Dialogue professionals think of dialogue as a process, and to a large extent theyâ€™re right. Process plays a big role in bringing people together and helping them reach across divides.
Still, I tend to define dialogue more broadly. Besides the scheduled conversations and formal meetings, dialogue is something that can happen anytime, anywhere, even without warningâ€”a spontaneous event and a response from the heart.
Earlier this week I wrote something for a CEO. I knew I hadnâ€™t nailed it: his ideas were all there, but his voice didnâ€™t come through as it shouldâ€”even though the text was nearly verbatim from my last interview with him. I was at a dead end, so I sent it to my contact at the CEOâ€™s company for her feedback.
She saw the problem too, and responded with input that I never would have come up with. Her specific edits may or may not make the final piece, but in some ways it doesnâ€™t matter (just as it doesnâ€™t matter whether my bon mots make the cut). More important, her insights sparked a new point of view that helped me get back on track.
To make the final text the best it could be, I needed her.
That, to me, is dialogue, just as much as processes like Open Space or World CafÃ© or Appreciative Inquiry. The give-and-take lifted me out of my own one-personâ€™s perspectiveâ€”one perspective among billionsâ€”and helped me see things in a different light.Â
And this is why I believe dialogue as a habit of the heart is so essential. If we cultivate the inner attitudes that facilitate dialogueâ€”openness, humility, a passion for truth seeking, a willingness to riskâ€”we will be ready for these chance encounters. We will naturally respond with an open spirit and a listening ear, no matter what comes our way.
This is even more important when it comes to our adversaries, because they set off the automatic fight-or-flight response within us. As we cultivate â€œthe spirit of dialogueâ€ within ourselves, we will notice that response replaced with something else: curiosity. â€œHow dare you believe that?â€ is replaced with â€œHow did you come to that?â€ â€œI donâ€™t want to discuss itâ€ yields to â€œTell me your thinking.â€
When was the last time you experienced everyday dialogue like this? What did you learn? How did it make you feel? Feel free to share your thoughts.