Talanoa: Walk the Talk

Our complex and sophisticated ability to communicate as Homo Sapiens has allowed us to outcompete many species on this Earth, including other human species that became extinct 12,000 years ago (1). Communication has increased our chances of survival, given us the ability to form long term relationships and allowed mass collaboration. Many of us would agree that communication is a vital tool in all problem-solving situations. In this blog, I aim to discuss how the way we communicate with our peers and different stakeholders can be more productive in order to work towards sustainable development for our future.

Whether it is an academic dispute about scientific discoveries, political debates about climate change or arguments in a relationship, the first step in reaching a conclusive decision is to communicate. However, it is not always as simple as that. If mere communication with opposing parties could solve all problems, then we would be living in a Utopian World. The challenges associated with communication include not all stakeholders being part of the discussion, people’s personal interests taking over their sense of judgement or sometimes when individuals are not ready to listen to the second party at all (2).  In a world of Climate Crisis, the denial of climate change is a big issue. Many political debates around the denial of climate change stems from the ideology that there is always a chance of uncertainty with scientific discoveries and research. In these scenarios, it is difficult to convince some business leaders to incorporate sustainability in their business strategies as they may believe it is best to not invest in a ‘fictional’ problem that does not impact them in the short term. Although, the reality is quite the opposite.

During my time in Singapore, I had the opportunity to hear what perspectives other business leaders, who work with sustainability, hold with regards to communication and its role in solving current issues such as the implementations of sustainability strategies in the heart of all business practices. The WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) have incorporated a very unique style of communication in many of their recent decision-making conferences.

WBCSD have used the Talanoa dialogue, especially in policy related meetings where many groups of the society are involved, and a follow up negotiation meeting is made. It was explained that the Talanoa Dialogue is a Fijian concept used when their society faces severe obstacle, the chief calls for a Talanoa. This is where representatives from different groups and status are called to sit down, understand and have an open conversation towards a solution. The main style of communication in the Talanoa is the idea of narrative and storytelling. There are no blaming or finger pointing in these discussions, just sharing their own perspective and the problems they are facing as a consequence of the situation. The application of this concept is to create a healthy conversation between shareholders, NGOs, private and public sectors and the civil society, in the intention that numerous perspectives are heard, and a multi-dimensional image is formed. It is vital to remember that a final decision may not be reached in just one meeting but all necessary information is disclosed.

Despite the critique of potential passive voices in these Talanoa based meetings, I believe that it is a crucial step forward in bringing together all stakeholders in one room. For all stakeholders, regardless of status or wealth, are involved and valued. Most importantly, where discussions have a meaning, Talanoa is highly action orientated. To Walk the Talk.

Ishani Dutta

References

  1. Mosley, M. (2011). Why is there only one human species?. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13874671
  2. Juneja, P. (2018). Challenges for an Effective Negotiation. [online] Managementstudyguide.com. Available at: https://www.managementstudyguide.com/negotiation-challenges.htm
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