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The Role of Dialogue in Practice and Communication

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Reading “Dialogue, the art of thinking together” by William Isaacs was an assignment that I did not give much importance to in the beginning and that proved to be a true revelation regarding what this noun I use a lot means and made me a lot more conscious about how much of the conversations I have are actually discussions and not dialogues. Structurally, the book has 5 parts: “What is Dialogue?”, “Building capacity for new behavior”, “Predictive intuition”, “Architecture of the invisible”, “Widening the circle”, every one of them describing different ways of enriching dialogue and how other people successfully used it. The first part introduces the reader to the four principles of a fruitful dialogue: unfolding-speaking your own truth, participation-actively connecting with the others, coherence-sticking to a subject and building on it and awareness-listening to others before introducing your ideas. This part also describes the definition of dialogue, in Greek, and it is ‘flow of meaning” which created a shift in my mind and made me reconsider the ratio of the moments when I actually say something meaningful and the ones when I simply speak my mind.

The second part presents the concepts of respect, voicing, suspension and listening through new perspectives.That being said, respect is about always treating the ones around as if there is something to learn from them and is categorized as being an active process. The etymology of the word links it to Greek and means “to look again, to observe” and encourages the reader to repeat this process until he finds value in the person he is dialoguing with. One other very interesting concept that I was not aware of until reading this book was suspension that means suspending your pre-judgments. We all judge, all the time, but what we have to keep in mind is that none of us is smarter that all the other ones in the room and that is why you have to be open to what others are speaking. Listening is best emphasized in the following quote”People don’t listen, they just reload” and the author encourages the reader to listen differently because he will start to also see differently.

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The third section of the book characterizes predictive intuition and displays Kantor’s three system paradigms: open, closed and random and what are the downsides of every one of them. In the open system it is the tyranny of the process because it can take more time to take into consideration everyone’s opinion, for the closed system is the blindness to emergent change since this system values tradition and history, and the random one has the drawback named “the tyranny of anarchy” because it has no stability. This part also outlines the importance of balance between advocacy, speaking what you think, and inquiry, looking into what you do not know yet, since this is the key to a genuine dialogue.

The fourth part brings into attention another notion, the one of the container that is created at every interaction with one or more people, as well as the field that describes the state of the process. Therefore, the four stages a dialogue has are instability of the field, instability in the field, inquiry in the field and creativity in the field. Our team is now juggling back and forth between the first two stages and will be able to pass to the third one only by starting to listen differently. Another theory that caught my attention was the “Ecology of thought” and how it is linked to “the true, the good and the beautiful”, three filters for what we are constantly thinking.

The last part connects more with the business world, but also with the team dynamics. Thus, one notion presented here that is applicable to our team is the comparison between having an agenda and using the free flow, both being useful if used together. Moreover, during the course I found out that there are boards of advisors that meet up without having an agenda and these sessions usually have very interesting outcomes. One specific question from this section remained in my mind, possibly because I am also looking for an answer to it: “What are we missing that we simply don’t want to hear?”.

In conclusion, “Dialogue, the art of thinking together” is a book that needs to be read and re-read a few times in our lifetime because, if read with attention and predisposition to change, it can generate a very fruitful transformation to your life. Personally, what I take with me after the course and the lecture of the book is one fact that I have never considered before, that in order to have a genuine dialogue, my meaning has to be connected to the others and that I have to build on what is already

in the container. Finally, I am used to finish every essay with a quote that is important to me, but this time I am going to end it with a phrase mentioned during the course that is more valuable for the team and for me since I became the inquiry responsible: “The more questions you ask, the faster the consensus is.”

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