Dialogue means different things to different people. At Metaplan, we follow definitions and views on dialogue from Edgar Schein, William Isaacs, and others who are describing dialogue as the ability of forming processes that enhance collective sensemaking of divergent viewpoints. Edgar Schein, former Professor at the MIT School of Management, argues that dialogue “facilitates the building of sufficient common ground, on which a group can act upon”. It certainly drives the creation of shared understanding on opportunities and issues across an organization and is considered a prerequisite and foundation for informed decision making.
However, organizations often rush discussions to get to decisions without sufficiently fleshing out the issues and opportunities and move too quickly to solutions. Making decisions with insufficient information will lead to suboptimal outcomes or misalignment.
Before debating, deciding, and making choices, organization can enhance their collective understanding by using the 4 components of dialogue.
1. Suspend Judgement – The act of suspending judgment can be the most difficult part of engaging in dialogue. Too often participants come into meetings with preconceived notions and/or with strong judgements for or against something. At that moment, people tend to only listen to information that strengthens their view or weakens the alternative perspective. When the parties do not suspend judgment, organizational learning will not take place; it will just result in stronger and more heated debates, but with few additional insights. Keep in mind that suspending judgement does not mean abandoning judgement; just suspending it temporarily.
2. Identify Assumptions – It is very difficult to identify a set of assumptions since they are often hidden or unspoken beliefs. It is equally difficult and important to detect the assumptions of others as well as your own. However, once participants understand key assumptions, key beliefs, many topics will be seen in a different light.
3. Listen Actively – Active listening, sometimes also called deeply reflective listening, is key to dialogue. Being alert, attentive, and asking clarifying questions are all part of active listening.
4. Inquire and Reflect – Inquiry and articulation of curiosity is key to organizational learning. Reflections among the team members will foster the quality of the teams collective thinking.
Dialogue allows teams to share their ideas, thoughts, and knowledge, enhancing team effectiveness and fostering team spirit. Because dialogue processes help create collective insights and shared understanding on opportunities and issues across the organization, they lead to a greater level of alignment.
Before debating, deciding, and making choices, creating shared understanding through dialogue is paramount. When you Schein a light on dialogue, alignment will be stronger.