The Dialogue Process

One of my fellow coaches and friend from Ireland Barry Walsh introduced me to the Dialogue Process. It is a simple method for cultivating healthy relationships with partners, family members, work colleagues or just friends.

 Ideally in a regular informal meeting both sides discuss the following questions in order.

  1. What is going well with the relationship?
  2. What issues need addressing?
  3. How can we move forwards together?

Why don't to see how it could improve one of your important relationships?

Barry discovered the Dialogue Process through the church in Ireland however I have also found the approach below on 'Dialogue' for group sessions by Allyn Bradford in the US.

It reminds me of the years I spent in a Raja Yoga discussion group with Faustomaria Dorelli at the Innergy Yoga Centre. It also reminds me of the circle time process used in communities and schools.

Where will you use it? Or observe it? Does it remind you of successful dialogues you have been involved in?

A Dialogue Session written by Allyn Bradford

Phase A
Pass the words below around, each person reading one paragraph. In the Dialogue process 'meaning' evolves collectively through mutual understanding and acceptance of diverse points of view.

To master the Dialogue Process requires learning a variety of communication skills including a tolerance of paradox (or opposing views), the suspension of judgment and empathic listening. It also requires making the entire thought process visible, including tacit assumptions. In this process, instead of imposing our views on others, we invite others to add new dimensions to what we are thinking. We also learn to listen to the voice of the heart –our own and others– and strive to find ways to make that voice articulate.

The purpose of Dialogue is neither to agree nor to determine who is right. Rather, the purpose is to discover the richness of diverse perceptions that create a shared meaning that emerges from a group through inquiry and reflection. The meaning that evolves is dynamic as it moves through many diverse phases. If others contradict, the challenge is to learn from what they have said.

The origin of Dialogue goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is also found among preliterate Europeans and Native Americans. More recently David Bohm, the renowned physicist introduced the Dialogue process into the scientific quest for knowledge and also used it to address social problems. Bohm said that "when the roots of thought are observed, thought itself seems to change for the better." Dialogue he said, "is a stream of meaning flowing among and through and between us". Dialogue is now being used in schools, corporations and government to develop rapport, resolve conflict and build community.

Guidelines for Dialogue
1. You don't have to agree. Listen with the expectation of learning; that is, assume that the speaker has something new and of value to contribute to your comprehension and then stretch your mind to find out what that is.

2. None of us has the whole truth. Seek to comprehend the many facets of meaning that emerge from the group. Appreciate how the diversity of perceptions enriches the quality of the dialogue. In your responses do not problem solve, argue, analyze, rescue, nit pick or give advice. Rather, try to understand how the diverse views connect with each other.

3. Pay attention to your listening. Listen for the "voice of the heart" as well as the mind--yours and others'. Tune into the language, rhythms and sounds. Listen as you would to hear the themes played by various instruments in an orchestra and how they relate to each other. That's what makes the music. In Dialogue, that's what makes the collective meaning.

4. Free yourself up from a rigid mindset. Stand back and respond, rather than reacting automatically or defensively. Balance advocacy (making a statement) with inquiry (seeking clarifications and understanding). In advocating do not impose your opinion, rather simply offer it as such. In inquiry seek clarification and a deeper level of understanding, not the exposure of weakness.

5. Communicate your reasoning process, i.e. talk about your assumptions and how you arrived at what you believe. Seek out the data on which assumptions are based, your own and others. Bring tacit (hidden) assumptions to the surface of consciousness.

6. Suspend, rather than identify with, your judgements. Hold these away from your core self, to be witnessed or observed by yourself and made visible to others.

Additional Guidelines by Peter Taylor

Don't speak afterwards about what's said in the dialogue by attributing it to anyone, even if you don't name the person. Instead, simply talk about what you are thinking/inquiring about as a result of having been in today's session. If you speak to anyone from this group about what they said, follow the same genuine inquiry you practice here.

Turn taking
Overriding idea: Keep focused on listening well. If you're thinking about whether you'll get to talk next, you won't listen well. Ditto, if you're holding on tight to what you want to say. So take a numbered card when you feel that you'd like a turn, but keep listening. When your turn comes, show your card, and pause. See if you have something to follow what's being said, even if it's not the thought you had wanted to say. You can pass.

Another idea: There's no need for questions to be answered right away. If the question relates directly to someone, they can pick it up when they next take a turn. This differs from usual conversations, but think of questions as inquiries that you're putting into a shared space.

Final idea: Try to make the turn-taking administer itself so the facilitator can listen well and participate undistracted. When you finish speaking (or if you decide to pass), put your card on the stack of used cards so the person with the next card knows that they can begin. The facilitator's role becomes simply to recharge the unused stack of cards when needed and gently remind people to follow the guidelines.

Phase B

Check-in Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that’s at the front for you as we go into the session.

Phase C

Turn-taking dialogue about the topic at hand for the time available minus 5+ minutes

Phase D

Check-out Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that you’re taking away to chew on after this session.

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