Guidelines for Open Dialogue

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Guidelines for Open Dialogue

Unread postby musicmonkey » Wed May 24, 2006 7:31 pm

What dialogue is not
Copyright © 1991 by David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett

Dialogue is not discussion, a word that shares its root meaning with ''percussion'' and ''concussion,'' both of which involve breaking things up. Nor is it debate. These forms of conversation contain an implicit tendency to point toward a goal, to hammer out an agreement, to try to solve a problem or have one's opinion prevail. It is also not a ''salon'', which is a kind of gathering that is both informal and most often characterized by an intention to entertain, exchange friendship, gossip and other information. Although the word ''dialogue'' has often been used in similar ways, its deeper, root meaning implies that it is not primarily interested in any of this.

Dialogue resembles a number of other forms of group activity and may at times include aspects of them but in fact it is something new to our culture. We believe that it is an activity that might well prove vital to the future health of our civilization.

Switchfoot wrote:"We've been blowing up, we're the issue. It's our condition. We are the fuse and the ammunition."

Guidelines for Open Dialogue

The more all participants are aware of the nature of dialogue and committed to bringing it about, the better the chance it will happen. Towards that end, the following comparison of dialogue and debate offers one of the most useful summaries of dialogue that we've seen. (It was adapted by the Study Circle Resource Center from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman, which in turn was based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility.)

Even on first reading, it can change one's perspective. The specifics, however, can be hard to keep in mind. So the more often people read (and discuss) the list, the more effective it will be.

  • Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding. Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong.
  • In dialogue, finding common ground is the goal. In debate, winning is the goal.
  • In dialogue, one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement. In debate, one listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments.
  • Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant's point of view. Debate affirms a participant's own point of view.
  • Dialogue reveals assumptions for reevaluation. Debate defends assumptions as truth.
  • Dialogue causes introspection on one's own position. Debate causes critique of the other position.
  • Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions. Debate defends one's own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions.
  • Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change. Debate creates a closed-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
  • In dialogue, one submits one's best thinking, knowing that other people's reflections will help improve it rather than destroy it. In debate, one submits one's best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
  • Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one's beliefs. Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one's beliefs.
  • In dialogue, one searches for basic agreements. In debate, one searches for glaring differences.
  • In dialogue, one searches for strengths in the other positions. In debate, one searches for flaws and weaknesses in the other positions.
  • Dialogue involves a real concern for the other person and seeks to not alienate or offend. Debate involves a countering of the other position without focusing on feelings or relationship and often belittles or deprecates the other person.
  • Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution. Debate assumes that there is a right answer and that someone has it.
  • Dialogue remains open-ended. Debate implies a conclusion.

by Anthony Judge, c/o UIA, 40 rue Washington, B-1050, Brussels, Belgium.

DIALOGUE IS PEOPLE TALKING TOGETHER. The important thing is that the people agree to do just that and nothing else. They are not concerned with winning arguments, coming to conclusions, solving problems, resolving conflicts, achieving consensus - or anything else other than talking. This gives them an opportunity to delve into talking and what it does.

Talking plays a big role in creating and sustaining human culture. Culture is built out of the words, metaphors, points of view, ideas, beliefs, etc. that people exchange. This is true in any kind of meeting, whatever its purpose. The process of talking underlies the business meeting as well as idle conversations in the pub. It is shared by men and women, by young and old, by people from the east and from the west.

Talking deliberately, yet without any explicit purpose, is at first felt as strange. But, most people rapidly adjust; after all, talking is a natural human activity. It helps us to find meaning. However we talk, we are immersed in meaning, even if we have no apparent purpose.

There is a meaning which comes into effect as we talk and does not have to be 'thought-up' before we talk to guide us (having an agenda and chairperson, etc.). So, the meaning that is emerging as we talk can guide the way we talk.[1] This was the idea of David Bohm, who did so much to spread the way of dialogue. He said that the very word 'dialogue' means 'to go through meaning': dia - 'through' and logos - 'meaning'. Dialogue is then the 'way' of meaning, the Tao of the logos! It is an art and skill that allows the natural process to unfold. Just as people used to consider the nature of a forest or jungle as wild, untamed, irrational so do many people today regard the process of dialogue as anarchic, chaotic and unproductive.

To practice dialogue, to take the way of meaning, is a conscious work. It requires whatever alertness, sensitivity, maturity, love and intelligence we can muster. But, whatever the degree of our experience, dialogue involves the unknown. The dialogue process challenges itself. [2]

The Way That You Say It
Dr Keith Suter, Author, Lecturer,Consultant for Social Policy

We live in a society divided by debate. We urgently need a society that makes greater use of dialogue.

"In a dialogue... objections will be raised; disagreement based on non-negotiable convictions will still hold firm; but the tone is different... [The] goal is changed from conquering to growing; from silencing to knowing; from telling to asking."

There is a difference between "debate" and "dialogue". In a debate, the atmosphere is usually threatening, with interruptions expected. The participants express unwavering commitment to their own point of view. There is often a great deal of heat but little light.

In a dialogue, by contrast, the atmosphere is more exploratory, where participants express uncertainties as well as deeply held beliefs, and where the participants listen to, understand and gain insight from others.

In a standard debate, the statements are predictable and offer little new information. In a dialogue, new information comes to the surface. In a dialogue, objections will be raised; disagreement based on non-negotiable convictions will still hold firm; but the tone is different. The goal is changed from conquering to growing; from silencing to knowing; from telling to asking. When questions are employed they are used to learn and grow, not to defeat and conquer. This is a path to greater creativity and expanding horizons.

How one says something is as important as what one says. Much the same goes for politics. Imagine what an election campaign would be like if all the parties adopted a dialogue style rather than the current debate style. Well, we might want to listen to the political candidates for a start. The voters are much smarter than the politicians. They have moved on. Voters already prefer a dialogue style of considering public affairs. But the politicians - or at least their campaign advisers - are keeping them locked into an old-fashioned style of campaigning.

The Elements of Dialogue

"True dialogue is not a life jacket when the boat is sinking. It is the boat itself and the very careful crafting required to hold it together when the storm of diversity inevitably crashes it about." - Carolyn Schrock-Shenk

The term "dialogue" comes from the Greek "dialogos" (dia = through, logos = word). The literal translation suggests its meaning; the use of words moving conversants through an interaction to a place where new meaning is uncovered. In dialogue, speech moves beyond simple interaction on the one hand, and through a competitive exchange on the other hand, to an activity in which participants work together as a team in search of new light and truth.

"In a dialogue... questions are employed as tools for probing, not weapons for stabbing."

On their way to a public dialogue between psychotherapist Carl Rogers and anthropologist Gregory Bateson, the moderator for the evening asked Bateson, "How will I know whether or not we have done our job tonight?" Bateson responded, "If either Carl or I says something that we haven't said before, we'll know that it's a success.

The teamwork of dialogue moves the conversation away from win/lose, either/or. At least for the duration of the dialogue, adversaries become allies, working together to break new ground. Objections will still be raised; disagreement based on non-negotiable convictions will still hold firm, but the tone is different. That goal is changed from conquering to growing; from silencing to knowing; from telling to asking. Questions are employed as tools for probing, not weapons for stabbing. New possibilities are considered. As David Bohm says, we dialogue "so that creativity can be liberated".

When personal positions are offered to the team, there is a better possibility that one's convictions or assumptions can be viewed more objectively by both the team and the individual, allowing participants to see points of incoherence as well as insight in their position. Incoherence is more than being illogical; it is also thinking that is producing undesired consequences. In the abortion conflict, for example, most pro-life advocates do not want the result of their conviction to mean that low-income women who decide to abort will be forced to obtain medically dangerous abortions, nor do they want to see children raised by parents who do not want them. Similarly, most pro-choice advocates do not want the result of their position to mean that abortion will be casually used as a form of birth control.

In dialogue, new implications of a position may be uncovered which will cause the position to be re-examined for coherence. Thus, the dialogue sends participants deeper into themselves in order to explore their positions and their implications more carefully.

Written by Joseph Phelps for Conciliation Quarterly, a publication of the MCC US Mennonite Conciliation Service, Vol. 15, No. 2: PO Box 500, Akron PA 17501-0500 USA.

Moving Beyond Debate: Start a Dialogue
by Mark Gerzon

We're often surrounded by polarizing debates. Here's what influential leaders know: Dialogue doesn't seek closure as debates do, but rather discovers new options. An excerpt from Leading Through Conflict by professional mediator Mark Gerzon.

As I worked in more than a hundred organizations or communities over the past decade, I kept track of which form of discourse my clients most often wanted. They did not want more speeches and presentations. They did not want more debates between two know-­it-­alls, each of whom was sure they were right and the other person was wrong. They did not want yet another "exchange of views" that skirted difficult issues and papered over problems. What they yearned for was deep, honest, inclusive, and respectful dialogue.

Dialogue is designed for situations in which people have fundamentally different frames of reference (also called worldviews, belief systems, mindsets, or "mental models"). "Ordinary conversation presupposes shared frameworks," says Daniel Yankelovich, who has been a pioneer in analyzing public opinion for the past quarter century.1 Dialogue makes just the opposite assumption: It assumes that the participants have different frameworks. The purpose of dialogue is to create communication across the border that separates them. It is a way of conversing that:

  • Enables a wider range of feelings to be expressed than in debate.
  • Inspires more honesty and forthrightness than other methods.
  • Avoids superficial, forced compromises.
  • Generates learning, new options, and innovations.
  • Increases the likelihood that everyone will be "heard."
  • Seeks the deeper truth in each perspective.2

Simply put, dialogue fosters the trust that is essential to leading through conflict. Its purpose is not to be nice. Its purpose is to be effective. When it comes to conflict, it is far more effective to build trust than to deplete it. Every tool we have used so far has helped to lay a stronger foundation for trust building.

  • We committed ourselves to seeing the whole conflict (integral vision).
  • We analyzed its elements and the larger system (or systems) of which it is a part (systems thinking).
  • We made sure that we are fully present to both the outer reality and our inner experience of it (presence).
  • We began to ask some initial questions to deepen our knowledge of the situation (inquiry).
  • And we surveyed alternative ways of communicating in order to determine which of them will be most useful (conscious conversation).

Our goal now is to build the trust necessary to create alliances between adversaries (bridging) so that they can catalyze new approaches to, and potentially breakthroughs in, the conflict (innovation).

To achieve our goal, this sixth tool, dialogue, must now come into play because when effectively applied, it taps into a power source that is rarely accessed by the other forms of discourse. This source of power is our assumptions?in other words, our unexamined beliefs, preconceptions, biases, and stereotypes about each other and about the conflict itself. Much of the energy for transforming conflict is buried in the soil of our assumptions. Because dialogue unearths assumptions and brings them into the light, it can release and harness this vital energy. With hard work and perseverance, this fertilized soil can produce the harvest of transformation.

For our purposes, I like the highly action-­oriented definition of trust developed by Julio Olalla, a master coach from Chile and founder of the Newfield Group, who has trained thousands of coaches on three continents. "Trust," concludes Olalla, "is the precondition for coordinated action." This definition is particularly useful because it is not about what makes trust possible but what trust makes possible. It is about the relationship of trust to innovative results.3

"I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument." ? Thomas Jefferson

Not surprisingly, trust is now being recognized as one of the foundations of individual and organizational learning. If, as Peter Drucker generalizes, "organizations are no longer built on force but on trust," then developing leaders who build it rather than deplete it would seem to be a high priority.4 Judging from current statistics, however, our leaders today are not building trust. According to Gallup's annual assessment of public trust in major institutions, trust fell to new lows in 2005. Trust in newspapers and television (28 percent), trust in the presidency (44 percent) and the Supreme Court (41 percent), trust in big business and Congress (both 22 percent)?recent drops in these already low figures suggest that leaders are behaving in ways that undermine their institutions' credibility.5

"The power of debate is that two polarized voices are free to speak. But the power of dialogue is that these voices can actually be heard."

The result is a culture in which conflicts erupt much more easily and are less likely to be transformed into opportunity. As educator Anne C. Lewis notes, "without trust, other activities will be imperiled."6 Mediator Alan Gold, a veteran of difficult labor negotiations, puts it even more strongly. "The key word is 'trust,'" he says. "Without it, you're dead. Without it, stay home!"7

Some kinds of agreements and breakthroughs can be achieved when trust is low. But they are much harder to achieve, and to maintain, than when trust is high. As we enter more deeply into the conflict and seek to transform it, fear is our adversary because it inhibits creativity. Trust is the Mediator's ally because it dramatically increases creativity, which leads to bridging and innovation (the final two tools of the Mediator . . .). In low-­conflict settings, where everyone is making similar assumptions and has similar goals, the standard decision making styles of the Manager often work satisfactorily. But in high-­conflict settings, where those involved operate on diverging assumptions and have very different interests, dialogue is often required.

Typical, polarized debate (which is rampant in both corporate and civic life) does not raise the level of trust; conversely, genuine dialogue (which is rare) often does. To understand why, see 'Debate versus dialogue' below.

Notice how debate is a powerful strategy for advocating a fixed position, while dialogue is far better for inquiry, building relationships, and creating innovations. As Thomas Jefferson observed, "I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument."9

For the vast majority of us, debate is familiar because we live in the debate cultures (or what linguist Deborah Tannen calls "argument cultures").10 If we want language to lead toward healthier, stronger communities and more vibrant, effective organizations, we need language that promotes progress?not the language that maintains the status quo. We need language that lifts us toward higher levels of discourse, not language that turns civic and corporate life into a verbal battlefield. While debate is useful for making decisions and taking votes, dialogue is the key to renewal. The power of debate is that two polarized voices are free to speak. But the power of dialogue is that these voices can actually be heard.

Skeptics take note: Do not dismiss dialogue as nothing more than wishy-­washy, feel-­good camaraderie. It is about addressing conflict in order to achieve concrete results. Whatever business strategy or community vision one may adopt, it won't work if nobody follows through. With remarkable frequency, organizations in conflict seek more dialogue because they won't achieve lasting results without it. An organization or community can develop the clearest, most inspiring plans. But if those involved do not feel heard and engaged, and if their concerns are not taken into account through genuine dialogue, those plans will not be well executed. As Larry Bossidy warns in his hardheaded book on corporate leadership (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done), an organization cannot set realistic goals and achieve them without exploring the assumptions on which they are based. In the private sector, dialogue is being applied more and more often because senior executives realize their success depends on it. When companies learn this tool (and others) of the Mediator, their effectiveness increases. And when they fail to use it, they miss opportunities for renewal and change.

As part of a team training corporate leaders in dialogue, I worked briefly some time ago with a group of senior executives in the tobacco industry. Stories of smokers dying from lung cancer, magnified by advertising campaigns and television documentaries charging the executives with duplicity and callous disregard for human life, had begun to take their toll. Attacked from all sides by public health experts, state attorney generals, spokespersons for youth organizations, and even religious leaders, these executives knew they were under siege. Recognizing that their corporation's bottom line depended on whether or not they dealt constructively with these attacks on their reputation, they sought outside support for learning how to dialogue.

Despite my own misgivings, I accepted this assignment because I wanted to witness firsthand how top executives at a multinational company would deal with the hard reality that their products cause cancer. Overall, I found these executives decent and caring, and I was moved by their sincere effort to understand how their critics viewed them and why their corporation elicited such moral outrage. Their honesty and candor with each other, and their willingness to delve deeply into their critics' arguments, even when painful, was disarming.

Ultimately, however, what I noticed was their acceptance of the boundaries in which they operated. Yes, they listened, learned, absorbed, questioned, and searched for "creative" new approaches to their conflicts with the antismoking forces. But in the end, those executives never stepped outside the boundaries of their corporate roles. As they brainstormed about how to craft their message to young people on their trendy Web site and how to respond to charges that they were targeting poor nations where smokers were still uninformed about tobacco's dangers, they remained within the boundaries of their own assumptions. They simply could not, or would not, question the worldwide marketing, distribution, and sales of a cancer-­causing tobacco product. While they claimed to want "dialogue" they ultimately failed to practice one of its cardinal principles: questioning assumptions.

"Dialogue can only happen to the degree that the participants are willing to engage in the process. Only then can mistrust evolve into trust."

Dialogue cannot be ordered like a hamburger from room service. It is not something a CEO can dictate, a mayor can mandate, or a teacher can require. Dialogue can only happen to the degree that the participants are willing to engage in the process. Only then can mistrust evolve into trust.

Excerpted by permission of Harvard Business School Press from Leading through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities. Copyright 2006 Mark Gerzon; all rights reserved.

Mark Gerzon has worked as a facilitator and leadership trainer for the United Nations, the U.S. House of Representatives, and a wide range of corporate and civic organizations around the world.

Debate versus dialogue
by Mark Gerzon

Dialogue sees all sides of an issue. Debate only sees two sides of an issue.

Debate: Assuming that there is a right answer, and that you have it
Dialogue: Assuming that many people have pieces of the answer

Debate: Combative: participants attempt to prove the other side wrong
Dialogue: Collaborative: participants work together toward common understanding

Debate: About winning
Dialogue: About exploring common ground

Debate: Listening to find flaws and make counter-arguments
Dialogue: Listening to understand, find meaning and agreement

Debate: Defending our own assumptions as truth
Dialogue: Revealing our assumptions for reevaluation

Debate: Seeing two sides of an issue
Dialogue: Seeing all sides of an issue

Debate: Defending one's own views against those of others
Dialogue: Admitting that others' thinking can improve one's own.

Debate: Searching for flaws and weaknesses in others' positions
Dialogue: Searching for strengths and value in others' positions

Debate: By creating a winner and a loser, discouraging further discussion
Dialogue: Keeping the topic even after the discussion formally ends

Debate: Seeking a conclusion or vote that ratifies your position
Dialogue: Discovering new options, not seeking closure

Excerpted by permission of Harvard Business School Press from Leading through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities. Copyright 2006 Mark Gerzon; all rights reserved.

See also:

The Argument Culture : Moving from Debate to Dialogue

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