Cultivating Dialogue

Bob Schultek Author of
The Gauntlet

It’s understood that communication is an essential ingredient of effective leadership. What is less often realized is that two-way interaction, dialogue, is the most impactful method of communication for influencing those you seek to lead.

The word ‘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 possibilities and inconsistencies, and searching for shared perspectives, without attacking each other’s ideas, people gradually gained deeper insight. Dialogue more quickly reveals the best way forward, enabling a stronger commitment to the final decision.

Dialogue is the essence of productive collaboration. Doing it well requires listening with empathy, searching for common ground, exploring new ideas and perspectives, and exposing unexamined assumptions. Without it, we can’t overcome differences, discover meaning or purpose, establish common goals, and reach shared commitment. Without dialogue, there is no progress.

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 constructive 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; dialogue exposes the alternative ways forward so the best option may be identified.

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 accelerated.

What are you doing to cultivate productive dialogue?

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