Communication discussion starter

If communication was a vehicle what would it be?

When doing my workshops, I do like a good analogy. I find that likening one thing to another helps us process what we are talking about and create a mental picture. Because I see a workshop and the discussions that take place as a journey, something that moves forwards and gains momentum as it does so, I frequently use analogies that involve moving. These are often related to vehicles, roads, rivers, maps and journeys, so I have created a short exercise, a discussion starter mapping communication onto different vehicles!

How does it work?

Well, first have a think about communication, what is it, what does it mean, how does it feel. Try to visualise it. Communication means different things to different people, and that’s where things can go a bit awry. So it’s good to create space to discuss it. For some it’s all about clarity, for some it’s about speed, for some it’s about quality. Perhaps listening is most important. It may be the two way nature, or it may be the versatility, or maybe the depth and range of things we can do with communication. It will inevitably be a combination of things, but different combinations for different people. Think for a couple of minutes what it means to you.

Next imagine if your idea of communication could be represented as a vehicle, what vehicle would it be? Perhaps you see communication as something that is slick and efficient, but perhaps (particularly with all the different mediums available to us) it can be a bit high maintenance. Perhaps a high end car. But maybe you think communication needs to be something that glides along smoothly, that you like it to be simple and uncomplicated, maybe that makes you think of a boat gliding down a river. It’s completely up to you.

Then you draw your vehicle.

Communication discussion starter

 

There is no right or wrong answer. I did a workshop recently where someone drew a picture of a tank! They saw communication as a bit of a struggle, and they needed it to be like a tank to get through, to get their message heard. The point is to use this as a discussion starter, to use the analogy to explore what different people think, to gather opinions and to get everyone thinking. One of the things you might find is that actually a certain vehicle is great for a number of things, but that there are many things it cannot do. One mode of transport does not quite represent all the facets of communication. It is a multidimensional thing. This exercise is a way of starting to explore that. From this starting point you may go on to dig deeper into communication problems, challenges, ideas for improvement, setting goals to move forwards, creating actions. But that’s the real heart of the workshop. This is just to warm you up.

It can also be a bit of fun and can be good to break the ice. This analogy can be used for other things too, not just to discuss communication – you can make it about anything you want.

Have a go and I’d love to hear the results, and I’d really like to see some pictures too!

What vehicle did you choose?

Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

Idea

 

But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

Brain

The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

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