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Let’s Go Fishing – BrainFishing

That’s the premise from experienced mediators and conflict coaches Gary Furlong and Jim Harrison in their wonderful book – BrainFishing – A Practice Guide to Questioning Skills (2018). I recently attended a presentation by Furlong and came back hooked!!

Here’s a strategy for how to engage in thoughtful conversation – Go BrainFishing!!

According to Furlong and Harrison and by their own admission, “Very (very!) simply put,” people “come equipped with two different brains” including the Red Brain (basal ganglia and limbic system) and the Blue Brain (prefrontal cortex). The idea is that the Red Brain is very good at protecting and taking care of us via “hunting, fighting, . . . or running, hiding . . .” while the Blue Brain is “the rational, self-aware, thinking brain.” 

When we interact Red Brain to Red Brain, this can negatively impact our relationships and communication. We might even find ourselves fighting! Blue Brain to Blue Brain is about being “curious, interested, and engaged.” One of the major differences is that in Red Brain mode we “tell” and in Blue Brain mode we “ask.” Thus, the idea of fishing is to ask instead of telling and, thus, try to “hook” the Blue Brain when someone is in Red Brain mode. Hence BrainFishing!!!

The goal with questions is to “attract and engage” the Blue brain while also seeking “good information” to help address the situation. It’s important to ask from a “judgement-free zone” and; instead, ask with curiosity. Ask open and not closed questions. “Bait your hook” with Result (what results are sought?) or Process (consider the process) or Emotion (focus on how people feel) questions. Furlong and Harrison introduce and explain how to use the following types of questions: 

Information Gathering            Problem Solving          Reality Changing

Statement-to-Question          Asking Permission       Confirming/closing

Finally, there are some magic words! 

Instead of asking – “What do you think?” or “What do you suggest?” that will likely lead to general, high level responses; instead, ask – “what do you think specifically . . .” or “What are you specifically suggesting?”  The idea is to hook the Blue Brain for deeper consideration and response. 

Another magic word is “might” that can be used to hook the Blue Brain when you need/want to soften your query. Instead of telling – “I don’t think we’re using the best approach to this problem” add the magic – “What are some approaches that might work here?”

Last and not least!! Don’t use “But” or “However” as these negate everything that came before  and keep engagement with “and.”  Instead of saying “That’s a good idea, but it raises other issues” you say, “That’s a good idea and it raises a few other issues we’ll have to address.”

All in all BrainFishing is a wonderful exploration of engagement – how to hook it and reel it in!!!

When in conflict or having that difficult conversation – Let’s go fishing!!