Often we struggle talking to one another because our thoughts and ideas are positioned as separate from, if not against, the thoughts and ideas of others. Dialogue is a practice developed by David Bohm and others that focuses on the “shared exploration towards greater understanding, connection, or possibility.” Suggested guidelines for dialogue are:
We talk about what’s really important to us.
Sometimes we jump around in discussions, allow ourselves to meander to tangents that keep us from what the group really needs to discuss and figure out. It is important to find the balance between staying on topic and allowing flexibility in the exchange. What a group talks about should be determined by the group, not just one or two individuals.
We really listen to each other. We see how thoroughly we can understand each other’s views and experience.
Active listening means asking questions and helping others get their ideas out. Too often we are formulating our response to what someone is saying while they are saying it. Bohm would argue our attention on the speaker should include actively seeking the meaning she or he is trying to convey before we speak on the topic we wish to speak on.
We say what’s true for us without making each other wrong.
Diversity is good. We need varying opinions. In fact, learning depends on differing perspectives and constructive criticism and exchange. Positional arguments however tend to focus on who is right and who is wrong. In dialogue we seek to speak out truth while accepting and encouraging the truth of others. My position or belief is what it is. I do not have to convey it AND also make others feel that their truth is wrong.
We see what we can learn together by exploring things together.
Often in discussions we do not stop to ask what the group has learned or gleaned so far. Where are we in the discussion? What, if anything, has changed in our collective thinking so far? Also, the concept of “exploring together” implies an understanding that we are not all starting with answers or the right answers but are open, through inquiry and discussion, to find a better way, a better idea, and a common aspiration of action.
We avoid monopolizing the conversation. We make sure everyone has a chance to speak or contribute.
Some people talk more than others, and sometimes people use their voice to silence others. If diversity of perspective is valued, then hearing the voices of all involved should be encouraged by the group. This requires discipline. The easy talker needs to become more facilitative of the voices of others. The one less inclined to speak has to become more vocal if being heard is valued. As well, finding other ways to exchange ideas can be helpful – through workshopping an idea (using group exercises, sticky notes, etc.) or answering some questions on line.
Imagine if the group could master these five guidelines. The quality, range, and depth of the exchange would increase, more would get done, and it would get done at a good pace.