Story in service of Dialogue” by Mary Alice Arthur
From <The Power of Dialogue- Conversations with Masters> series
( summary by Keli Yen, graphic recorder: Grace Wang)
How do we enhance the power of dialogue to help a group make better decisions? How can we learn together and support each other’s successes and challenges as a community of dialogue practitioners? These questions are the reasons why the CP Yen Foundation is hosting a series of discussions called “The power of Dialogue-conversations with Masters”. The 2022 series kicked off on 7 March with guest speaker Mary Alice Arthur introducing “Story in Service of Dialogue”, and this newsletter is a summary of that webinar.
Mary Alice Arthur is a Story Activist, meaning that she works with story in service of positive systemic shifts and focusing collective intelligence on critical issues. Her aim is to create spaces where a new story can take people into a generative future.
We live in a story and that means we can change it. All day long we’re surrounded by stories competing for our attention. Advertisements try to sell their vision of the good life, political ideologies promote their stories about society’s problems and solutions, the organizations we work in also have a story about their goals and ethics, and we also have stories in our own minds about our identity and the world we live in. We’re immersed in these stories, yet we are not a passive recipient of them, on the contrary, we have the power to create and to change them. Mary Alice’s talk introduced how to appreciate storytelling as a force for change inside ourselves and in our greater social context.
“I create spaces where the right story can take people to the next life-giving future that they’re longing for,” explained Mary Alice, echoing an organizational learning tenet that the quality of dialogue determines the quality of solutions. Mary Alice adds that “a good story makes one an activist because it makes you want to do something”, it has the potential to inspire connections between your head, heart and hands and can be an effective leadership tool.
In Mary Alice’s experience people are expecting leaders to provide
- a picture of where we’re going,
- a purpose for working, and
- authentic respect for people’s dignity and contribution.
Leadership can also be understood as a role that holds the space for people to generate meaning from their common endeavor. Since stories are how people often interpret the meaning of their experiences, leadership then, includes the art of developing stories that enable a group to achieve or perceive a goal together.
This webinar was held on a day before International Women’s Day, so we took a moment to consider the gender dimension of leadership. Mary Alice remarked that female leaders and male leaders tend to tell different stories. She’s noticed that female leaders tell collaborative stories whereas male leaders generally tell competitive stories. How can we balance or flow between different types of stories is a challenge for leadership story telling.
In her introduction Mary Alice used the image of listening through two angels, the participant or self and as a leader or facilitator. Facilitators can support groups and leaders develop their collective storytelling by designing processes that support their progression through the stages of divergent thinking, to insight emergence and ultimately to convergence towards actions that can move the group forward. Mary Alice introduced a tool for this process called the “Diamond of Participation”, also known as “the Breath Pattern” by the “Art of Hosting” community of practice.
The process begins by exploring who the stakeholders are in relation to an issue, why it matters to them, and what they want to achieve in regard to the issue. This is the Divergence phase. A facilitator can use storytelling and dialogue to help the stakeholders’ diverse perspectives emerge. As the different stories emerge they can cause people to feel discomfort (i.e. the “groan” zone) and/or to learn and grow together. As the stakeholders develop greater understanding of one another the group eventually enter into a phase of convergence in which they develop a common story and a way to move forward together.
Facilitators support groups through this change process by strengthening clarity during the divergence phase, curiosity during the groan/grow phase, and conscious closure during the convergence stage, as shown in the diagram below.
After Mary Alice introduced how to understand and work with storytelling, participants were invited to experience storytelling in small groups of three.
Activity: Story Trios
Each person has the opportunity to explore one of the three areas – what stories are ending, in the middle or beginning at their life or work. What have your learned from that experience? Their partners then act as reflection to help each see their own view in that aspect of the reality. It also helps us realize we are in all three spaces in different aspects of our lives.
Following the Story Trio exercise, participants reflected on the “gifts” they gained from the activity. Some gifts mentioned were: the joy of active listening, empathizing with other people’s stories and seeing commonalities between their experience and one’s own, and noticing that a compelling story gets a grip on one’s imagination and can enrapture people.
Practice of dialogue and deep integration is important, perhaps more important than ever before as choices seem to always be presented as “either or”. Story is the meaning you make out of your experience. Stories are a key way to help us create empathetic listening , to connect to each other and create more equality. Dialogue and story are closely connected. That is how story is in service of dialogue. From story – questions – conversations comes better more subtle collective sense making. That is the power of story.
A good story makes one an activist because it makes you want to do or be something. It connects your head, heart and hands. If you are a humanbeing you are a story teller.You can change your life by changing your story!
2022朝邦文教基金會對話新訊息 – 春季刊
讓故事開展對話，Mary Alice Arthur
摘錄自《對話的力量 – 與大師對話系列》