Effective Teams

Thought Experiments

Over the past few days I’ve bounced a couple of ideas off different people. My intent was to help them think through a decision they were facing by suggesting another way of thinking about it. The nature of the ideas are inconsequential for this discussion, but in both situations, the immediate response I received was “that would never happen.” Both people immediately attempted to test whether my hypothetical examples would actually happen. And when they decided the idea was impossible, they squashed it. 

Neither used the ideas as I intended as a thought experiment. 

“What would you do if this happened?”

“How would you feel if this happened?”

“Would your counsel still be the same if it happened in the context of these two people?”

As always, I have much to learn about effective interpersonal communication. What I should have done is prefaced my idea with my intent – “I’m going to propose a thought experiment. I’m not suggesting it will happen, nor even that it is likely, but I’m going to suggest an idea to see what you would think (or do / feel / decide) if it did actually happen.” Thus the need to evaluate the validity of the idea is removed from the conversation, leaving the other party to contemplate and consider their response options. And hopefully to actually make a response that would propel the conversation along, in the light of greater insight and awareness.

Do you ever propose thought experiments to the people you’re speaking with? How do you set the scene or context so your conversation partner(s) can understand intent?

Categories: Effective Teams