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Tips For Effective Dialogue: Dialogue vs. Discussion

Apr 20, 2008
Interactive communication or dialogue refers to interacting in ways that build shared meaning, rather than colliding in ways that foster disagreement, frustration and confusion.

Dialogue is a subtle process that may be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to actually create.

Benefits of Dialogue:

Dialogue has the ability to convert detractors into supporters, conflict into consensus, and add depth to business relationships.

A dialogue influences another's perspective by first demonstrating a deep understanding of the position you want to influence. People frequently resist attempts to be influenced by using the statement, "You just don't understand."

In a dialogue, your skills of collaborative inquiry and listening provide others with a profound sense of being heard. When we feel that we are heard, we become more willing to be open to another point of view.

If dialogue is so effective, why aren't more people using it?

The profound efficacy of dialogue requires much of us:

Listening more deeply and for longer periods of time.

Inquiring of others and paraphrasing their ideas when every cell in your body wants to attack, defend or explain.

Becoming aware of your mind drifting and repeatedly returning it to the topic at hand.

Examining our thoughts and separating assumptions from facts.

Dialogue requires:

A complete shift in mindset from telling others what you think,
to inquiring of them what they think.
A deeper level of listening and a more active approach to
demonstrating that you are listening to others.
An ability to penetrate into another's assumptions and mental
maps to uncover the framework that governs their behavior.
What Does Dialogue Look Like?

Recognize it when:

The business issue develops keen intellectual interest.
The conversation is suffused with laughter.
Everyone is involved, and people are listening deeply.
The conversation becomes animated.
You become eager to add to what someone else has said; but you are listening more than talking.
You sense an almost palpable excitement.
The multiple perspectives create a sense of aliveness and possibility.
Different viewpoints interest you instead of annoy you.
Dialogue -- A Jazz Improvisation Metaphor

A jazz improvisation is a good metaphor for dialogue. Each musician must build on what the others are already doing. The jazz musician can't just begin playing his favorite riff. He must listen to what others are playing, and then build on it. The result is something unique -- no one person controls the musical direction. They improvise and initiate, but always in relationship to what others are doing.

Discussion vs. Dialogue

Dialogue Contrasted With Discussion

Discussion has the same roots as "concussion" and "percussion." The Latin origin of discuss is "discutere" - to dash or shake apart. Hence, to discuss is to shake apart what others say.

In a discussion we break things down, fragment the whole, analyze the pieces, and seek to convince others of our insights. You recognize discussion by its competitive nature. If you are only listening in order to prepare your own counter-arguments, you are involved in a discussion.

Defaulting to Discussion

Often the default in business conversations, is discussion. Each side will lob its viewpoint across the table. The other will then repeat its counter-position. You have a sense of positions being smacked back and forth like a puck in a hockey game.

If your trust of the others involved diminishes along with your patience and good will, you are likely in discussion.
About the Author
The Henderson Group trains and coaches business professionals in the art of communication and presentation through our experiential methodology. Since 1990, The Henderson Group has helped Fortune 500 companies worldwide improve employee productivity and business results through the development of communication skills. You can find us online at SpeakFearlessly.net and HendersonGroup.com or Attend A Workshop
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