Life is Horrid Without ORID: 3 Tips for the ToP Focused Conversation

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Today we are going to focus on various ways to use the  ToP® Focused Conversation Method or ORID. It will also help you understand the structure and a few uses of this foundational methodology that can be applied by anyone.

I’ve been watching jellyfish lately on my adventure retreats and I think of the beauty of a jellyfish as similar to the beauty of an ORID. As our ToP colleague, Dennis Jennings says, “Life would be horrid without an ORID”. Please look at this video of a beautiful moon jellyfish from the northern parts of Vancouver Island. Watch it dance. It keeps opening up and closing; it keeps moving forward to a destination. It, a like a skillful facilitated conversation, is a series of diverging (opening) and converging (closing) movements. If flows seamlessly. Ah, if only all our conversations could be as beautiful as this moon jellyfish dance. Carry-on into this blog, for very specific applications of the ToP ® Focused Conversation method.


In a recent public ToP (Technology of Participation) 2-day course, participants asked some great questions about the Focused Conversation Method. I address 3 of them here:

  • How do you apply ORID in an unstructured environment?
  • Can a Focused Conversation be done in 1 hour?
  • How do you handle conflict resolution in a Focused Conversation?

For starters, the Focused Conversation (referred to below as FC) is a dialogue methodology that follows a structured way of thinking about any topic. It has been developed, tested and refined globally in all sectors and in thousands of cultural contexts by the Institute of Cultural Affairs for more than 5 decades. Done well, it can be profoundly moving. Like the moon jellyfish, it can also create great efficiency in a complex discussion. Some of you have heard me say in the past that when I first discovered the ToP® Focused Conversation Method, my jaw dropped and I thought to myself, “I wish I had known about this 15 years ago when I first started facilitating.

The Focused Conversation can be used not only for facilitating groups, but in a variety of less formal environments. If you haven’t used it casually or in non-meeting situations, then I highly recommend reading my thoughts to the first question.

How do you apply ORID (or ToP Focused Conversation) in an unstructured environment?

I’m imagining the person is referring to casual conversations with friends and family. Like this chair in the park, there are many applications for ORID with your friends and family that you may not have considered.

For example, if I am talking to a friend one-on-one, they might start the conversation by saying, “I’m having trouble with a family member.” Here’s an ideal situation to use the Focused Conversation informally. Here’s how the conversation might sound (you can imagine they are answering or sharing between questions) showing you a linear use of the four parts of this method – i.e., ORID.

O – Tell me more about what’s going on.

R – That sounds pretty scary? What are you most worried about?

I – What have you tried so far with this family member? What has been the reaction? What would you really like to happen with this family member? What might be the best case scenario for  them, the family and you?

D – What’s the most important thing that you could contribute to the situation, if anything? How can I support you as you work through this situation?

Typically, in these informal situations you are just taking the stance of a really good listening, not offering advice or at least not very much.  Just apply really good listening, paraphrasing back what you hear and spontaneously asking questions when you genuinely don’t understand. These can help the other person clarify their thinking. The most important thing is to believe that the other person knows what to do. You are just drawing out their own inner wisdom as any good facilitator would do!

Other unstructured environments where I use the FC include:

  • Journaling – asking myself a series of questions when I’m struggling with a daily event.
  • Sitting at the dinner table and asking everyone at the meal to share one event from their day, e.g., what was a highlight, what they learned and any other question that seems appropriate. You don’t always have to ask the D (decisional) level question in casual conversations. There may be no action or decision required.
  • Writing an essay, blog, letter, email, creating a podcast, etc. Structure your writing or speaking in the ORID sequence.

Can a Focused Conversation be done in 1 hour?

Like this fungi photo, there are many factors to consider in designing the length of a Focused Conversation (FC). But the answer in short is yes.  FC’s are 5-25 minutes typically. Longer ones are used for challenging or conflicting situations. The most common use of the FC is to get a group warmed up to a topic or to quickly analyze a situation. It is actually rare to have a FC that lasts more than 1 hour.

The longer ones generally occur with larger groups to ensure profound respect and equitable sharing. Please note that it is always important to be aware of power imbalance in the group and ensure that every voice in the group has a way of shining. This means your conversation may take more time with a diverse group of people who hold different levels of power. It may mean gently interrupting the dominant voices in the group and explicitly drawing out the underheard voices.

Please note that if your FC’s are longer than 1 hour, it is also good to insert other activities such as pair sharing, stand up and stretch breaks, drawing of images, telling stories, doing quick gut reaction checks, using visuals and audios to share data, etc.

How do you handle conflict resolution in a Focused Conversation?

Many years ago, ICA Associates in Canada offered a course called Facilitating Conciliation. It opened my mind to understanding that I could effectively use a Focused Conversation to resolve conflict. The conflict could be my own internal dilemma – I could create questions to dig into my own issues with other people. The conflict could also be something others were facing. The questions could help others untangle the web of conflict that they were experiencing.

Here are typical questions for a long term misunderstanding:


  • When did you first notice things becoming challenging between the various people?
  • What would each “party” say was going on?
  • What else was going on that could have been an influence?
  • What specific words or behaviours were being heard or observed?  (at first, then later)


  • What about this is most upsetting for you and the other people involved?
  • What past memories or experiences does this remind you of? What did you do in those past situations that were similar to now?
  • What is surprising about this situation? hopeful?


  • What have you learned about this situation so far?
  • What do you think some of the structural factors might be?
  • What have you tried doing? What were the results of that?
  • What do you really need to change to make this situation more tolerable?


  • What can you do to resolve this?
  • What help or support do you need others to take on?
  • What are each of our next steps?
  • What should we do first?_____________________________

    Like this dog in the car photo, everyone can feel a little glum when they face conflict. It’s like driving for the first time – intimidating! Become more competent at asking skillful question. Then you may be a little more relaxed than how this dog looks when tackling intense conflict!


Concluding thoughts…

Thank you to everyone for posing your questions. They are great ways for all of us to keep exploring how to use these methods in more complex ways. Every tool we learn in facilitation has the potential to be explored, exploited, experimented with and made into something more exciting and/or efficient. The ToP® Focused Conversation method or ORID continues to be a daily tool that I use to improve the clarity of my thinking, to assess news that I’m hearing, to have fruitful and rich conversations with those who come into my life and much more. You can get training in it with Institute of Cultural Affairs in a variety of countries (e.g., Canada, USA, UK, Belgium, Taiwan). Virtual training is also offered so it can be taken from anywhere!

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.


  1. V. Dharmalingam on September 28, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    I was impressed with your phrasing of the various questions at each level in such a way that they came as part of the natural flow and were not jarring. Shows that focused conversations don’t have to be contrived and can instead be part of an unfloding process.

    • Barbara MacKay on November 23, 2021 at 8:02 pm

      I appreciate your comments – thank you!

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