There is a vast difference between what most of us consider dialogue and what I call “Genuine Dialogue.” Conversation between most people is loose and without fixed and agreed-upon rules, so it can often end up feeling that there was little benefit to the time spent talking and listening to each other.
Let me compare Genuine Dialogue to the rules essential to sports games. What would baseball, football, basketball, etc., be if the rules were loose or non-existent? The game would not exist. I compare this to the differences between just having a conversation and experiencing Genuine Dialogue.
Although repetitious, knowing and agreeing to the rules essential to make Genuine Dialogue work are few: The participants must be PRESENT with each other. They must RESPECT each other and LISTEN TO WHAT IS BEING SAID—instead of building an argument against what they THINK THEY’VE HEARD. Finally, to ensure that the speaker knows they have been HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD, the listener needs to REPEAT IN ONE’S OWN WORDS what the speaker has said. (“So what you are saying is————“).
When this takes place, the listener is now CANDID in their response. What makes this work is the acceptance of the listener and the speaker that AGREEMENT is not asked for. If the speaker or listener expects agreement to result from Genuine Dialogue, they need to lay their expectations on the table from the beginning.
Compare this to most of our conversations with others. We enter them fully expecting agreement or that our position is the correct one. It was my first discovery when I began to work with leaders throughout the country. I was initially employed to speak to the issues of staff and leader relationships. As stated by the leader requesting my services, the problem was the staff and their relationships with each other. Instead, what became most apparent was that the problem was the communication style of the leader. This invisible exercise of power was not invisible to their staff and me.
Based on much research into power, leadership, and communication, I stumbled into what I labeled Genuine Dialogue and began to build a whole case for better communication skills. It was new and enlightening to all of us, and in the process, those of us lucky enough to work together—grew together. Sy