Change Implementation Techniques for Laying a Foundation for New Ways

Technique 1.10 Dialogue

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. Dialogue has been described as

" share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our own view or to conform to those of others and without distortion and self‐deception......A group of people that can explore the individual and collective......ideas, beliefs and feelings that subtly control their interactions......It can reveal the often puzzling patterns of incoherence that lead the group to avoid certain issues or, on the other hand, to insist, against all reason......on standing and defending opinions about particular issues...."

David Bohm, 1992

. It is a group communication process aimed at exploring the nature and power of collective thinking and how it shapes the culture of a group. It can impact on the collective consciousness that is needed for organisational change, ie

"...The dialogue process is the most effective way I know of to bring about a deep motivational shift and the resulting behavioural changes in a group or an organisational culture. The dialogue circle itself acts as a container for the field of meaning common to the group, and that exposes the group's collective and individual motivations (and attitudes).....dialogue makes us surface and challenge the assumptions that support our motives. It leads to a change in existing paradigms or mental models. It is a structure that dissolves previous structures...the dialogue process itself ‐ it does encourage spontaneity, develops self‐awareness, causes members to reframe their paradigms, and incite compassion. The dialogue is by its nature a celebration of diversity......the only real rules in the dialogue are that each group member should express personal feelings and thought openly and honestly and that no one should be abusive..."

Danah Zohar et al, 2004

. The techniques of effective dialogue are based upon 4 main components and a set of guidelines. The 4 components are suspension of judgment, identification of assumptions, listening, inquiry and reflection; the essential guidelines for dialogue include

listening and speaking without judgment

acknowledgement of each speaker

respectful of differences

role and status suspension

balancing inquiry and advocacy

avoidance of cross‐talk

a focus on learning

seeking the next level of understanding

releasing the need for specific outcomes

speaking when "moved"

Four main components

i) suspension of judgment

Normally we find ourselves defending our positions against those of others. By doing this, we close ourselves off from learning and do harm to our personal relationships. Furthermore, we can get into heated arguments about who's right and who's wrong.

If we can suspend judgment, we have more chance of seeing others' points of view. This does not mean that we should eliminate our judgments and opinions; rather we are just more receptive to other people's points of view or other ways of seeing the situation

By suspending judgment, it is easier to build a climate of trust and safety

ii) identification of assumptions

Most opinions and judgments we hold are usually built on layers of assumptions, inferences and generalisations. We need to look at the underlying belief systems behind our judgments. Only by understanding the assumptions, etc do we have some chance of understanding the basis for our incomplete or incoherent thoughts

By learning to identify our assumptions, we are better able to explore differences with others. We can build common ground and consensus by getting to the bottom of core misunderstandings and differences. Thus assumption identification can be extremely useful in understanding and working with diversity and conflict in groups

iii) listening

Listening is critical to our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue. We need to focus on how the way we listen impacts on how well we learn and how effective we are in building quality relationships. We need to go far beyond active listening techniques; we must focus on developing our capacity to stay present and open to the meaning arising at both the individual and collective levels. We need to slow our thinking so that we can listen and perceive at more subtle levels (this is linked with inquiry and reflection)

iv) inquiry and reflection

Through the process of inquiry and reflection we dig deeply into matters that concern us and create breakthroughs in our ability to solve problems

By learning how to ask questions that lead to new levels of understanding, we can accelerate our collective learning. We gain greater awareness of our own and others' thinking processes and the issues that separate and unite us

. Through the practice of effective dialogue, organisational cultures can be transformed in 3 ways: behaviourally, experimentally and attitudinally. Participants learn how to be with each other differently; this creates an experimental feel of community and community principles; attitudes of rigid individualism give way to attitudes of collaboration and partnership.

. Senior managers must be willing to let go of position, rank and authority; otherwise the dialogue will be ineffective

. Dialogue involves becoming conscious of yours and others' thinking processes. It is not a process of reaching consensus

Dialogue killers

. There are at least 4 types of dialogue killers: dangling dialogue, information clogs, piecemeal perspectives and free‐for‐all

i) dangling dialogue

the symptoms of confusion prevail; the meeting ends without any clear next step; people create their own self‐serving interpretations of the meeting and no one can be held accountable later when the goals are not achieved. The best remedy for this is to give the meeting closure by ensuring that everyone knows who will do what and when; this is best written as an action plan

ii) information clogs

symptoms are failure to get all the relevant information into the open; an important fact or opinion comes to light after a decision has already be reached; this pattern happens repeatedly, ie information hoarding. The best remedy is to ensure that the right people are in attendance in the first place; when missing information is discovered, disseminate it immediately; make the expectations of openness and candor explicit by asking "What's missing?" Impose sanctions against information hoarding

iii) piecemeal perspectives

the symptoms are people sticking to narrow views and self‐interest, and failure to acknowledge that others have valid interests. The remedy is to involve all people so that all sides of the issue are presented; restate the common purpose repeatedly to keep everyone focused on the big picture; generate alternatives; demonstrate how each person's work contributes to the overall mission of the enterprise.

iv) free‐for‐all

the symptoms include failing to direct the flow of the discussion; allowing negative behaviours to flourish, such as extortionists (hold the whole group to ransom until others see it their way), sidetrackers (go off at a tangent, recount history by saying "when I did this 10 years ago....", or delve into unnecessary detail), silent liars (do not express their true opinions or they agree to things that they have no intention of doing), dividers (create breaches within the group by seeking support for their viewpoint outside the meeting or have parallel discussions during the meeting). The remedy involves identifying which behaviours are unacceptable and acceptable, and encouraging acceptable behaviour and discouraging unacceptable behaviour

Difference between dialogue and debate

. The definition of debate is the formal one of people taking sides on a topic rather than discussion which is more informal exchange of views.

. There are some important differences



Participants speak as individuals about their own unique experiences and uncertainties

Participants tend to represent a group with specific opinions

Atmosphere is one of safety and promotes respectful exchange

The atmosphere is threatening, attacks and interruptions are expected

Differences between individuals are revealed

Difference within the group are set aside or denied

Participants listen to understand and gain insight into the understandings of others

Participants listen to refute other ideas, questions are often rhetorical challenges or disguised statements

New information surfaces

Statements are predictable and offer little new information

Success requires exploration of the complexities of the issue being discussed

Success requires simple impassioned statements

Participants are encouraged to question the dominant public discourse, to express fundamental needs that may or may not be reflected in discourse, and explore various options of problem definition and resolution

It operates within the constraints of the dominant public discourse, which defines the problem and the options of resolution; it assumes that fundamental needs and values are already clearly understood

. Another way to show the differences between dialogue and debate are

‐ dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides to 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 to find flaws and 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 re‐valuation; debate defends assumptions as truth

‐ dialogue encourages introspection of one's own position. Debate demands critique of the opposing position

‐ dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions; debate defends one's own position as the best solution and excludes other solutions

‐ dialogue fosters an open‐minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change. Debate reinforces a close‐minded attitude, a determination to be right

‐ in dialogue, one submits one's best thinking, knowing that the 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 position

‐ 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 denigrates 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

Evolution of Dialogue

. There is a variety of stages to the evolution of dialogue field or container. The emergence of each phase involves skilful choices and navigation of crises for both individuals and the collective. The phases are

i) instability of the container ‐ participants are concerned with safety and trust in the dialogue context; this is called the "initiatory crisis" and leads onto

ii) instability in the container ‐ participants struggle with polarisation and conflict arising from fragmentation, or the clash of personally‐held beliefs and assumptions; a "crisis of suspension" results as participants fail to display empathy for each other's ideas. This leads to the first attempts to suspend personal assumptions publicly and leads onto

iii) inquiry in the container ‐ participants are able to inquire into polarisation and foreign ideas without "voting" or otherwise taking divisive action on the group's fragmented knowledge; given these new skills and collective activity, the group begins to experience a "crisis of collective pain" as the depth of disconnection is held by the group. This leads onto

iv) creativity in the container ‐ participants begin to think generatively, and new understandings based on collective perception emerge

. Each stage of the dialogue process contains certain critical elements and forces. The important part of the framework is the interpersonal interaction among participants. The emphasis is

"...on the nature of the thought processes that underlie what is appearing in the group, the quality of the individual and collective reasoning, and the quality of the collective attention..."

William Isaac, 1999

. In dialogue there is more than feedback, as one is asked to reflect on one's impulses and projections ‐ listen to oneself in essence

In tabulated form, the framework is described as

organisational development change management

(sources: David Bohm, 1992; Glenna Gerard et al, 1995; William Isaacs, 1999; Ram Charan, 2006; Danah Zohar et al, 2004)


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