I was retained by a team that had been in conflict for – by their reckoning – about ten years. They were so skeptical of conflict management and reluctant to discuss their issues that I suggested we try Dialogue instead of trying for resolution. Despite their unwillingness and half-hearted engagement, they gave it a try. At the session’s conclusion, they expressed disappointment that Dialogue was just talk when they needed magic.
There are many conflict management processes
Four days later, I phoned to check in. The team lead reported with surprised delight that the team experienced its calmest week in years. They’d resisted settling their differences, and – without an agreement – the workplace was peaceful. What changed in less than a week:There are many possible good outcomes
It was reasonable that after a decade of tension they all wanted the conflict to end. They’d lived their conflict story for so long that it was hard for them to Dialogue (a process) about their values, rather than dialogue (talk) about their well known dislikes and disagreements.
Unknown to them, even where their values diverged, they listened to each other during the Dialogue process, and now related to each other at a richer level.
There’s dialogue, and there’s Dialogue
Capital ‘D’ Dialogue is a method for giving a structure to talking. Dialogue isn’t structured the way mediation is.
Dialogue isn’t about an issues list, agenda, interests under the positions, staged model, and settlement. After the introduction and initial question: ‘what’s important to you’, I’m mostly silent. When the group tries to problem solve, blame, revert to task orientation or discuss specific disagreements, I gently bring them back to discussing their values, what they stand for, and what they cherish.
Much has been written about how Dialogue differs from debate, discussion and mediation. Few use it. That makes sense at a human level. Getting signed Terms of Agreement is more immediately satisfying for both mediator and parties.
To hear Dialogue unfold in real-time is a wondrous experience. But, it does mean letting go of control, agendas, judgments, staged models, and problem solving; in short, of all the things we’re paid to do to get things done efficiently in the time allotted.
The best example of Dialogue available for watching
The brilliant movie, 12 Angry Men, is named on almost all Best Of the Silver Screen Lists of the past 100 years. In it, Henry Fonda plays juror number 8. He is the only one of twelve jurors who wants to consider the evidence before finding the accused guilty.
The summary of the movie is often: “A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050083/
This not really correct. #8 doesn’t convince anyone of anything. We’re so unaccustomed to Dialogue that we see argumentation and persuasion and convincing when it isn’t there. In true Dialogue form, over the course of about 90 minutes, Juror 8 listens, asks questions and listens more.
#8 asks the other jurors to consider the evidence. He asks if they’re certain. He questions their beliefs, values and what’s important to them. He inquires if the evidence guides them to where they want to go or if they’re making it fit where they already are. It’s Dialogue shining in its brilliance. And we barely recognize Dialogue enough to accurately summarize what the movie is about.
David Bohm’s Proposal for Dialogue is found on various sites on the Internet. It’s a different way of talking. It’s worth shaking the dust off the Dialogue model in our communications toolbox to give it a try.