Techniques for Real Dialogue in Organisations

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Techniques for Real Dialogue in Organisations
Gerard Leigh, Business Consultant, United Kingdom

How does one get people to see the difference between advocacy and dialogue? Many conversations that take place in organisations are designed to have (or at least result in having) a winner i.e. "My argument or idea is better than yours…", or "I am more senior, therefore we'll do it my way".
I am interested in techniques that people have used to help people see the benefits of real dialogue.

Tools to Appreciate Dialogue
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Hi Gerard, when I read your question in my mind immediately the 6 Thinking Hats method came up so that is why this discussion was moved to this knowledge center.
A particular strong point of 6TH for your purpose is that in a typical workshop all participants are invited to switch perspective (orientation, point of view) collectively and simultaneously.
As a result, various perspectives can be explored in-depth, while advocacy too early on in the process is avoided.

True Dialogue for Change to Happen
srinivas, Test Manager, India
We all have backgrounds and we speak based on our earlier experiences. Maybe the tendency to lean towards our past is stronger when the structures that are followed are perceived as "good". Maybe that is the reason why the saying "culture eats structure" is relevant.
However by having associated with a right idea and making that available to context, I suppose it is possible to change the culture. For that to happen a realization with regard to an existing sorry state of affairs and potential to overcome it are needed for a real conversation to occur.

Keep Focused on the Purpose of the Dialogue?
Roland Alech, Consultant, France
My way is to keep everybody focused on "what do we try to achieve?", i.e. the desired result.
Dialogue becomes an exploration of the different possible scenarios to get these things done, and making a comparison between solutions based on probability of success versus difficulties to overcome versus constraints versus assumptions.

Tools for Crucial Dialogues
Johan Roels, Consultant, Belgium
Hi Gerard, I've written a book (in Dutch language) that encompasses all the techniques I have used in order to have successful Crucial Dialogues (in fact the title of the book). It is based on the Creative Interchange process and contains 8 basic conditions and 16 behaviors (or tools in you prefer).
In a genuine dialogue all participants are winners, although you're right to say that most conversations aren't dialogues but discussions.
One of the 16 tools is 'Advocacy & Inquiry' I've learned from Peter Senge some 20 years ago. Advocacy ain't bad, is even necessary in order to let your 'truth' been known and should be accompanied by genuine Inquiry (to find out 'the truth' of the other).
Other great tools are 'Confirmed Paraphrasing' and 'Humble Inquiry' (from the book with the same title of Ed Schein).
Here's some more info on Crucial Dialogues:
In this view a Dialogue is based on Creative Interchange and has 4 Characteristics/Phases: Communication, Appreciation, Imagination and Transformation.
Each phase has 2 Conditions:
  1. COMMUNICATION: Trust and Openness
  2. APPRECIATION: Curiosity and Tolerance for Uncertainty and Ambiguity
  3. IMAGINATION: Connectivity and Creativity
  4. TRANSFORMATION: Tenacity and Interdependence
Furthermore, each phase has 4 Behaviors/Tools:
  1. COMMUNICATION: Core Question, Advocacy&Inquiry, Non Verbal Communication and Confirmed Paraphrasing.
  2. APPRECIATION: Humble Inquiry, Finding Positives, Integrating Differences and Mental Model
  3. IMAGINATION: Reframing, Use of Analogies, Use of Metaphors and 4 Plus & 1 Wish
  4. TRANSFORMATION: Repetition & Evaluation, Feedback, Dare to Change, Process Awareness
More information on the Crucial Dialogues is here.

Conflict Between One's Role and Objective of Discourse
Bernhard Keim, Business Consultant, Germany
Modern philosophy might help on the topic. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas emphasizes that true dialog can only happen if hierarchy between participants does not matter. Otherwise the outcome of the discourse will be severely distorted.
In reality this ideal setting for a fruitful discussion, where hierarchy does not matter, is very hard to achieve. One can partially overcome this organizational bias by focusing not on the speaker but on the enterprise's objective. (e.g. "IMHO it might be a true chance for the enterprise / project… if…").
One should always keep in mind that every dialogue is extremely sensitive to the culture the speakers are embedded in. As an example: in Eastern cultures you never challenge the senior superior in a round table talk. To address his opinion directly is seen as offensive. Embarrassing people is destroying the dialogue.

Conflict Between Roles and Goals
Johan Roels, Consultant, Belgium
@Bernhard Keim: That's exactly one of the characteristics: in true dialogue there should be no hierarchal levels. So this is a real challenge for all levels in a typical organization.

Many Interesting Perspectives on Real Dialogue in Organisations
Katie Pawley MBA, Consultant, United States
This is an interesting and necessary discussion, very relevant. I have read and am considering this valuable information provided by all the participants. Thank you.

Techniques for Dialogue in Organizations
melchiorre calabrese, Manager, Italy
I think that you have all done good reflections about the topic proposed by Gerard Leigh. We can summarize everything in this statement:
Advocacy is an integral part of the dialogue. Those participating in the dialogue must be professionally mature enough to participate constructively and humbly. It is true that in (some) Eastern cultures it is not considered fine challenging the senior superior in a round table talk. But then it should be the "senior superior" to give a good example of professional maturity humbly listening to the views of all. As rightly says Johan Roels, "in true dialogue there should be no hierarchical levels".
Of course, only if all the participants feel free to express their ideas the dialogue is really productive and useful for the purposes of the meeting. To better achieve the purposes of any very relevant table talk I usually write the purpose of the meeting, any necessary data and information on an overhead projector, visible to anyone during the meeting.


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