I’ve seen a couple posts on my Facebook feed recently about the difficulties of communicating while female. Like this article: http://www.alternet.org/gender/10-words-every-girl-should-learn which posits that women get interrupted more than men, and talk less, even though there is an impression among the men that the women talk more. This article mentions that women’s opinions are valued less than men’s and references this cartoon: http://sorayachemaly.tumblr.com/post/84061311965 where the caption reads “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I’ve certainly experienced mentioning something in a group and having no one listen to it, only to have it repeated by a man some short time later to much acclaim.
As Soraya Chemaly, the author of the above article, puts it, having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice in most of the world. In politics, in the board room, in schools, in neighborhoods, women are being ignored and belittled, not respected and listened to. Women, no matter their level of authority, competence, or experience, are seen as less able than men and treated as transparent, if not entirely invisible.
The solutions suggested by the article are that women learn to say “stop interrupting me” and “I just said that.” I think these are fine ideas, and I have another suggestion: LEGO® Serious Play®.
LEGO® Serious Play® is designed to level the playing field. Every person in the room builds with bricks, and talks about what they built. Everyone must agree to the shared model they build together. There is a facilitator to help keep space open for everyone to talk, and people question the models rather than each other, which makes it easier for people to talk about difficult subjects.
Let me give you an example of how LSP works. Say there are two agencies that wish to merge. Both boards agree that merging will be beneficial, but when it comes time to start combining, each group thinks their way is the better way and they don’t want to give in to the other side. Let’s say group A and group B sit down with me and my LEGO® bricks to work this out. I tell everyone in the room to build models of the things that are the most important to hold onto from their organizations. These could be methodologies, databases, personnel, areas of focus, customer bases, whatever is really essential to keep. Everyone in the room starts to build. Some people know exactly what they want to say. Some people aren’t sure – they start building and let their hands inform their subject matter. Our hands have a direct link to our brains, and using our hands can often help us mine ourselves for what we think. Soon there are a couple dozen small models on the table.
Everyone goes around the room and tells something about their model – what it means, why it’s important, why they built it that way. Questions can be asked about the models, but not about the people. If someone asks “Does blue signify anything?” then “Yes, that’s the color of integrity” or “No, that was the color brick I grabbed first” are both valid answers. Then, if there are two models that are about the same thing, the people who made them can see if the models can be combined to display both of their thoughts.
At this point, the models become less about their makers and more about how they relate to other models. Let’s say person X in group A says that subject 1 is the most important thing, and must be put front and center in the shared model. Let’s say person Y in group B says that subject 2 is the most important thing, and must be put front and center in the shared model. And let’s say that people Z, ZZ, and ZZZ have other ideas but are no longer speaking up since they usually get stepped on when they do. At this point, the facilitator might say, “There is no front and center in a 3-d model. It can be approached from any direction. What matters is how the parts of the model relate to each other. Subjects 1 and 2 are both important – do they overlap on the model? Do they balance each other on opposite sides? Do they touch? And all these other parts are also important. How do they relate?” Then the group has to figure out how to incorporate all of these ideas.
No idea can be pushed away as unimportant because there is a physical model which must be incorporated into the shared model. No ideas can be dismissed because everyone must build and speak and listen when others speak. All the ideas of all the Z people will be included. And the ideas become slightly separate from the people who made them, so they can be discussed on their own merits and not on the merits of who built them. Plus, no one can be done until everyone agrees that the model is done.
There are lots of ways that playing fields can be uneven. There are power differences, gender differences, extroverts and introverts, people afraid to lose their jobs, afraid to face ridicule or hostility, dismissive of other ideas, sure of themselves, etc. LEGO® Serious Play® was designed to even things out as much as possible. Not every bump can be ironed out, but the president must listen to the secretary if they are both in this meeting together. No one’s idea is more important than anyone else’s, and every single one must be incorporated into the shared model before they can be done.
And even though some alpha males or mansplainers might not admit it, having a variety of perspectives can bring much stronger outcomes. A diversity of ideas can bring a vitality and resilience that one person’s thoughts can’t have. Plus, having everyone invested in making the shared model into reality is much more compelling and exciting than having everyone make one person’s ideas come to life.
Now, I understand that parties and meetings will still happen without LEGO® bricks and that not every conversation can be facilitated. However, if there is an important conversation that needs to be held, it can be held so that all present are equally heard.
Play well, everyone! -Talia