Dialogue as a means of changing culture

[D]ialogue is a relationship-based approach that entails thinking and learning together. The starting point is listening in an agenda free conversation. It is a different space than any other; a chance for conversations that are not always possible because of fragmentation and potentially unhelpful barriers to communication, for example, the absence of respect, poor listening and difficulties associated with giving and receiving feedback.

Dialogue sessions provide opportunities for participants’ voices to be heard; for sharing ideas about how a team or organisation operates and how people behave. Dialogue works at many levels, from the individual, through the interpersonal to the organisational and systemic; it affects conversations and relationships beyond the sessions in untold ways. Dialogues provide a place to explore how things occur and how they might happen differently. It is here that cultural change can begin through working closely together to raise, explore and resolve real, live and pressing issues of concern.

A Dialogic approach can seem stripped back in many different ways. It may appear lacking in structure, form and process. Rather, it is emergent and evolutionary. It requires us to be in a space of ‘not knowing’ where curiosity is paramount, a space where we can suspend our judgments of others so that we can truly listen and learn from one another.

A dialogue space transcends hierarchy, there is no single leader, all are participating, all are learning, all are teaching. Extraordinary things can happen in a dialogue space that no one previously thought possible. It is a rare and hallowed space in which the experience of silence takes on a wholly different tone and feeling. There is a collective ‘sitting with’ phenomena as they arise, not forcing or driving issues to the surface.

It may seem incredulous that something so stripped back, apparently so simple could really provide a mechanism for changing culture. Yet, it is possible, it really is! And never more so, than when it is fully integrated into other approaches and change processes. Somehow it is easy to forget the ancient practice of sitting together in a simple circle joined together in harnessing the collective intelligence that resides in all human systems. This is a call out to remember the power of thinking and talking together as part of any change effort we are involved in. Simply create a circle of chairs, gather people together and open up the possibility for some agenda free conversation to see what might emerge.