How often do you hear someone say “collaboration” in the office? It’s a corporate buzzword. But there’s a reason why it’s popular. Teams need to work together to shape ideas and solve problems. That’s why it’s no surprise that managers want new ways to collaborate. But we shouldn’t forget about old techniques that have been proven to be effective. Using the Socratic Method with your team improves collaboration.
Though many of us learn about it in introductory philosophy courses, we fail to apply the concept in our workplaces. Named after his teacher, Athenian philosopher Plato was the first to write about the Socratic Method. He illustrated it in his Socratic dialogues. These texts depict Socrates challenging people’s beliefs, leading them to form truthful, sophisticated opinions.
Today, the Socratic Method has a variety of collaborative purposes. You can use it in meetings, brainstorming sessions and any other form of workplace communication. Give it a shot when your team is trying to come up with new ideas, products and strategies.
How to use the Socratic Method
Simply put, the Socratic Method’s goal is to promote critical thinking to reach new ideas and, above all, realize truths. This happens as one person challenges another’s opinion because he thinks it’s false. The challenger guides a discussion, often built on specific questions, that encourages the other person to recount facts or beliefs that counter his original opinion. As a result, the person who held the original opinion realizes it’s false. Ideally, the two people then reach a new consensus based on facts.
You’re probably wondering how to start using the Socratic Method. Let’s say you work in marketing. A team member wants to target a certain audience, but you don’t think it’s a good idea. The first step is to understand his reasoning. Ask him why appealing to that market is beneficial or necessary. You may even realize that he’s right and you agree with him, avoiding conflict all together.
If you don’t, the second step is to sum up his argument. You might say, “You think it’s beneficial because our competitors don’t cater to market X.” Then, make him reconsider by asking a question that challenges his reasoning. You could ask why he points to market X instead of the similar, yet more attractive, market Y.
The third step, again, is to briefly sum up his response to your question. Then, ask a question that will lead him to support your point. You could ask, “But don’t you think market Y is a better option for its revenue potential?” You’ll have to repeat this step as needed. The fourth, and final, step is to acknowledge that he supports your idea after answering questions that make him reconsider his position.
Using the Socratic Method in these four steps makes communicating about debatable issues with your team much easier. This impacts the quality and results of collaboration for a few reasons.
Using the Socratic Method benefits the person you’re trying to persuade
Using the Socratic Method is clearly in your best interest. After all, its purpose is to make someone see your point of view. But it also helps the person you persuade. This is true for two reasons. First, it makes the person think critically about their opinion to defend it. A study by American psychologist Diane Halpern shows that critical thinking exercises your abilities to solve problems, connect data, calculate probabilities and make decisions. These skills lead to the successful creation of strategies, products and services, which can lead to a successful career. In other words, it helps your team members develop essential skills.
Second, it allows someone to reach their own conclusion. This is more beneficial than bluntly telling someone what they should think. Clearly, people are driven to see an idea through if they understand – and support – the logic behind it. Plus, a study by economics researchers shows that reaching conclusions by yourself makes you perform better. Though blindly agreeing with other people makes you feel good, it often means you reached a consensus without thinking much. More often than not, forming individual conclusions in the workplace requires concentration and deep thought. This is why the fourth step is critical. Your team member must see that he reached the conclusion on his own, even if you helped a bit.
These reasons lead to effective collaboration. When two people are on the same page, working together isn’t difficult. Competing interests inevitably lead to conflict, whereas trying to fulfill a common goal is rewarding.
Using the Socratic Method stops heated arguments
How many times have you disagreed with people, only to offend them? They’ll inevitably defend their ideas. This can happen regardless of whether the ideas are well thought-out. They could also get frustrated and start a shouting match. It’s clear this type of communication doesn’t lead to results. And when people hold grudges, it harms your ability to work with them in the future.
But some effects of anger also prevent proper collaboration. If someone is truly riled after a heated office debate, the brain will power blood toward the muscles. This causes sweating, heavy breathing and high body temperature. Most angry people also have headaches. Collaboration, on the other hand, requires a sense of calmness along with active listening and deep thinking. Undoubtedly, the effects of anger prevent these from happening.
Using the Socratic Method stops heated arguments that restrict collaboration. Instead of blatantly telling someone her idea is wrong, guiding her to an ideal conclusion causes her to reflect on why it wasn’t right. Though the process itself can be frustrating for the person defending her idea, it’s less emotionally taxing.
Using the Socratic Method eliminates misunderstanding
Unfortunately, it’s common in some organizations that people don’t get a chance to ask questions about a task they’ve been assigned. They have to take a limited amount of information and run with it.
Known today as linear communication, theorist C. E. Shannon first described the model in a 1948 study. Someone sends a message based on a source of information, someone else receives it and makes sense of it. There’s no room for the receiver to send back information, such as a question or correction. It’s the same as frantically writing down your boss’s orders in a meeting, never getting the chance to make a point. Of course, this causes misunderstanding. Misunderstanding, in turn, causes projects to be poorly done and strategies to be sloppily created.
Socratic dialogue eliminates one-way communication by creating a culture of collaboration. People learn to not only listen, but to build on each other’s ideas to reach a common goal. It establishes a brief level playing field in hierarchal organizations, too. A manager and a team member can exchange equally-valuable ideas, giving one another constant feedback. Active listening and responding eliminates misunderstandings. Due to this, projects and strategies become the best they can be.
Though it takes some practice, using the Socratic Method can be second nature. Your team members will appreciate the approach, too. If all goes well, they’ll have a better understanding of your – and their own – thoughts.
Have you used the Socratic Method to collaborate before? What are its other benefits? Share your thoughts in the comments!