On Dialogue

I’m reading Bill Isaacs’ Dialogue for about the fourth time. And I’m probably getting more out of this reading than the previous three.

It’s a densely written, thought provoking book that attempts to describe some of the practices that contribute to more profound conversations. It’s tricky because getting to a space of deep conversation is not something you achieve by following a formula. As Isaacs says

The method for dialogue that I describe in this book… turns out to be the kind that points you to certain experiences and abilities that, once understood, must be let go of completely in order to experience things for yourself.

He acknowledges the difficulty of trying to make explicit a process that is subjective and by its nature steeped in paradox but argues we need to do something to try to rescue our discourse from the banality it can easily slide into.

He suggests that in many of our conversations we are still thinking alone, rather than thinking together, and points to several of the organisational cliches about action and decision-making that keep us alone. And this remark resonates too:

Beneath the reluctance to let go of our beliefs is the fear that there will be nothing underneath – a kind of anxiety about existence itself. Perhaps we cling to our certainties because we believe this is all we may have.

I have had some experience of aiming for dialogue in groups, often using a talking stick, and have been pretty amazed at what can happen when we succeed in suspending our normal rules of engagment for conversations (interrupting; debating; arguing corners).

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