How We Work: Dialogue – what is Dialogue?

Dialogue is a communication process that enables inquiry into complex or recurring problems, bringing together people with diverse views or perspectives on those problems, and which has the declared intention of arriving at a shared understanding of how to achieve resolution and positive change.

Dialogue is particularly valuable in helping to change the way people in organisations, communities and systems look at situations, seek to find answers, and tackle deep-rooted or stuck patterns.

Dialogue work

Dialogue involves a shared inquiry, and is a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something we do to other people – it is something we do with other people. In dialogue, we learn to shift our attitudes about relationships with others, so that we are no longer trying to argue for our own position, but instead come to a clearer understanding of ourselves and of the other people involved in the dialogue.

Participants in dialogue are invited to consider issues from many perspectives and to check the assumptions they make about themselves and others. Taking time to inquire into differences promotes a greater understanding of the other’s position, which leads to growing trust and better working relationships.

CAN has pioneered the use of dialogue in many situations where there is a lack of understanding between individuals and groups, and dialogue has provided a way of working that accepts differences and encourages creative solutions.

Our understanding of dialogue is informed by the work of William Isaacs and physicist David Bohm. It is built on the simple but effective premise that if you bring together a microcosm of a system, comprising different stakeholders and perspectives, you can create shared meaning, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This enhances our capacity to make sense of deep-rooted, stuck patterns that continue to repeat themselves and impede our ability to work collaboratively. By doing this in an atmosphere of respect and non-judgement, it is possible to change the quality of our relationships and to create systemic change. Dialogue is not simply discussion, debate or negotiation.

Being involved in dialogue helps the participants to deal with differences better in the future, since they can see that there is a better way of resolving disputes than head-on confrontation, and it is a skill which can be developed and taken into many different scenarios. CAN has experience of designing and facilitating processes that incorporate these methods both theoretically and practically.

CAN’s Dialogue work

Our dialogue work is always tailor-made for those involved. Usually these are work teams, organisations, partnerships, alliances or other various collaborative arrangements which are experiencing difficulties. We invite participants to come together to arrive at a shared sense of what needs to change and from there to determine how they can work together to create a shared purpose. It involves a range of practices that support conversation, listening differently, finding your authentic voice, building respect, suspending certainty, working with disturbance and co-creating new responses.

The Tao of Dialogue

In 2019, Cecilia Forrestal and Monica Manning contributed to a book describing the use of Dialogue in various projects. A introductory video was produced to promote the book:

See more …

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Elders as Leaders
Community Engagement