Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

Without dialogue, there can be no conflict resolution, no shared commitment, no progress.
The word dialogue implies a two-way conversation as opposed to monologue. But this is misleading because dialogue is actually a contraction from the Greek words for “through” and “words” which suggests a focus on discovering meaning.

The ancient Greeks learned that people reasoning together, rather than as individuals, are more likely to uncover the truth about an issue. By questioning each other, carefully analyzing ideas, identifying inconsistencies, and searching for shared perspectives, without attacking or insulting each other, people gradually gained deeper understanding and insight.

What passes for communication today is often crosstalk that renders no genuine meaning or resolution. Speaking at or past each other is the norm, and most times, no one is listening.

During these days of rapid change and growing uncertainty, making progress, achieving results, in business or in community, demands dialogue. Without it, we can’t overcome differences, build meaning and purpose, or establish shared goals. Dialogue is the necessary ingredient for productive collaboration within our organizations and communities. Doing it well requires listening with empathy, searching for common ground, exploring new ideas and perspectives, and exposing unexamined assumptions.

The basic ground rules for productive dialogue are:

  • Focus on shared issues, not divisive ones;
  • Explore the differences between alternative values and goals, not people;
  • Encourage participants to share their insights, assumptions and emotions before speculating on those of others; expressing emotions is often a precursor for productive discussion;
  • Reveal and clarify any assumptions that could distort known perspectives;
  • Use specific, real-world examples to explore or clarify common issues;
  • Encourage personal relationships in order to build trust and humanize interaction;
  • Separate the dialogue process from the decision-making process.

Productive dialogue overcomes distrust to create a way forward that is grounded in shared purpose, commitment and objectives. It often provides those typically excluded from decision-making an opportunity to participate in the process of finding common ground and establishing priorities. New perspectives and insights are learned, bonds are strengthened, and progress is enabled.

How productive are your dialogue sessions?