What is Dialogue?

Have you ever sat in a Board meeting or on a project steering group and found yourself thinking:

“Here we go again!”

“We’ve said all this before!”

“Eyes-down-and-silence is NOT assent!”

“Two people trading opinions isn’t a conversation!”

“We made this decision a month ago and no-one stuck by it.”

These are some of the indicators that a different conversational mode is required, a mode that supports alternative views and engages with complexity.

It seems that dialogue has become an overused word. Just about any conversation is now labelled dialogue, yet the true meaning of the word suggests a deeper, more rigorous process. The word dialogue comes from the Greek Dia-meaning flow or through, and Logos- word or meaning. So the essence of dialogue is a flow of meaning or, following the most ancient meaning of the word, to gather together in relationship.

According to William Isaacs of MIT;

"To take it one step further, dialogue is a conversation in which people think together in relationship. Thinking together means that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result from simply being in relationship with others - possibilities that might not have otherwise occurred."

Dialogue encourages us to get 'upstream' to understand the ways our conversations and relationships pattern in ways that later affect the quality of our action. It enables us to see how our feelings and thoughts carry us in a flow of familiar actions and behaviours; established patterns which may not serve us well in a rapidly complex, changing environment.

Working dialogically, you will understand your own contribution to conversational dynamics, become more aware of the collective patterns and habits that no longer serve your group's purpose and develop new skills and practices as you encourage creativity, innovation and change.