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Towards WE & BEYOND – Impressions from a shared journey Part XVIII

In this blog we like to share our thoughts on the last two of the six dialog skills: suspending and releasing.

These skills have a lot to do with our awareness about our individual, group, and cultural belief systems and mental models. Who has not fallen into the trap of evaluating or judging straight away? We hear something and immediately react: 'that is not possible', 'yes, but...'. One that is often also not particularly helpful: 'yes, and I...' Or 'I know exactly what you mean'. While generally meant well, it easily leads to the person talking to us feeling that they are not really being listened to, that they have not been heard - how could someone else claim to feel or have experienced exactly the same? It also means that the focus is taken away from the person who is talking and brought back to the listener. If that happens, if we do not truly listen first, then no real dialogue can take place. Let us explain a little more what we mean.

Particularly in the context of innovation open and deep listening next to suspending our spontaneous judgment are essential - even though this almost means acting against what our brain is programmed to do! Why? Our brain help us in amazing ways to navigate the complexity of modern everyday life: when encountering something somewhat different or new, immediately it automatically searches the 'database' for something similar, for something already known. If that something can be found then our brain reacts with: “case solved, I no longer need to investigate this and can focus my resources on something else.” Neuroscience research shows that this is how humans learn: by comparing something new to things we know. However, it also means that we might jump to conclusions, that we see (or indeed hear) what we believe to be there, before witnessing and grasping real reality.

In order to suspend immediate judgment we need to develop an awareness for our implicit assumptions and world views, of what we believe is and isn't possible - including those cultural views, economic and societal models and thought patten that have been shaped by both our professional and private lives. Too easily such views move from being ideas - possible scenarios - to becoming ideologies - only possible ways of looking at the world. In a consequence of this often there is only ‘one right way’ inherent in our world view. Once we are in a frame of mind of 'right and wrong' it happens so quickly to shut oneself off from considering and accepting different points of view, different perspectives on reality.* However, only if the customary mindset of 'right or wrong' are put aside an atmosphere of trust and (personal, emotional) security can develop. And this atmosphere is so critical for innovation: the crazy ideas that are so often at the bottom of innovation are only shared if people feel safe and secure. Einstein’s put it nicely: “If an idea is not utterly crazy at the outset, there is no hope for it.”

Clearly, it would be rather difficult to give up believes and assumptions all together. This is also not what suspense is about! All that needs to be done for real dialogue to happen is to put ourselves (our ego, our self importance) to one side, letting the said resonate and linger, reflect back to the person what we have heard, and thereby create some space for new possibilities, meanings, opportunities. It is in the space of suspense where we can unlearn - release - and where new things can emerge.


Suspense is the space between two breaths where we neither breathe in, nor breathe out, it is the moment where we just are. Only after a period of suspense should we start to bring our own thoughts and experiences to bear, if appropriate. Unless we pause, suspend, we will only be able to see a hat, not that, really, it is a snake who has eaten an elephant - or perhaps an ufo that has crash landed.

Let us close with out eighteenth insight: In order for true dialogue to take place we need to put our assumptions, beliefs and egos to one side, only then new ideas, realties and world views can emerge, and old ones can be released.

* Depending on whether we can create an open and trusting atmosphere or not we are ending up in either the Drama or the Empowerment Triangle - we will explain more about this in our next blog!

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