Donald Factor who worked with Bohm – On Facilitation and Purpose(pdf). I’ve edited it down to focus on one of several provocative strands, and the whole paper (only a page or two long) is worth reading if you’ve got time.

In my experience frustration is the one thing that is universal in a group’s experience and this appears to also be the case in our entire culture… It could be argued that a great deal of our culture is dedicated to distracting us from our frustrations in an attempt at defusing them. The painful experience of frustration is, therefore, something that needs to be sustained in the dialogue so that its meaning can be displayed and understood. I have come to suspect that frustration may have to be seen as the crucial motivating force that can drive the dialogue deeper into unknown territory and thus toward the experience of creative insight.

I’m amused and stimulated by the thought that frustration could be the thing that holds a group together, something everyone can have in common. I’m not sure what Factor means means by “displaying its meaning” and I do like the idea of acknowledging frustration, embracing it, and perhaps channeling it. What often happens in groups is that it is just suppressed by some and acted-out by others in a way that dramatically lowers the energy of discussion.

I think dealing with angry exchanges is a good test for a facilitator and for a group. Can we find a way to include the anger or are we just going to avoid it or slap it down, both of which can sometimes kill off lively discussion? And at what point do we draw a line and say that some manifestations aren’t acceptable? There aren’t definitive answers to these questions and I do think that it’s a characteristic of good groups that they include more and suppress less.

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