Simple tools for better conversations

Better conversations

In a world of increasing complexity and chaotic change, simple things can offer highly effective tools for managing change. My guess is that many people reading this constantly need to put structure around their plans – whether it is designing a presentation, workshop, conversation, interview or meeting – often at short notice.

ORID is a simple and versatile tool to help do this. ORID comes from the Technology of Participation (see the final paragraph below) and stands for objective, reflective, interpretative and decisional. It’s easy to remember because of the silent H, but it is anything but a “horrid” tool. For the last six months I have been using ORID to structure a wide range of different activities.

I was drawn to it because it is particularly helpful for providing context for a good conversation that enables people to reflect deeply. It helps probe beneath the surface and explore different perspectives – both rational and emotional. ORID stands for:

  • Objective: refers to experiential data – it is about facts and impressions, the things we sense: what people see, measure, observe, hear, and think. It is about information relevant to a theme, topic or issue.
  • Reflective: refers to how we react to that information – the images, emotions, and associations we make based upon our experiences.
  • Interpretative: about the meaning we make. What significance we ascribe to the experiences and emotions. This concerns the purpose we have, our values, connections we make between things and the ideas we have.
  • Decisional: about action – resolving the things we have discussed to a future direction and next steps.

Or, another way to remember this is, respectively: Senses, Heart, Head and Hands. ORID offers a better mnemonic.

A simple way to use the framework is to create a sequence of questions for people to address. For example, here are two very different scenarios and how ORID can be used:

  • 1.Developing a strategy or plan either large scale or for a specific project or component of a project
  • 2.Developing a intervention to help a team with a specific piece of work like trying to develop new values and behaviours
1. Developing strategy or project planning session 2. Analyzing values and behaviours to improve team working
Objective: What is the current situation? Who are the key players? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses? What are the expectations and targets? How will we measure success? How do you see inter-actions between team members? What are the key processes, arrangements and practices that shape how you work together?
Reflective: How do we feel about this? What is motivating and inspiring vs. what makes us anxious and scared? What is this like; what does this remind us of; when have we done something like this before? How do you feel about the way the team works together; what you like or don’t like?
Interpretative: What is going to be critical to success? What insights does this give us about how to move forward? What will be significant? What decisions do we have to make? How are we going to benefit and how will others? Who can we learn from? What is the purpose of the team? Do the values and behaviors help or impede the achievement of your purpose?
Decisional: What is the best way forward? What needs to be achieved by when? Who does what? How can we engage others? What’s the best way to communicate this? What changes you would like to see put in place?

Over the last few weeks I have found ORID can be helpful to:

  • Design the interview and workshop process for a leadership team that wanted to change the way they work with each other (see above)
  • Structure a focus group for a cross-generational group of managers exploring how leadership needs to change in the 21st century
  • Define the behaviours that the HR Directors of a large engineering business want to promote in their business
  • Put together an interview guide to help me and a potential client work out best possible next steps

The framework can also be used to structure a conversation or to help a group make sense of the conversation they are already having. People will come at topics from any one of the angles above where one participant might offer ideas for action, another talk about the facts as they see them, another may talk about their feelings and another may try to suggest focusing on what is important. Most of us have probably been in meetings where all of this is going on at the same time and having access to a structure to help organize inputs and the conversation is incredibly helpful.

ORID sits at the core of the Technology of Participation developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs and represents the component parts of what they call a Focused Conversation. Building from this the Focused Conversation sits at the core of the Consensus Workshop approach, and in turn this represents the core of the Strategic Planning Process. So ORID is a core building block that is well worth knowing about.


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