Creating Dialogue Instead Of Conflict

It is easier to create an argument than it is to create a dialogue. When we have different opinions about the way to solve a problem, we often act as if there is one correct answer and our task is find it. As long as we believe that a single correct course of action exists, we debate the issue. We try to convince each other that a particular position is correct. Someone wins and someone loses. Even when we believe that this is an outmoded way to solve problems, we continue to use it, because it is comfortable and familiar (Business as usual).

Dialogue, a technology for creating understanding in groups, is different. Dialogue is inclusive instead of exclusive. Dialogue is based upon the premise that there are many ways of approaching any issue, and that no single one is correct. The aim of Dialogue is to create a forum in which ideas can be explored, expanded, deepened and illuminated until new meaning and understanding emerges. Instead of trying to create support for their own positions, people engaged in Dialogue listen to and question each other, attempting to deepen their understanding of all of the information being presented.

Methods of creating and facilitating this process have been studied and practiced by a group of committed professionals in Colorado for the past several years. The principles are simple, but not easy to put into practice. The challenge is to listen with care to each statement or question that is offered, and to respond in a way that deepens the investigation of the topic that is being explored. You may offer a statement of your own understanding, or ask a question to focus the exploration in a new direction.

Being clear is more important than being right.

Instead of trying to prove that your idea or position is correct, your task is to explain your beliefs carefully, so that others can understand them. As others come to understand your position, they may ask questions to clarify their understanding or offer observations of their own that will allow you to better understand other aspects of your original ideas. Eventually a shared understanding is developed from many contributions, and the idea comes to belong to the entire group instead of to any single member of the group.

If it is necessary to make a decision about the issue being addressed, it is done after the exploration is completed. Often such decisions emerge quickly and easily without any need to debate different positions. Everyone present has had the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged and has made a contribution to the outcome. Committment to such decisions is high (NOT just business as usual).

Exploring different perspectives on the truth instead of arguing about which is correct can best be accomplished in a protected environment. It takes time to practice the skills of listening deeply and asking questions instead of advocating your favorite positions. Setting aside uninterrupted time to explore issues, without expecting to achieve any particular result, and agreeing to simple rules like allowing each speaker to complete a statement without interruption are basic conditions necessary to begin the process. Learning to say “I wonder what would happen if…” instead of “I think we should…” is an important part of establishng an environment for Dialogue. Trained professional facilitators can help a group learn how to implement these procedures.

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[tags]Business Communication,Difficult Communication,Making Decisions,Managing Conflict[/tags]

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