Friday, February 17, 2006

Scary agreement

In an email this week, I recommended developing a pattern of 'yes' responses to build agreement. One person wrote to call me 'scary' and another (in a training session) associated the technique with telemarketers. It's an interesting dilemna. If we naturally encourage agreement, we are scary and manipulative. If we do not encourage agreement, we are unable to fully connect.

Evolution has clearly weighed in on the side of connecting. It is widely accepted that the human brain has evolved to develop our abilities to 'mind read' - to guess at someone else's experience by interpreting their tone, gestures, facial expression, postures, actions and language. Through this mind reading, we have been able to form incredibly complex systems for living and building and generally developing capabilities far beyond what one could predict from an animal that is not fast, or strong, or ferocious. Connection only works because we use it as a test for saying 'yes' - if we could only say 'no' then we could never agree to do anything together, and no systems would form. We owe our evolution to powerful agreements.

What happens when 'yes' becomes a danger signal? No one would argue that there have been periods of time and historical contexts when people have said 'yes' to bad things. No one would argue that there are people in our own lives who would encourage us to say 'yes' when 'no' is a more appropriate answer. We know that 'no' is protective.

That's why the onus is on the person asking the question to frame it in a way that allows for a 'yes'. It's not so easy to do repeatedly. Most of us can mind read well enough to ask one or two questions in such a way that the answer is 'yes'. To form a pattern of connection, we would need to ask many more questions to which the answer remains 'yes.' In order to maintain the pattern, we would have to be able to enter into someone else's experience so thoroughly that we could 'mind read' accurately the response. In order to do that, we would have to open ourselves to communicating through multiple systems and multiple dimensions with someone whose experience is different than our own.

What happens when we so thoroughly enter someone else's experience (or frame of reference) that we can repeatedly and accurately predict their response to choice (all questions present choices)? Is it possible to do this without developing empathy for that person? Think now of the people you already know well enough to predict answers for: are they people close to you or strangers? Are they people who share your interests and priorities or people who are very different from you?

And then consider this. If we allow patterns of 'yes' to become dangerous and patterns of 'no' to seem protective, who will say 'yes' when we need help? How will evolutionary patterns shape groups where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts if our habitual response is 'no'?

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