Itemized Response

from ibfuddled

Itemized Response helps - keep unformed but possibly useful ideas alive, establish a supportive discussion climate, and helps us see the fullness of an idea.

I offer this little gimmick because it's very well tested, (I used it with groups, with individuals and by myself for more than twenty years) with a thirty plus year track record of success. I've used it with experiences here at BPDR and I've used it at critical times in my recovery work. Always helps at least a little.

Not saying there's anything wrong with having a negative response to stuff. Sometimes it's appropriate and fitting. But it seems we can get into a thought pattern where it seems to become an automatic reaction and causes us to reject thoughts and ideas that we later realize could have been valuable if we'd given the other side a good look.

This technique is called the Itemized Response. Originally part of a program meant to be a way to bring creativity to group problem solving and innovation to work teams, it was developed by an innovation think tank - Synectics, Inc - in Cambridge, MA. The program where we use this technique has been used by Fortune 10 corporations and non-profit preschools with equal success.

There's not a perfectly right way to do this, but it clearly will not have an effect on your thought patterns without considerable practice, even though each practice might take only ten or fifteen minutes, perhaps even less when you become familiar with it.

The sequence is important. And it would be useful to write it all out the first five or six times you practice it.

Here is the Itemized Response.

When you hear a thought that prompts a negative reaction (or any reaction that you want to handle differently) stop and frame your thinking about it in this way:

1. Describe the thought using a brief one sentence headline, and then put key points about the situation into a few sentences.

2. Review the headline/introduction and check to see if any critical data or information is missing. Add if necessary.

3. Begin by listing every imaginable positive attribute of the headline or thought you're considering. Write these down, put a "+" and a number in front of each statement. Statements can begin with "I like that..." or "It's helpful that..." or some positive statement like that. Spend at least five minutes doing this. At first it's best to spend more time because it takes a while for some thoughts to bubble up when we're used to putting all the negative stuff first. When you have listed every imaginable positive attribute... put your pencil down. And find 3-5 more. No matter how long it takes. Write them on the list.

4. Now you may begin to offer up the negative thoughts about the thought or idea or plan or statement... But you must do it in a particular way. Most importantly, you only are permitted three negative statements, so it's important to make sure your most powerful criticisms are included.

You must frame each statement constructively ... in a way that invites work and more thinking rather than shutting it off.

So there are only two ways to begin each statement of criticism:

"How best to ..." or

"I wish we could/I could ..."

Then finish the sentence with the improvement or change needed to deal with your most powerful criticism. Or "How best to (achieve the opposite state or an improved state for my biggest concern ...)"

If it's too expensive, "I wish we could do this within budget ..."

If it smells bad, "How best to make it smell like roses instead of dead fish ..."

Once this is done, if you're going to work toward a solution to the criticism or concern, you pick either one of the positive attributes or one of the criticisms, whichever holds some fascination or power for you or that you haven't considered before - and you make that statement the headline - and do another Itemized Response on that statement following the steps outlined above.

That's it. It may seem complicated, but with frequent practice it not only pushes away the automatic negative response, but it also can give fresh ideas and insight about old approaches to old problems. Most groups I worked with got very fast and skillful with the process after about six tries. There can be big benefits from the "answers" you get to working any issue, but the much bigger benefit comes from working out.. exercising this kind of thought pattern. Get buff headed.

Actually, as I read this over, I see that this process is actually a matter of working a dialectic. One more example of how to get to the gray areas, in the vicinity of Wise Mind, by working at opposites in a newly structured way. Linehan was just a brat on a tricycle when this stuff was invented.