The Mobius ModelTM: A Guide for Creative Dialogue

The Mobius Model™ is a guide for understanding and facilitating development in relationships at all levels. It is used in the U.S. and internationally as a guide to coach individuals, develop effective teams, and facilitate development in organizations and communities. 

The theory underlying the Mobius Model™ is grounded in cultural anthropology and developmental psychology. The Model illustrates how our conversations are a mirror of the quality of our relationships. It explains how differences can become a source of creativity and development or conflict and chronic distress.

The Mobius Model™ offers a practical guide for leaders, coaches and facilitators by calling attention to fundamental choices for responding when differences arise.
The arrows at the top of the Mobius Model diagram point to these choices:

1) Monologues (Blame and Worry, Praise and Claim) can lead to actions that separate us if they are not brought into dialogue.

2) Creative Dialogue is a respectful sharing of differing viewpoints, so that mutual understanding, shared vision and commitment lead to collaborative action.

Monologues are recurring “stories,” which recall old thoughts and feelings and lead to old reactions. The monologues “blame” and “worry” for example, are stories based on judgments that something is “wrong” and that something or someone needs to change. What makes a story a monologue is the speaker’s assumption that s/he knows the whole truth and doesn’t need to listen to understand the viewpoints of others who see and do things differently. 

BLAME:         When we think others are wrong, i.e. (“she isn’t doing her job”), the stories told are

(1) about past mistakes,

(2) express feelings of anger and frustration, and

(3) lead to attempts to control others.

WORRY:        When we think we are wrong or inadequate, the stories told, (“We will never succeed.”) are

(1) about future trouble,            

(2) express feelings of fear and inadequacy, and

(3) lead to actions to avoid anticipated trouble.

Usually stories and judgments differ about “what’s wrong” in any situation and we may hide our actions to control or avoid from each other. For example, the supervisor who believes a direct report is not able to manage her job may begin keeping a record to document mistakes before openly exploring the perceived deficiencies with the direct report. Similarly, to make “us” (our team, our department, our stakeholders, etc.) successful, I may try secret strategies to fix “us” without talking with the rest of the team.

Blame and worry monologues are a very natural response to differing viewpoints, but until mutual understanding reveals the underlying common ground, our differences lead us to associate with those who agree rather than to learn from those who differ with us. If monologues are shared with a real willingness to learn, then teamwork and collaboration are possible.

Creative Dialogue requires the willingness to listen to understand others who see situations differently from us and to share our viewpoints honestly, until each feels fully understood by the other/s. Listening to understand means to learn by adding the perspectives of others to our own, and to put aside the temptation to

        agree  

        disagree

        problem-solve

        commiserate

The qualities of relationship that emerge in dialogue, and create effective collaboration, are mapped on the Mobius Model™ in the inside circle, and develop in a clockwise direction as follows.

Mutual Understanding exists when each person feels understood and understands the other(s). (It is important to note that mutual understanding is not the same as agreement. We can understand others without necessarily agreeing with them.)

Possibility exists when everyone recognizes something new that is desirable and seems realistic to create.

Commitment exists when there is agreement to priorities among goals and values that will direct action.

Capability exists when there is agreement to a way to fulfill the commitments to which everyone has agreed.

Responsibility exists when there is agreement to expectations about what each person or unit will do to carry out the shared commitments.

Acknowledgment exists when there is mutual recognition of what has been accomplished and what is still missing for the commitments to be fully realized.

It is important to notice that, in a creative dialogue, all the qualities of relationship must be present for all stakeholders. For example, if someone is asked to commit to something that they do not yet believe is possible, he or she may say “yes” but real commitment is not present. What results is compliance, which gets very different results than commitment.

The flow of creative dialogue in any relationship is never smooth and continuous. Differing points of view will continue to arise, especially as others are included in the dialogue. Whenever new individuals are included in the dialogue, it is important to return to mutual understanding in order to establish understanding among all participants. This process takes much less time and gets more creative results than attempts to resolve conflict after monologues have become disruptive.