Tuesday, February 14, 2006


David Wilcox & Lee Bryant:
"Power is derived most obviously from being able to choose and frame the questions and the type of language used [in consultations]; but it is also important to consider who is asking the questions, when and how they are asked, and of course who can answer."

Apropos of the previous post about ‘misunderstandings’, surely the real question is one of difficulty many people find in communicating with those around them?

Here's an experiment that everyone can try at home. Ask someone that you deal with regularly (friend, neighbour, colleague etc) to get in touch with someone else (anyone!) to explain / ask / query something.

Almost every time, your request will not be carried out. Not because of laziness or poor faith, but because most people will not admit that they are nervous about communication.

"Phone them up" you say. Promises are made. A day later, "oh, they weren't in". "Send an e-mail" you say. The excuses lengthen. Contact is never made. Where it is, little by way of useful information changes hands. Often, the problem isn't the person you have asked to initiate contact - it is the person who is contacted that is unwilling to engage.

But either way, if two random people are asked to communicate with each other, the likelihood of one of them lacking the confidence to do so is fairly high.

Extracting information from other people is as tightly demarcated a task as a production-line job was at Fords in the 1970s. But this time, it isn't stroppy Unions drawing the lines: It's the secret phobias of a sizeable slice of the population.

Educationalists tackling dyslexia have recognised the lengths that people go to in order to build an avoidance strategy. Perhaps it’s time that we recognised how much many people dread having to talk to strangers?

None of this is very original, of course. Focus groups wouldn’t exist if people were confident and assertive about stating their preferences.

But, in framing questions, if people can discuss and agree a set of priorities, then government bodies can stop taking a lead altogether. The real problem is the facilitation of these discussions.

As far as I can see, a lot of the effort and money that is being spent on consultation or e-democracy is intended to route around the lack of interpersonal skills that are to be found in the various branches of the civil service. If this could be improved, perhaps the need for formal consultation would fall dramatically?

Doctors are now being assessed on their ability to communicate. Perhaps other professions should follow suit?

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