There has been a disturbing trend emerging over the past months, and especially in the past several weeks that, I believe, fundamentally undermines our ability to act in a humane manner – the ability to communicate and discuss our differences. We don’t talk and listen, we just talk, with underlying agendas and a “I’m right and your wrong” undertone that works only to increase hostility and misunderstanding.
It has to stop.
We have to be able to talk about areas of our lives (and the state of our country) without fear of persecution, without trying to convince someone we know better, without harboring anger, grudges and/or guilt that always presents itself, whether we want it to or not, whether we realize it or not.
I’m not talking about just talking – lots of people do that. I’m talking about having a conversation – not a ‘me vs. you’ or ‘my side vs. your side’ exchange – that’s no different than lobbing ‘word-bombs’ at each other, looking for a way to spin the conversation to meet our own (often selfish and definitely self-centered) needs.
I’m talking about having a dialogue. Websters defines dialogue as “
I’m going to modify that a bit; I’m going to suggest that dialogue is a particular form of communication in which we listen deeply and respond authentically, building on awareness to collectively foster an emerging new awareness. If that’s a little too ‘new-agey’ for you, how about this – a dialogue involves coming together to discuss our views, not with the intent to prove something, but with the intent to learn something and broaden our own awareness.
If we can agree that this is a worthwhile goal – to engage in a dialogue – then we need some ground rules on how to do it.
The following ten rules were developed by Peter Winchell in his book Rules of the Dialogue Game and provide a useful framework for entering into a dialogue.
Rule 1: It’s a Time-Out. We consciously decide to create a safe space for our conversation outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday activity. In other words, don’t try and have an in-depth conversation with someone while your doing something else.
Rule 2: No Right or Wrong Answers. No judgments in dialogue. No winners or losers. No interrogations, only inquires. Open exploration of thoughts are welcome. Just because someone doesn’t believe or view something the same as you doesn’t mean their wrong; it does mean that you likely don’t understand where they are coming from and owe it to yourself to find out more.
Rule 3: Make No Decisions. Pure dialogue is not aimed at any outcome other than thinking together and building understanding. While we can use dialogue to lead to informed, collaborative decisions, in itself it is designed to be open-ended, not goal-oriented. At the end of a conversation, you don’t have to reach a consensus or agree; in fact, most things, if they are worth talking about, will deserve ongoing conversations.
Rule 4: You May Pass. You can ask any questions you like. And you can choose not to speak. This isn’t an interrogation. You can ask tough questions, but do so in the spirit of understanding another’s viewpoint, not to make a point. Keep in mind, any questions you ask, you should be prepared to answer.
Rule 5: Think in New Ways. Explore. Take risks. Be flexible. Talking with people that don’t think like you is one of the few opportunities you have for genuine growth and learning; don’t fret it away so you can feel ‘right’.
Rule 6: Ask Interesting Questions. Ask open-ended questions that elicit thoughtful answers, rather than questions that call for a ‘yes or no’ answer. Ask authentic questions – ones you care about the answer to.
Rule 7: Maximize Cohesion. Ask questions and make comments that draw others into the conversation. Synthesize understanding to elevate the group mind. Draw out what each participant has to offer. If you’ve taken the time to engage a person or a group in conversation, do your best to gather as much information from them as they care to share.
Rule 8: Honor Diversity. Embrace the richness of diversity and look for the synergies resulting from unique combinations. See Rule 5 above.
Rule 9: Treat Each Other as Colleagues. Convene as friends in conversation, as equals among equals. Respect and challenge each other to call out the best in each other. Distinguish thoughts from people. At the end of a conversation, you can disagree and not be angry or resentful. People can have different beliefs than us – it’s okay.
Rule 10: Everyone Wins. Through dialogue we all win as we express new aspects of ourselves, make new connections with each other, learn from each other and co-create new meaning in a safe, enjoyable, and productive way. A conversation should deepen understanding and inspire everyone to learn and be better.
We need to have more dialogues – more conversations with people, not keyboards (if at all possible) so we can grow together rather than feed the frenzy of sound-bites, one-upness and drama that is drowning our humanity and making our world a less-safe (and a whole lot less fun) place to be. A conversation brings people together; a dialogue let’s them learn from one another.