How dialogue works
Dialogue is an unfolding process of transforming and deepening understanding of others and ourselves through listening, sharing and questioning. For most people it is a new experience to disagree with others but still to be heard and accepted and not to be argued with or disapproved. It takes courage for people to get to the point of finding this out.
Dialogue is a different and a more effective way of having conversations or discussions about contentious issues.
i A Flow Of Meaning
‘Dialogue’ comes from the Greek word dialogos.
Logos means ‘the word’.
Dia means ‘through’.
Dialogue, therefore, suggests a stream of meaning flowing among, through and between us, out of which may emerge some new understanding. As such it is a process rather than an end result in itself.
ii A Tool For Conflict
Conflict of itself is neither good nor bad, it is a natural, necessary and inevitable consequence of life. It is how we use conflict that renders it good or bad, creative or destructive. This is where dialogue comes in as a tool which we can use to mould conflict into a creative, positive and productive process. It does so by deepening our understanding of the positions of others and ourselves and of the conflicts between others and ourselves.
iii A Different Way Of Talking
Dialogue is a process involving active listening as well as talking. It implies accepting and respecting the views of others and trying to understand where they are coming from. Diversity and division are openly addressed in this process.
Dialogue deepens understanding of our own, and each other’s positions, often leading to shared understanding and an enhancement of our ability to make informed decisions.
It does this by shifting the focus from the stated positions that we so often argue over to the needs (often shared), which underlie them.
The process may:
- Lead to trust, respect and the building of a shared future in which we all belong.
- Clarify our disagreement and our need to follow separate paths to separate futures.
Question, Question, Question
Dialogue aims to transform understanding of issues through open, honest sharing and deep listening.
- It does not aim to provide answers.
- It does aim to leave people questioning.
One of the most important outcomes of a dialogue is not what answers the participants have arrived at but what questions they will leave with.
In our dialogues we ask people to:
- Question their own positions and look at the needs underlying them.
- Question the positions of others and look at the needs underlying them.
- Explore how to meet those sometimes shared and sometimes conflicting underlying needs.
We encourage a re-examination of stated positions, based on the assumption that we all want something different and we are all unlikely to get what we want.
We Also Ask:
- What do you want?
- What do you really need and why do you need it?
- What could you live with, given that the needs and hopes of others may differ from yours?
Dialogue Is Not…
- Problem solving
- Finding the answer
- Avoidance of issues
- Denial of issues
- Proving your point
- Proving them wrong
- Winning an argument
- Reaching agreement
This is not to say that on some occasions there may not be outcomes such as agreement or the emergence of new ideas for resolving old problems. But it is important to understand that these are neither pre planned nor even necessary as part of a successful dialogue process.