How to initiate effective dialogue?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on

Photo by Toa Heftiba on

Leaders who listen achieve breakthroughs. What about you? How’s your listening? More importantly, how is your dialogue?What is dialogue?
Dialogue happens when you can explore an issue or opportunity with others, sharing and considering observations and data, raising and testing assumptions, creating new ideas out of the interactions. It is two-way interchange. Another way of describing it is sharing perspectives.

Karl Weick (an organisational theorist) discovered that sharing perspectives and experience are important vehicles for “sensemaking”.  Sensemaking reduces the risk of catastrophe. Many people agree with this as a premise. However, few are able to facilitate it.

How to foster dialogue
There are strategies to use to help foster dialogue and sensemaking. The essence is to ” break the cycle of predictable, ineffective communication, replacing it with fresh thinking and actionable solutions” (Doty, 2016). The strategy is to ask the unexpected and wait for an answer. Suggested ways of doing this are listed below.

Slow down Be present and available for people to come to you with information, questions and ideas.

Create a safe space Set a comfortable informal tone. Model openness through honesty, sharing your own questions, doubts and ideas. Be alert for triggers and reactions. Be curious and encourage curiosity in others. Notice and explore your own assumptions.

Ask inviting questions Questions can focus a conversation AND maintain creativity. Fashion questions to elicit broader responses – open versus closed questions. Frame questions for broad scope answers rather than posing them for limited responses. 

Listen – willing to be influenced Notice how much you listen. It is an important part of communication. Consciously make time to listen with an open mind. This encourages others to share their ideas, questions and needs. As you consider the ideas of others, you can adjust (or reframe) your own view of the world.

Use reflection to deepen learning It is important to take a moment to reflect on what you have heard.  You can facilitate this with questions of others eg “what is working?” and “how could the group engage more effectively?” It might also be something like “Is there anything missing that would make a difference or make it easier for people to contribute?”

Summarise and ask for commitment It is very important to recap what has been covered. This includes where you are and what is still needed . There are also times where asking for commitment to next steps is important.

The importance of openness in dialogue
Demonstrating a willingness to consider the ideas of others, and really reflect on them and discuss their applicability can be very effective. Not only are you paying someone the compliment of listening to them, you are conveying the importance of their ideas as being worth consideration. Even if initial ideas do not yield the outcomes you need, your encouragement may be planting the seed for future more effective and creative ones.

Do you have other strategies to share for effective dialogue?

Source: Doty, Elizabeth. 2016. Why Leaders Who Listen Achieve Breakthroughs in Strategy & Business, 21 March 2016.

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