Think about the last time you were at dinner with a group of friends and you witnessed two people trying to talk through a tough issue. How did it go?
Did they exchange opinions?
Did they genuinely listen to and consider what one another had to say?
Did they penetrate the heart of the matter?
Did they talk past each other?
Did they forge a new common understanding?
Did they listen to respond – or listen to understand?
Last week, a friend and I were having a debate in the truest sense of the word. You might have even called it combative, a quarrel, a fight, or said we were “at war.” For topics with even the most modest amount of intensity, people tend to spend their time waiting for the first opportunity to offer their own opinions, conclusions, and point of view. In some ways, the send button is stuck, and the receive button is broken. Instead of listening, people are just reloading.
Author William Isaacs puts it really well: “The problems that even the most practical organizations have – in improving their performance and in obtaining the results they desire – can be traced directly to their inability to think and talk together, particularly at critical moments.”
At the heart of people engagement and the power of strategic thinking is the practice of dialogue. The roots of the word dialogue come from the Greek words dia and logos. Dia means “through,” and logos translates to “word” or “meaning.” In short, dialogue is the flow of meaning. Dialogue is the living experience of inquiry within and between people – a way of thinking and reflecting together.
Dialogue in action works when:
- We listen respectfully to each other.
- We suspend the opinions of others and hard conclusions about the world around us.
- We bring out the intelligence of the individual and the group.
- We open up to fresh thinking about the challenges and possibilities around us.
Dialogue seeks to harness the collective intelligence of a small group of people because we are smarter together than we are alone. Creating a culture of dialogue can start with asking about and aligning on the most critical questions your team or organization must address to be successful in the future. Maybe it’s about where you need to disrupt or self-attack before competitors or customers do. Maybe it’s about freeing up critical capacity and resources. Maybe it’s about shifting focus or markets to stay ahead of your industry curve. Whatever it is in your business, the most insightful parts of the conversation are those neither party could have imagined before starting.
We need to stop talking AT people and start talking WITH them. We have loads of ideas on how you and other leaders can do this and improve the other critical blind spots you may have in our book: What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back.
You can also take 10 minutes to find out where you or your organization stacks up with this assessment. Then come back and let me know how you did!