Guidelines for Dialogue

In the Dialogue process "meaning" evolves collectively through mutual understanding and acceptance of diverse points of view.

To master the Dialogue process requires learning a variety of communication skills including a tolerance of paradox (or opposing views), the suspension of judgment and empathic listening. It also requires making the entire thought process visible, including tacit assumptions. In this process, instead of imposing our views on others, we invite others to add new dimensions to what we are thinking. We also learn to listen to the voice of the heartóour own and others--and strive to find ways to make that voice articulate.

The purpose of Dialogue is neither to agree nor to determine who is right. Rather, the purpose is to discover the richness of diverse perceptions that create a shared meaning that emerges from a group through inquiry and reflection. The meaning that evolves is dynamic as it moves through many diverse phases. If others contradict, the challenge is to learn from what they have said.

The origin of Dialogue goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is also found among preliterate Europeans and Native Americans. More recently David Bohm, the renowned physicist introduced the Dialogue process into the scientific quest for knowledge and also used it to address social problems. Bohm said that "when the roots of thought are observed, thought itself seems to change for the better." Dialogue he said, "is a stream of meaning flowing among and through and between us". Dialogue is now being used in schools, corporations and government to develop rapport, resolve conflict and build community.

Guidelines for Dialogue

  1. You don't have to agree. Listen with the expectation of learning; that is, assume that the speaker has something new and of value to contribute to your comprehension and then stretch your mind to find out what that is.

  2. None of us has the whole truth. Seek to comprehend the many facets of meaning that emegerge from the group. Appreciate how the diversity of perceptions enrich the quality of the dialogue. In your responses do not problem solve, argue, analyze, rescue, nit pick or give advice. Rather, try to understand how the diverse views connect with each other.

  3. Pay attention to your listening. Listen for the :"voice of the heart" as well as the mind--yours and others'. Tune into the language, rhythms and sounds. Listen as you would to hear the themes played by various instruments in an orchestra and how they relate to each other. That's what makes the music. In Dialogue, that's what makes the collective meaning.

  4. Free yourself up from a rigid mindset. Stand back and respond, rather than reacting automatically or defensively. Balance advocacy (making a statement) with inquiry (seeking clarifications and understanding). In advocating do not impose your opinion, rather simply offer it as such. In inquiry seek clarification and a deeper level of understanding, not the exposure of weakness.

  5. Communicate your reasoning process, i.e. talk about your assumptions and how you arrived at what you believe. Seek out the data on which assumptions are based, your own and others. Bring tacit (hidden) assumptions to the surface of consciousness.

  6. Suspend, rather than identify with, your judgements. Hold these away from your core self, to be witnessed or observed by yourself and made visible to others.

© Allyn Bradford