What is dialogue?
For some, dialogue is a focused and intentional conversation, a space of civility and equality in which those who differ may listen and speak together. For others it is a way of being—mindful and creative relating. In dialogue, we seek to set aside fears, preconceptions, the need to win; we take time to hear other voices and possibilities. Dialogue can encompass tensions and paradoxes, and in so doing, new ideas—collective wisdom—may arise. Diana Chapman Walsh describes it this way:
It's when we let our guard down and allow our differences and doubts to surface and interact that something authentic and original can begin to emerge, tentatively, in the spaces between us. And I've found that it's often in these fleeting and complicated moments that the heart and mind can come into synchrony, pointing to altogether novel educational possibilities. The key is to remain alert to those moments and to move with them when they arise.
We know that the most effective process for discovering these layers of meaning is through interactive and iterative dialogues and that if we undertake them sincerely and openly—and patiently—we can sometimes find our way to something entirely new. We assume that individual voices speak and act for the system as a whole, and we listen carefully or a variety of voices and the competing values they represent.
Definitions of dialogue
From David Bohm On Dialogue
"Dialogue" comes from the Greek word dialogos . Logos means 'the word', or in our case we would think of 'the meaing of the word'. And dia means through'—it doesn't mean 'two'.... The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It's something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It's something creative. And this shared meaning is the 'glue' or 'cement' that holds people and societies together.
The object of a dialogue is not to analyze things, or to win an argument, or to exchange opinions. Rather, it is to suspend your opinions and to look at the opinions—to listen to everybody's opinions, to suspend them, and to see what all that means.... We can just simply share the appreciation of the meanings, and out of this whole thing, truth emerges unannounced—not that we have chosen it.
Everything can move between us. Each person is participating, is partaking of the whole meaning of the group and also taking part in it. We can call that a true dialogue.
Dialogue is the collective way of opening up judgments and assumptions.
From Paolo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming â€“ between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them.
From William Isaacs Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together
Dialogue... is a conversation with a center, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and coordinated power of groups of people.
The roots of the word dialogue come from the Greek words dia and logos . Dia mean 'through'; logos translates to 'word' or 'meaning'. In essence, a dialogue is a flow of meaning . But it is more than this too. In the most ancient meaning of the word, logos meant 'to gather together', and suggested an intimate awareness of the relationships among things in the natural world. In that sense, logos may be best rendered in English as 'relationship'. The Book of John in the New Testament begins: "In the beginning was the Wrod ( logos )". We could now hear this a "In the beginning was the Relationship."
To take it one step further, dialogue is a conversation in which people think together in relationship. Thinking together implies that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to possibilities that result simply from being in relationship with others â€“ possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred.
To listen respectfully to others, to cultivate and speak your own voice, to suspend your opinions about
others—these bring out the intelligence that lives at the very center of ourselves—the intelligence that exists when we are alert of possibilities around us and thinking freshly.
From Jon Kabat-Zinn Coming to Our Senses
...we speak of dialogue as the outer counterpart to the inward cultivation of moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness, or mindfulness.... No one needs to dominate in a dialogue, and indeed, it would cease being a dialogue at that point if one person or group attempted to control it. We watch the arising of and listen to the voicing of ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings, and drink them all in in a spirit of deep inquiry and intentionality, much as we do in resting in awareness in formal meditation practice, allowing it all to be treated as equally valid of at least being seen, heard and known without editing, censoring, vetting, or rejecting. A greater intelligence that seems to reside in the group but is not in any one person often emerges, surprisingly, and with it a deeper collective understanding as a direct consequence of such spaciousness and openheartedness.
From Bruce Mallory and Nancy Thomas When the Medium is the Message
...the need for inclusive forms of sustained and civil dialogue has become paramount... By this we mean inter-group and interpersonal conversations in which those present are granted an equal voice at the table, regardless of their formal status within the institution. And those at the table need to be engaged for a length of time sufficient to interrogate, deliberate and communicate. By consciously moving away from the win-lose model of traditional debate to a more equitable, safe and sustained approach to problem-solving, we can foster both ethical principles and democratic governance.
From Patricia Romney The Art of Dialogue
Dialogue is focused conversation, engaged in intentionally with the goal of increasing understanding,
addressing problems, and questioning thoughts and actions. It engages the heart as well as the mind. It is different from ordinary, everyday conversation in that dialogue has a focus and a purpose.... Dialogue, unlike debate or even discussion, is as interested in the relationship(s) between the participants as it is in the topic or theme being explored. Ultimately, real dialogue presupposes an openness to modify deeply held convictions.
The raising of questions, what I have called elsewhere the spirit of wonder, is a sine qua non of dialogue. Living in the questions is a good place to begin.
From Diana Chapman Walsh Trustworthy Leadership
It's when we let our guard down and allow our differences and doubts to surface and interact that something authentic and original can begin to emerge, tentatively, in the spaces between us.
And I've found that it's often in these fleeting and complicated moments that the heart and mind can come into synchrony, pointing to altogether novel educational possibilities. The key is to remain alert to those moments and to move with them when they arise.
We know that the most effective process for discovering these layers of meaning is through interactive and iterative dialogues and that if we undertake them sincerely and openly—and patiently—we can sometimes find our way to something entirely new. We assume that individual voices speak and act for the system as a whole, and we listen carefully for a variety of voices and the competing values they represent.
From Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers A Simpler Way
Life coheres into selves and system. In its great cohering motions, life is a poet. It brings together seemingly separate elements to create and discover new meaning.... The only way to know a system is to play with it. Life's restless urge to experiment and discover, its great tinkering, its wild surprises, invite us to become experimenters.
We can support systems in being resilient by encouraging them to exercise their freedom to explore new connections and new information.... Open and inquiring, such systems become wiser about themselves.