Dialogue Coachee Call: Practicing Suspension

Today, my dialogue coach and I discussed my ability to suspend judgments. Suspension is considered critical to preventing a conversation’s breakdown, as it transitions from argumentative to inquiry. We reviewed how to best carry conversations from debate and argument to more reflective dialogue. Without an authentic capacity to suspend judgments, people quickly succumb to overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frustration or politeness and denial. The result is talking tough or nice, or completely halting the dialogue process before it breaches the barriers leading to meaningful acts of mutual and collaborative understandings.

The deeper our pallet of shared experiences, the more easily judgment clouds our understandings.

We’ve previously discussed how it’s difficult to talk with a commitment to emergence, while engaged with someone whom we share an intimate connection, such as a close friend or parent. The deeper our pallet of shared experiences, the more easily judgment clouds our understandings. Without practicing suspension, we may miss important ideas or downplay a renewed exploration of ideas or unknowns. If we’re polarized by harbored views of a person, we hinder our ability to sail into new waters. What’s more, when either actor in a conversation fails to demonstrate a sincere need to suspend judgment, the other may perceive the environment as becoming unsafe or disrespectful. The conditions become incapable of inquiry and flow, and transition back to acting reactive, cautious or overly polite.

I believe a person’s capacity to suspend judgment requires routine exercise. This deliberate rehearsal is important for adults who’ve, throughout their personal development, failed to fully appreciate the need for a culture of inquiry. While everyone carries an innate desire to better understand their world, many people are raised to value blaming and non-reflective dialogue — an argumentative culture. The associated attitudes may be encouraged by the opinions expressed by their chosen information outlets, including influential social circles. Adults who’re capable of reflective and generative dialogue can catalyze these attitudes in their communities by actively mentoring their youth to suspend judgments, think critically.

Since we had previously discovered that difficult conversations often occur with people whom we share the most context, I exercised suspension today during a discussion with my wife. I practiced noticing my inward process, and brought those processes outward by asking questions and reflecting on my understandings. It was difficult. I was routinely drawn into using our more than eight years together as a frame of reference. What’s more, I felt encouraged to rationalize her opinions, as someone who’s invested in her successes and comforts. I needed to stop being an advocate. I needed to increase my comfort levels in acting as a bystander and follower. I needed to inspire renewed understandings.

It’s common for conversations to breakdown among family members and coworkers. When engaged with people in our daily lives, it’s easy to get trapped in downloaded assumptions that promote politeness or caution, dialogue that dodges true feelings. It’s also easy to become overly expressive, where heated moments draw on buried judgments, leading to combative listening. By focusing on suspending judgments with everyone in our lives, we take a vital step toward enriching our pallet of experiences with colorful, meaningful, reflective dialogue.

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