Dialogue is an approach to organisational interaction
developed initially by the physicist David Bohm. The following briefly describes
the differences between discussion and dialogue:
A key paper on dialogue by David
Bohm, Donald Factor & Peter Garrett,
Dialogue: A Proposal is widely available on the internet.
Sherryl and Patrick Stalinski offer
a free booklet, The
Dialogue Kit, which they describe as a starter resource for
learning why, what, who, where, when, and how to practice dialogue.
Available as a pdf file it offers an approach to working with dialogue in small
groups (5 - 15 people).
William Isaacs, director of
the MIT dialogue project, is also interested in dialogue though his approach is
somewhat different from Bohm’s. Using ideas from Donald Kantor, a family systems
therapist, Isaacs offers a ‘four player model’ of conversation:
there is no Direction
Followers there is no Completion
there is no Correction
Bystanders there is no Perspective
Any effective conversation has four aspects, or roles.
Although each of us has a preferred role, we can play all of them. The art of
good conversation is to find the right balance between roles; if one dominates,
conversation will be stilted and ineffective. Dialogue tends to break down if
one or more of the participants gets ‘stuck’ in a role or if patterns arise
which exclude one or more of the roles.
Isaacs also writes about Argyris & Schön’s distinction
(1978) between ‘inquiry’ and ‘advocacy. Inquiry requires bystanding and
following; advocacy requires a good balance between moving and opposing. An
effective leader will work to find a balance between inquiry and advocacy in
Isaacs offers four conversational skills which can
help each of the four roles to be more effective. Learning to voice effectively
is important if we are to be heard by others in the conversation; the better we
can listen the more effective we will be in the role of following; respect for
the other participants is key if we are to oppose in a constructive way, keeping
the conversational flow intact; and finally, it is essential for the bystander
that we are able to suspend our own ideas and opinions in such a way that both
we and others can examine them and see their strengths and weaknesses.
You can find out more about William
Isaac's approach to dialogue in his book . There is also a good introductory
Dialogic Leadership which was publishedin The Systems Thinker, vol. 10, no. 1
Another approach to dialogue is Anthony Blake's
N-logue. More information can be found on his
attempt to conduct an online dialogue in David Bohm's style.