Challenging Plans or Ideas: The Ritual Dissent Approach

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Gary Wong
Consultant, Canada

Challenging Plans or Ideas: The Ritual Dissent Approach

When facilitating strategic planning sessions, I often will use a Cognitive-Edge Inc. workshop method called: 'Ritual Dissent'.
It is designed to test and enhance proposals, ideas, plans through challenge - what is wrong, why it won't work, downsides, risk exposure, etc. It is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse.

The Ritual Dissent approach involves a spokesperson presenting to a table group who receives them in silence. The spokesperson then turns the chair around so that his/her back is to the audience and listens in silence while the group tears into it with full pessimism. Since the ritualization of not facing the audience removes eye contact, the feedback is not taken as an personal attack. It also helps with depersonalization when there are several table groups with spokespersons going the same process simultaneously. Spokespersons who are forced to listen in silence without eye contact find they can better focus on listening and precise note-taking instead of thinking about explanations to defend.

In Six Thinking Hats terms, the short hat sequence is: Green/Black. A longer sequence would have the spokesperson return to his/her group to remedy the negatives heard. Thus: Green/Black/Red/Green/Blue. The Red Hat is a quick feelings check with group members after they hear the negatives. The key concerns are then addressed wearing the Green Hat. With the Blue Hat on, the spokesperson or possibly another group member summarizes and prepares for the next round.
A second round would start with the spokesperson presenting the rework at a different table. The number of rounds conducted corresponds to the number of group tables. Typically 3 rounds can be done within 60 to 90 minutes.
If time permits, a final presentation can be made to the entire group so that everyone knows how their feedback has contributed.

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