True dialogue is an art form. It’s more than just a chat over coffee, a lengthy email string, or a series of texts. Dialogue is a form of conversation where people genuinely try to access different mindsets, ideologies, and perspectives to enable growth. In an organization where dialogue is revered and expected, transformation starts to happen—for both the organization and its people. A culture of dialogue allows teams to uncover ideas and innovation not previously held by any of the individuals in the group. Employees can learn from one another, share ideas, and help get the best out of each other.
Much like art, dialogue takes practice. In order to build a culture of dialogue in an organization, there are specific skills that must be nurtured. While some people have a natural propensity for dialogue, these skills do not come naturally to most and need to be honed. Here are six ways to master the art of dialogue:
Voltaire, a French author and satirist, once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This perspective lies at the heart of respecting others. This can be particularly difficult to do when interacting with people who have contrasting views to our own. While respecting others does not mean that you have to agree with them, it does mean that you allow them to have their say and recognize their perspective as valid because it contributes to your understanding of the complete picture. Because this part of dialogue can be both personal and emotional, practicing it is imperative.
Profound listening comes from the desire to understand the viewpoint of someone else. It involves gradually silencing the bias-infusing voices in our heads in order to hear another’s true story. Listening means remaining silent, suppressing the natural desire to interject. You will be amazed at how much you can discern about people and their ideas if you actively listen. You can practice this anywhere and anytime—with a teammate, a superior, a customer or someone trying to sell you a product or service. The common factor in all these interactions is the genuine choice to listen with the intent to appreciate the strengths and ideologies of someone else, as opposed to your own feelings and desires.
Much like we hang our clothes on a line for them to dry, suspending means hanging our views and opinions like laundry. This allows people to look at them, question them and assist us in developing a deeper understanding of our perspectives. To suspend your assumptions and judgments illustrates a willingness to be vulnerable, and gives you the opportunity to adopt new ones. This experience is often described as true learning.
Practice Curious Inquiry and Self-Advocacy
This is the give and take of dialogue: the capacity to ask genuine questions with the right intent, and then to voice your opinion. Using open questions demonstrates curiosity, enhances trust, and allows background information to come to the surface. Experiencing all perspectives is key to truly understanding a situation. If all opinions are not shared, then a part of the picture is missing. Many people can struggle to share their views, which is why creating a safe environment is critical, as well as asking the right questions to help draw out the beliefs of others.
Challenge the Status Quo
In a culture of dialogue, everyone is considered a leader for what they bring to the table and has permission to question the status quo. Status quo thinking usually results from the need to expedite processes and to give consistency and guidelines to employees. This sometimes results in an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. The issue is that companies and their cultures are living entities that should change and evolve. New ways of doing things are healthy for the organization and also for the people who shape them. Inviting differing perspectives from throughout the organization can really lend a fresh new point-of-view.
Take Time for Thoughtful Introspection
Our fast-paced world offers little time to reflect; yet taking the time to contemplate conversation can vastly enhance your capacity to effectively dialogue. During conflict situations, having even a sliver of time to pause and think can dramatically increase the quality of communication and build camaraderie. Taking the time to dive deep into your own viewpoints, as well as the opinions of others, gives you the opportunity to return to the dialogue with a deeper understanding—and more value to contribute.
Practicing dialogue is not always easy—it takes purposeful time and effort. But these enhanced conversations are a key component of developing a culture that values and gets the best out of its employees.
Dr. Ranjit Nair is a leadership advisor and talent strategist with Price Associates. (price-associates.com) Dr. Nair is a former HR executive who helps his clients create winning, people-centric cultures. He is the author of Potluck Culture and a faculty member for The Complete Leader.