Chapter 19: DIALOGUE

Posted on June 3, 2017


“There is a quiet revolution in American society that is redefining community in a more fluid way. This quiet revolution shows a ballooning interest in topics such as personal mastery, dialogue, and flow. The power of attention and the experience of flow as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have long been cultivated in the practice of dialogue. At its essence, dialogue involves a collective shift of attention from politeness to conflict, from conflict to inquiry, and from inquiry to generative flow. My colleague Bill Isaacs, the founder of the MIT Dialogue Project, has used dialogue as a change method in a steel mill, in a local health care system, and as a way to build leadership capacity in multinational companies.” (Otto Scharmer, Theory U, p. 88)

The reason this can be so effectively used at such scale is that living in a spirit of dialogue is deeply ingrained within each of us defining what it means to be human, fully human. When we as humans must remember what it means to be truly human, then and only then can organizations, communities, and countries remember what they already know; what it means to be human; first within ourselves and then with each other.

Much of my understanding of Dialogue comes from the work of David Bohm, physicist. Here are links to free white papers offered on line.

On Dialogue:

Dialogue: a Proposal:

David Bohm’s definition of Dialogue:

“I give a meaning to the word ‘dialogue’ that is somewhat different from what is commonly used. The derivations of words often help to suggest a deeper meaning. ‘Dialogue’ comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ‘the word’ or in our case we would think of the ‘meaning of the word’. And dia means ‘through’ – it doesn’t mean two. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present. The picture of image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which will 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.

“Contrast this with the word ‘discussion’, which has the same root as ‘percussion’ an ‘concussion’. It really means to break things up. It emphasizes the idea of analysis, where there may be many points of view. Discussion is almost like a Ping-Pong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points
for yourself. Possibly you will take up somebody else’s ideas to back up your own – you may agree with some and disagree with others – but the basic point is to win the game. That’s very frequently the case in a discussion.

“In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It’s a situation called win-win, in which we are not
playing a game against each other but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins.”

Paulo Freire quotes on Dialogue from A Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him/herself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.

[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.

If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed