Learn the Art of Dialogue and Have Open, Productive Conversations
—Adapted from “Learn the Art of Dialogue and Have Open, Productive Conversations,” O’Brien Group
Open and productive conversation is absolutely critical in today’s high-velocity business environment. If our conversations go nowhere, failure will quickly follow.
The problem is that most of us think we are having conversations when we really are not. We often participate in one-way conversations–essentially monologues: I tell you what I want to tell you. You tell me what you want to tell me (or you tell me what you think I want to hear so I’ll leave you alone). We excel at taking turns talking, but neither side is exploring and discovering and building on what is being said. When this happens, the promise of a new discovery or breakthrough is lost. So we aren’t solving problems and are often creating them.
There is a difference between what typically passes for conversation and true dialogue. If two people are engaged in a dialogue, at least one of them can dependably benefit from the other’s experiences. That is why it is important to learn the art of dialogue and practice it daily in all communications. To help promote the art of dialogue, you must be curious about another’s point of view and willing to:
- State your own view and ask others for their reactions
- Be wrong
- Accept that you may be unaware of certain facts
- Remain open to new information
- Change your mind
- Interpret how others are thinking and reacting and seek to understand their underlying feelings
Dialogue lets us discover more of our own intelligence and blend it with the knowledge and wisdom of others. Clear and powerful agreements can result from dialogue, whereas little worthwhile insight is likely to come from simultaneous monologues. These types of ineffective conversations can lead to a reactive cycle, in which people react instead of participate. If left unchecked, the reactive cycle can do more than kill the productivity of a conversation and even damage relationships.
A reactive cycle starts when someone says something with which you don’t agree, or may even strongly dislike. In a split second, your emotions are triggered and you may feel threatened or defensive. You react by attempting to control the situation, the person or retaliating. Doing so may trigger the other person’s emotions, causing that person to now attempt to gain control, which, in turn, causes you to react again. This back-and-forth emotional interplay—this reactive cycle—results in another unproductive conversation or meeting.
There are three steps that can be taken to break a reactive cycle:
- Identify it; where one of the parties notices the reactive cycle and literally “calls it out.”
- One or both of the parties claim their responsibility for being reactive.
- Both parties try to understand their own–and the other’s–viewpoints and emotions, and attempt to enter into a true dialogue by reframing their perspectives.
After we have named, claimed and re-framed a reactive cycle, we can engage in the type of open, honest and productive discussion needed to accomplish mutual objectives. By learning the art of dialogue we help ensure that everyone is on the same page and moving forward in the same direction.