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Dialogue as a Communication Tool
To change a situation or environment or constructively deal with any issue, there first needs to be dialogue. What is dialogue and when should it be used?
Dialogue is not a back and forth discussion, not a debate or rebuttal.
Trainers Simma Lieberman and Kate Berardo discuss the basics of dialogue and its power as a communication tool to allow parties to frame a problem in a common way.
What is Dialogue?
Dialogue is a communication tool that allows people to understand other viewpoints without pitting themselves against different perspectives. In dialogue, there is no defending of opinions, and no counterpoints. Instead, you let someone talk and present their viewpoint. You let them finish their idea without interrupting or asking questions. You listen to understand, not to defend your own point of view. Your goal is to get in their head, and understand their perspective, not to prove they're wrong and you're right. When it's your turn, you talk and are allowed to finish your thoughts. And here's the key: when you give your viewpoint, you don't give your viewpoint relative to theirs. Dialogue is not a back and forth discussion, not a debate or rebuttal. It's a chance to frame a problem collectively by both independently voicing your perspectives on an issue.
When should dialogue be used?
Dialogue should be used when, as Edward
Schein points out, two parties have framed an issue
differently. When individuals or groups have different
perspectives and see issues differently, dialogue can be
employed as a effective communication tool to help the
parties understand each other's point of view. Only from this
common understanding can change and resolution
What does dialogue do?
Dialogue brings people together who would not naturally sit
down together and talk about important issues. It is a
process to successfully relate to people who are different
from you. Their differences can include gender, religion,
work departments, cultures, ethnicity, race, sexual
orientation, or age.
Does dialogue solve problems?
Dialoging isn't a problem-solving process directly. It is
instead a process that builds bridges of understanding
between groups that naturally helps to reduce
misunderstandings, conflict, and tension and therefore to
What are the signals that a dialogue process is needed?
Whenever differences are the root cause of problems in an
organization or on a college campus, dialogue may be a
helpful process. These problems can be interpersonal, such as
misunderstandings, tension, or increased polarization and
division or organizational, such as low levels of
productivity, high levels of stress, and high rates of
How can you spot opportunities for dialoging before problems arise?
Whenever you have the opportunity for people of different
backgrounds to interact, dialogue can be a useful tool to
help build a foundation of understanding and set guidelines
for effective ongoing interaction. Work Groups with different
functions and priorities who must work together but know
little about the day-to-day activities of the other
departments would benefit from the dialoguing process, as
would college campuses that have some diversity, but
generally little interaction between individuals of different
What can you expect from a dialoging process?
Dialogue promotes better understanding and more creative
cooperation between different people and groups. The process
will help to reduce misunderstandings and tensions and help
ensure more successful interaction in the future.
What are the basic requirements for a dialogue?
Both parties must be willing to engage
in the dialogue, trust the process, and agree on a set of
guidelines for the process. Because the stakes are high and
emotions are often involved, only a skilled and experienced
facilitator should be used for the dialogue
About the Author: Simma Lieberman works with people and organizations to create environments where people can do their best work. She specializes in diversity, gender communications, life-work balance and stress, and acquiring and retaining new customers.
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