Lessons from The Revolution

Lessons from The Revolution

I went to Zuccotti Park the other night to see the General Assembly of the Occupy Wall Street folks. The General Assembly is the nightly meeting, at which decisions are made and issues discussed. I wanted to see how they conducted these meetings, attended by 200-400 people, at which they are not allowed to use microphones, or megaphones.

Here’s what happens:

The facilitator speaks to the group in phrases:

“Tonite we have two issues to discuss…”

And the group, again 200-400 strong, repeats:

“Tonite we have two issues to discuss…”

Facilitator: “…..that relate to the web site….”

Group: “…..that relate to the web site….”

And so on. The repetition of the facilitator’s words serves as the amplification for the group.

When the facilitator has finished and it is time for the group to respond, members of the group who want to speak signal their desire to do so by waving their hands, names are taken, listed, and called on in order. The same system of amplification is used:

Speaker: “Hi, I’m Audrey and my question is about the financial obligation……”

Group: “Hi, I’m Audrey and my question is about the financial obligation…..”

Speaker/Audrey: “…….that will be incurred if we follow this plan.”

Group: “…..that will be incurred if we follow this plan.”

And so on.

When later I told friends of this experience the reaction was universally dismissive and pained.

“That would drive me nuts. That must take forever !”

And from the politically suspicious, a satisfied vindication of their disregard for such a rag-tag group. “Well, no wonder they don’t get anything done.”

But watching this group, spread over the steps and benches of the park in the cool of an October evening, surrounded by tourists and bystanders and police, some mounted on restless horses, here’s what I saw :

– When the speaker was speaking, hundreds of people were silent; each face was a picture of concentration and focus; eyes wide as though the sound of the voice could be seen.

– When the speaker was speaking, each word carried meaning and contributed to the message; each phrase had been selected and vetted before it was given sound; each message reflected thought.

Within the forty minutes that I watched and participated in this communication exercise, two topics of importance to the group were presented, questioned, answered, and resolved, and a third topic was being introduced. I have spent forty minutes in many meetings where this didn’t happen.

Here’s what I learned:

– Listening is hard work but if you do it well, and are thinking about what the speaker is saying instead of what you want to say, you can often get the message on the first try;

– Thinking before you speak can result in a clear, concise state ment that is an accurate representation of what you mean.

These seem to be good communication practices and the good news about this lesson is that we don’t have to occupy Wall Street to do them.