The Startup life full of challenges. Managing relationship through difficult situations that need discussions and decisions is critical. Not without reason co-founder conflicts seem to be one of the key reasons for startup failures. That made me reflect on how many of our difficult discussions with colleagues and contemporaries devolve into nothingness and how we can possibly change the approach to make it more meaningful. Giving feedback or discussing tactical issues at hand can be tricky. They tend to land up in debates, the need to defend ones position becomes imperative. It is rare to have an environment which is safe and open for the group to share openly and that’s where the Gestalt (language) Protocol comes in.
Gestalt Psychology is the root for The Gestalt Protocol. Gestalt, a german word, means a “percept”. Wikipedia quotes the famous Gestalt Psychologist – Kurt Koffka “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts” is often incorrectly translated as “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and thus used when explaining gestalt theory, and further incorrectly applied to systems theory. Koffka did not like the translation. “No, what we mean is that the whole is different from the sum of his parts,” he said.The whole has an independent existence.”
The Gestalt Protocol has the following components besides others as detailed by Huki Taitand Jonathan B Smith in their respective posts –
- Speak from experience and refrain to talk down to the group or person – “sharing experiences, we end up with data that promotes better decision‐making. Sharing experience also allows for bonding and cohesion building in a group” writes Huki Tait , a teacher.
- Use “I” statements – “ here is what I did …” or “This worked for me …” is peter than “ This is what you should do…”. Replacing the “You” with and “I” should be the first step.
- Speak in Specifics – say “ Here is what worked for me” – while at it share negative experiences along side positive ones. That builds credibility.
- Ask “How” – instead of why. Do not ask “ Why did you do that?” but “How did you arrive at the decision to do that?” Empathizing the other persons point of view if critical.
- “Make a statement to declare your position” – before you ask a question define its purpose, there is no inquisition – it is important that the presenter is not treated like a defendant.
- Paraphrase your understanding before you respond. “What you said and what I heard” moment.
I learn a lot from reading posts by David Cummings and he touched upon the Gestalt Protocol recently. He had written a similar post in 2015 as well, with a slightly different narrative.
Quasim Habib writes how the Gestalt format helped him – “I addressed my situation in our next Forum meeting. Fortunately, my peers had plenty of experience in legal dealings of corporate and personal crimes. Pursuant to all Forum meetings, we followed Gestalt Language Protocol, where members shared their experiences without giving “advice.” Some of the experiences were similar, and some were drastically opposing. However, since no one was giving advice, there were no debates, disagreements or conflicting views on how I should handle my dilemma. I picked up some invaluable points and continued toward a successful resolution of the situation”
I found the articles (Links below) a good place to start to get an understanding and plan to implement the Gestalt approach in my future engagements. It would be amiss to not mention that most of the posts I refer, to pointed to EO – Entrepreneur’s Organistion as a place where they first encountered The Gestalt Protocol.
What do you do to make your contentious discussions more effective?