The Discipline of Conscious Conversation: Principles and Practices By Louis D. Cox, Ph.D.


Here are three exercises individuals can do to implement conscious conversation in their life and work based on the principles outlined in Lou Cox’s article:

  1. Reflection on Interpersonal Safety:
    • Take some time to reflect on your past experiences in conversations or meetings where you felt either safe or unsafe to express yourself.
    • Identify specific elements or behaviors that contributed to your sense of safety or lack thereof.
    • Consider how you can create a safe space for communication in your interactions with colleagues or team members. This might involve setting clear boundaries, actively listening without judgment, or encouraging open dialogue.
  2. Ego Awareness Exercise: Radio Active
    • Reflect on moments when you noticed your ego influencing your behavior or communication style in a professional setting.
    • Identify common triggers or patterns associated with your ego-driven responses, such as the need for control or validation.
    • Practice observing these egoic tendencies without judgment or attachment during future interactions. Take note of how recognizing and acknowledging your ego affects the dynamics of the conversation and your ability to communicate authentically.
  3. Authenticity Exploration:
    • Spend some time journaling or reflecting on moments in your work or personal life when you felt most authentic and aligned with your values.
    • Identify specific behaviors, attitudes, or actions that contributed to your sense of authenticity in those moments.
    • Set intentions to cultivate authenticity in your daily interactions by consciously aligning your words and actions with your inner values and beliefs. Practice expressing yourself authentically, even in challenging situations, and observe how this influences the quality of your conversations and relationships.

These exercises aim to promote self-awareness, conscious communication, and authenticity, all of which are essential aspects of implementing conscious conversation in both personal and professional contexts.

The Discipline of Conscious Conversation: Principles and Practices

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Making Sense of Human Systems

Lou Cox’s article delves into the everyday structures that shape our lives, from families and schools to workplaces and communities. These systems serve different purposes, like helping us survive or find happiness. Cox acknowledges the remarkable progress we’ve made, especially in technology, thanks to these systems. However, he reminds us that these systems are run by imperfect people, which affects how well they work. The key? Good conversations among the people involved. If we talk effectively, our systems function better.

Why Change Is Essential

Sometimes, our systems need more than just tweaks; they need a complete makeover. This happens when they face new challenges, like a family dealing with a sudden illness or a company entering a new market. In these moments, old ways of doing things just won’t cut it. Cox stresses that everyone involved needs to rethink what they talk about, how they talk, and who gets a say. If we don’t adapt, our systems can become like cancer cells, growing out of control and harming the very things they’re meant to help.

Missing Pieces in Our Conversations

Cox points out a big problem in our discussions: we’re not talking about everything we should be. Our talks usually focus on practical stuff, like what needs to get done. But we’re missing out on important things, like feelings, personal values, and who we really are. This gap makes it hard for our systems to deal with big issues, like climate change and poverty.

Moving Forward Together

Despite these challenges, Cox believes we can turn things around. He sees a growing awareness of both our system failures and the cool new tech we have. Cox says we need a new way of thinking and leading to tackle these changes head-on. And at the heart of it all? Having better conversations. If we can talk openly and honestly, we might just find the solutions we need. After all, as Einstein said, you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.

Individual Impact on Systems

Leaders can certainly influence systems by making changes to structures, strategies, and goals. This traditional “command and control” approach often boosts productivity and efficiency. However, it doesn’t always prevent the negative consequences highlighted by Scharmer. Despite its effectiveness in certain areas, simply increasing productivity isn’t enough to address systemic issues.

Embracing Systemic Change

Over the past few decades, there’s been a remarkable shift in how we view and tackle systemic challenges, both locally and globally. Fields like organizational development and systems thinking have brought together diverse groups of people to deepen our understanding of systemic evolution. We now have an abundance of insights, methods, and processes to drive collective change and respond to ongoing shifts. These tools incorporate elements previously overlooked in system design, offering hope for meaningful transformation.

Resisting Change: A Universal Challenge

However, despite the availability of tools and methods, resistance to change remains a significant barrier. As Robert Kegan points out, powerful systems often maintain the status quo, hindering lasting transformation. This resistance can undermine change initiatives, preventing them from achieving their intended outcomes. Overcoming this resistance requires collective effort and support.

Personal Transformation Drives Systemic Change

It’s essential to recognize that the change we seek in larger systems starts with us. This includes our immediate groups, whether they’re executive teams, employees, or volunteers. Our current conversations often fail to tap into the full range of human potential needed to address complex challenges. To facilitate meaningful change, we must engage in radically different collective conversations, supporting each other along the way.

The Discipline of Conscious Conversation

One approach to fostering these transformative conversations is through the discipline of Conscious Conversation. Unlike mechanical or technological solutions, this approach emphasizes human connection and authenticity. It encourages groups to engage in open, honest dialogue, enabling them to access deeper levels of intelligence, creativity, and purpose. While demanding, this discipline offers numerous benefits, from fostering original thinking to strengthening interpersonal bonds and achieving collective goals.

Principles of Conscious Conversation

At the heart of Conscious Conversation are its principles, fundamental understandings of how effective dialogue operates. These principles serve as the foundation for the practices that bring them to life in group conversations. By embracing these principles and practices, groups can unlock their collective potential and drive meaningful change within themselves and the larger systems they aim to influence.

Overview of the Article: “The Principles of the Discipline of Conscious Conversation”

Principle #1: Creating Radically Different Collective Intelligence

The article discusses eight principles of Conscious Conversation, emphasizing their importance in fostering collective intelligence, creativity, heart, spirit, purpose, insight, and will within a group. The first principle highlights the necessity of practicing conscious, authentic, and open conversation to achieve these outcomes. It challenges conventional notions of consciousness and authenticity, arguing that true consciousness involves a process of discovery rather than mere wakefulness. Through examples from team dynamics, the principle illustrates how becoming more conscious can lead to the recognition of collective biases and the emergence of new possibilities.

Principle #2: Acknowledging Human Nature

The second principle acknowledges that individuals are not always fully conscious, authentic, or open in their interactions. Rather than viewing this as a fault, the principle presents it as an opportunity for development. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing and accepting where one is in their journey towards greater consciousness, authenticity, and openness.

Principle #3: Embracing Continuous Development

Principle #3 underscores the dynamic nature of conscious conversation, highlighting that it is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. It urges teams to assess the quality of their conversations in the present moment and strive for greater consciousness, authenticity, and openness relevant to that moment. This principle emphasizes the need for continuous reflection and improvement in team communication.

Principle #4: Understanding the Role of Ego

The fourth principle delves into the role of ego in shaping collective conversations. It distinguishes between possessing an ego, which is inherent to human nature, and being possessed by one’s ego, which hinders consciousness, authenticity, and openness. The principle emphasizes the importance of recognizing and disengaging from ego-driven behaviors to foster more meaningful and productive interactions within a group.

The article’s exploration of these principles provides valuable insights into fostering effective communication and collaboration within teams, emphasizing the importance of self-awareness, continuous development, and collective consciousness.

Principle #5: Strengthening the Connection to the Authentic Self

The fifth principle of Conscious Conversation emphasizes the importance of each team member connecting with their authentic self to foster a more conscious, authentic, and open collective conversation. Unlike the ego, which presents a limited version of ourselves, the authentic self embraces all dimensions of our experience, including those the ego seeks to exclude. This authentic self seeks more consciousness regarding various dimensions of experience and accepts the dualities inherent in human existence. It is self-authorizing and capable of spotting, acknowledging, and disengaging from the ego’s influence. By embracing the authentic self, individuals can experience a sense of belonging, recognize their worth, and empower themselves and others within the team. The practice of personal mastery contributes to the application of more consciousness, authenticity, and openness in team interactions, leading to deeper collective intelligence and wisdom.

Principle #6: Embracing the Being Dimension

The sixth principle highlights the importance of collectively embracing the ‘being dimension’ in fostering conscious, authentic, and open conversations. This dimension, which precedes sensing, thinking, feeling, and willing, serves as the source and container of all collective consciousness, authenticity, and openness. It is the space of awareness, presence, and pure consciousness, empowering the transformation of individual and collective consciousness. When the authentic self aligns with the being dimension, it enhances the team’s capacity for creativity, original thinking, self-reflection, and deeper connection. Strengthening access to the being dimension enables the team to tap into deeper wisdom and resources, facilitating breakthroughs and transformative possibilities within the collective conversation.

Principle #7: Creating Interpersonal Safety

The seventh principle emphasizes the necessity of incrementally deepening the group’s sense of interpersonal safety to facilitate a more conscious, authentic, and open collective conversation. Internal agreements and understandings around safety must be established within the team, accompanied by strategies to address external threats to safety. Meeting basic interpersonal needs such as belonging, recognition, empowerment, mastery, meaning, and safety is essential for sustaining collective safety and facilitating meaningful dialogue. The discipline of Conscious Conversation involves collectively problem-solving any failures to meet these needs, recognizing failures as integral to the learning process.

Principle #8: Practicing Collective Self-Reflection

The eighth principle underscores the importance of regular collective self-reflection regarding the interaction of all critical interpersonal dimensions of team experience. These dimensions include the bodily, thought, will, creative, heart, ego, authentic self, and being dimensions. Collective self-reflection is often neglected in organizations, where the focus is primarily on productivity and efficiency rather than human wisdom and well-being. By paying conscious attention to all interpersonal dimensions and practicing collective self-reflection, teams can maintain vital and empowering conversations, leading to greater effectiveness and fulfillment in their collective endeavors.

The Critical Interpersonal Dimensions of Working Together

In Lou Cox’s article, the critical interpersonal dimensions of teamwork are explored, starting with the bodily dimension. This dimension serves as the physical bridge between individuals and their shared external space, facilitated by sensory perception. Conscious attention to sensory data impacts team behavior and interventions, influencing outcomes at both individual and collective levels. Similarly, the thought dimension involves subjective and interpersonal thinking, where shared consciousness is co-created through spoken or written words. Effective communication, both in speaking and listening, determines the quality of shared thought space, crucial for original thinking and deeper intelligence.

The Will Dimension and Heart Dimension

The will dimension encompasses the space where choices and actions are made collectively, influencing shared efforts and aspirations. Individual will becomes conscious through verbalization and subsequent action, shaping collaborative endeavors. Meanwhile, the heart dimension delves into subjective experiences such as emotion, meaning, and trust, which remain hidden unless shared verbally. The quality of conversation dictates the depth of shared experiences within the heart dimension, reflecting the group’s decisions on what is permissible and safe to share.

The Creative Dimension and Conclusion of Principles

Creativity, as the capacity to innovate and bring forth the new, is a vital but underused resource in collective endeavors. While often utilized for various purposes, its disconnectedness from critical interpersonal dimensions may lead to detrimental outcomes. Therefore, a collective conversation that integrates all dimensions is essential for grounded creativity that serves broader human needs. The principles of Conscious Conversation advocate for embracing these dimensions to foster conscious, authentic, and open teamwork.

The Practices of Conscious Conversation

Following the principles, the practices of Conscious Conversation involve a concentrated introduction to these principles and an exploration of the group’s current dynamics. This includes assessing interpersonal safety, identifying ego types, and problem-solving challenges like defensiveness. The master practice involves collective self-reflection and feedback, ensuring ongoing alignment with the principles of Conscious Conversation.

Practice #1: Creating Interpersonal Safety

The article emphasizes the importance of establishing interpersonal safety within a team to foster conscious, authentic, and open conversation. Exercises such as collectively identifying elements contributing to safety and discussing past experiences related to interpersonal safety help in this process. Understanding individual reactions to fear in the workplace and brainstorming strategies to enhance safety contribute to creating a conducive environment for open dialogue. The fluid nature of safety versus risk highlights the ongoing need for attention to interpersonal dynamics within the team.

Practice #2: Understanding Ego Dynamics

Another crucial practice involves recognizing and mitigating the influence of ego in team interactions. By identifying ego types and defensive strategies, teams can work towards decriminalizing ego-driven behaviors. Acknowledging power dynamics and status within the team, along with addressing issues like credit and job security, helps in fostering a culture of openness and authenticity. The exploration of ego dynamics, as outlined by Eckhart Tolle in “A New Earth,” offers valuable insights into individual and collective behavior.

Practice #3: Reflecting on Collective Consciousness

Collective reflection on the level of consciousness, authenticity, and openness in conversations is essential. Feedback on successful and unsuccessful instances of addressing critical interpersonal dimensions helps teams improve their communication. By integrating practices like appreciative inquiry and developing the capacity for collective witnessing, teams enhance their collective intelligence and creativity. The willingness to step into the ‘being’ mode fosters deeper self-reflection and growth within the team.

Practice #4: Spotting and Addressing Unconsciousness

Teams must identify and address unconsciousness, inauthenticity, and closedness in their conversations. Providing feedback on moments of success and areas for improvement helps in promoting conscious and authentic dialogue. Understanding the triggers for defensiveness and fostering interpersonal safety are crucial aspects of this practice. Open communication and problem-solving contribute to a culture of continuous improvement within the team.

Practice #5: Cultivating Authenticity

Cultivating authenticity involves differentiating between the ego and the authentic self within team members. Sharing experiences that align with one’s authentic self helps in understanding individual values and behaviors. Recognizing moments of empowerment, trust, and meaningful bonding contribute to developing a deeper understanding of authenticity. This practice emphasizes ongoing growth and self-awareness within the team.

Practice #6: Deepening Connection with ‘Being’

Deepening the connection with the dimension of ‘Being’ involves practices that facilitate collective presence and witnessing. Utilizing techniques like silence and presencing helps team members tap into their collective wisdom and creativity. By embracing the transformative power of ‘being’ mode, teams unlock new levels of insight and collaboration. Regular application of the master practice, guided by the principles of Conscious Conversation, ensures ongoing growth and development within the team.

The Master Practice

The master practice serves as a cornerstone for the discipline of Conscious Conversation. It involves a self-reflective feedback exercise where team members evaluate their contributions to collective conversations. By sharing insights on enhancing consciousness, authenticity, and openness, teams foster a culture of continuous improvement. Ground rules for constructive feedback include active listening, non-judgmental communication, and openness to personal blind spots. This practice strengthens the team’s understanding of the principles and practices of Conscious Conversation, empowering them to address complex challenges with collective intelligence and creativity.

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