What We've Found
For a group
that wants to explore its own consensus
process in depth and to bring out the maximum of group creativity, dialogue is
an excellent vehicle. It is a great way of going to the heart of the matter, but
not quickly. This technique requires time and a contemplative attitude within a
group. While it's certainly not for everyone, if there is the right mix of
people and a trained facilitator, we have seen groups take conversations to
completely new levels and develop ideas that would have never been
Just the Facts
In the 1970's David Bohm, a physicist, and Patrick de Mare, a psychiatrist,
brought to prominence a traditional meeting format referred to as "dialogue." It
is a means of communicating in great depth and sincerity among a group of
individuals who share a common interest in knowing more about themselves, their
potentials together, and where their mutual creativity might lead. Dialogue is
not discussion or a debate of issues. It requires participants to be open and
step back from rigidly held opinions.
Dialogue can be used for any subject. When a group meets, there are no
agendas, imposed outcomes or objectives.
In the beginning there are sometimes frustrations with this technique. One
reason is that dialogue is based on slowing down the thought process of a group
in order examine it. To do that, dialogue puts an emphasis on silence. Groups
are encouraged to repeatedly stop talking and pause for reflection. From this
contemplative silence new thoughts are generated. It takes time and practice to
improve this technique.
Key principles of dialogue:
- Suspension: the willingness and act of putting any and all personal ideas,
opinions, judgments, impulses, etc. before the group to consider.
- Speaking: giving voice to the deeper feelings associated with a topic in a
responsible manner; a willingness to join the group in verbal exploration.
hearing what others and yourself have said.
- Inquiry: openness to explore the origin, meaning and consequences of topics,
actions, positions that are 'suspended' before the group.
- Respect: willingness to hear and understand the positions of others and to
assist them and the group as a whole in the overall process.
How To Do It
1. Set up
Invite anywhere between a minimum of seven and a
maximum of 40 participants. More people will mean a greater diversity of
thought. Let them know ahead of time, either through written materials or verbal
explanations, what the meeting will entail and that this will likely be only the
first of a number of such meetings. The meeting should last approximately two
hours. Find an experienced facilitator to assist the group or at least to advise
you on getting started. Have chairs arranged in a circle to emphasize equality
of all participants, as well as openness to any and all
contributions.2. Describe the ground rules
participants at the beginning of the meeting about what dialogue is and is not.
All individual titles, labels, hierarchy must be set-aside during the gathering
in order for dialogue to work effectively. Everyone must feel free to speak her
or his mind openly and honestly, and likewise to be silent and reflective.
Finally, remind everyone that there is no pre-set agenda or objective other than
the exploration of the group awareness itself, in the anticipation of group
coherence and creativity.3. Launch a topic
Either have the group choose a topic from a pre-determined list or open the
floor for a suggestion. Participants are asked to reflect on the topic and begin
commenting on it. If necessary, remind participants to refrain from speaking
directly to the one who proposed the topic or who just offered an opinion; this
is not a debate and no one should feel he or she has to defend himself or
A new topic may be proposed at any time, but the group must agree that it
is ready to depart from the former topic.4. Lead from
The task of the facilitator is to witness and ensure the open flow of
thought and the development of the maximum opportunity for creativity. Use
meeting techniques such as eliciting participation from each person, steering
control and manipulation away from one or a few participants, encouraging mutual
While dialogue flows back and forth, the facilitator may want to offer
observations of the group thought process and consensus and offer guidance. For
example, if a discussion or debate is emerging, or if polarization is causing
rigid positions and cutting off effective exploration, gently bring the group
back to its shared sensibilities. Remind participants they need to
"dis-identify" with opinions, ideas, and positions and to let go of ego
attachments. The facilitator, or anyone in the group, can encourage the
participants to take risks, to be spontaneous, and open, and to explore beyond
what they might be accustomed to in other types of groups or
5. Wrap it up
It is up to the facilitator
who is observing the time and the energy of the group to suggest an ending
point. At this point the facilitator may then summarize the ideas and topics
explored during the meeting or decide not to suggest any conclusions. Set a
meeting time and place for the next gathering and adjourn. Notes taken during
the meeting may be distributed but this is not a requirement.
A flow of thinking
and conversing among individuals in a group.
Use It If...
Forget It If...
- You have a longer time frame that can incorporate multiple meetings and an
- You are interested in exploring group dynamics and in enhancing the quality
of everyone's involvement with one another.
- You want to enhance general creativity among a specific group of people.
- You have a limited time schedule with deadlines fast approaching.
- Your group wants to work solely with established agendas, goals, objectives,
specific outcomes, and pragmatic expectations.
- You know the participants are not of a philosophical temperament or the
situation is not conducive to a contemplative approach.
Timing is Everything
can be used at any point during the planning process. A group's ongoing dialogue
may be what launches a project or spurs further actions after a project has