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Left-hand, Right-hand Column

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180 +26 - 50 Medium

It has been used as a part of training of facilitators and as part of team building.



To be able to identify the internal dialogue that takes place when in conversation with someone else and to become aware of the tacit assumptions, which govern our conversation and contribute to blocking our purpose in real-life situations, and to develop a way of talking about those tacit assumptions more effectively





    Ideal conditions: relaxed and trusting environment.

    Pre-Work Required: think through your own illustration of left and right column.

    Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: high trust needed

    Facilitator personality fit: some degree of confidence and capacity to reflect

    Level of Difficulty to Facilitate (to be deleted during review): Facilitation skills required



    1. Frequently we carry on inner dialogues with ourselves. These private conversations are a by-product of our past experiences and mental models. During our conversations with others, know as public conversations, we filter this "private conversation" and only make public that which we assume will be accepted by the other or will assist us in getting what we want. On the surface, this appears to be a very diplomatic way of communicating with others. After all, if we say what is truly on our minds, we may make things worse by upsetting people or making ourselves vulnerable.

    2. The problem is that if we keep all our private conversations private, or as we call it, our "Left Hand Column", we prevent ourselves and others from learning and making good decisions. The "Left Hand Column" has been created to assist you in understanding the screening process. See worksheet.


    Choosing a Situation:

    1. Think of a conversation you have had in the last month or so in which you had a lot of "left hand column" thoughts during the conversation. Typically these are conversations you walk away from dissatisfied. They can be between you and one other person or involving you and a group. Here are some examples if you need them:

    - You cannot reach an agreement with a close associate.

    - You believe you have been assigned an unfair share of the work.

    - You believe someone else is not pulling his or her weight.

    - You believe you are being accused unjustly.  


    2. Think of a problem or situation in the organisation you have some energy around. Then think of someone in the organisation you wish you could talk to about the issue - either you wish you had the courage to talk to him or her or you wish you had the access.

    Writing the Right Hand Column Dialogue:

    3. On the worksheet that is divided into two columns, use the right hand column to write down what you and the other person(s) said (or what you imagine you and they would say). The dialogue might go on for several pages. Leave the left hand column blank until you have finished.

    Write in The Left Hand Column

    4. Now in the left hand column, write out what you were thinking and feeling, but not saying.

    Reflection: Using your left hand column as a resource

    5. You can learn a great deal just from the act of writing out a case, putting it away for a week, and then looking at it again. The case becomes an artifact, through which you can examine you own thinking, as if you were looking at the thinking of someone else.

    6. Please use the worksheet to answer as many of the questions you can at this time. Review the questions.

    - What has really led me to think and feel this way?

    - What was my intention? What was I trying to accomplish?

    - Did I achieve the results I intended?

    - How might have my comments contributed to the difficulty?

    - Why didn't I say what was in my left hand column?

    - What assumptions am I making about the other person or people?

    - What were the costs of operating this way? What were the payoffs?

    - What prevented me from acting differently?

    - How can I use my left-hand column as a resource to improve our communications?


    7. We want to spend a bit of time reflecting on the exercise.

    8. Would someone like to share what conversation they wrote about?

    9. During the reflection part of the exercise what did you feel like?

    10. What did you learn in the process?

    11. What changes in the way you communicate might you make? How could you practically improve your communications skills?


    We all can improve the way we communicate. Being aware of your self-talk is one way of becoming conscious of your assumptions and mental models. This helps you say what you mean.


    Follow-Up Required: none

    Usual or Expected Outcomes: Deeper understanding of self-talk's place in working with groups

    Potential pitfalls: Participants reluctant to share what they have been thinking.

    How success is evaluated: Frank discussion about self-talk

    Online tips: Participants can create the worksheet electronically on a slide and then share their insights with the whole group via share screen.


    Source: Maureen Jenkins

    Derived from: Senge, Peter, et al. ?The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organisation?, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 1994. Pp.246-252.

    History of Development: This exercise was developed as a team building exercise

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