Monday, December 13, 2010

Refine Your Dialogue Skills - Some Tips and an Illustration

When people share opinions, they can discover either common ground or points of conflict. If opinions are strongly held, emotions can rise, rational discourse can break down, and the process of dialogue can degenerate into an argument. If people don’t do something to get the dialogue back on track, they can miss an opportunity to learn from each other.

In a previous post, I explained the basics of engaging in dialogue. If you didn't read that post, it's a great place to start. Below are some tips that will help you refine your dialogue skills.

Share your “left-hand column.” This term refers to what you were thinking but did not say. Verbalizing unspoken thoughts puts more information in front of everyone for consideration. If you keep your thoughts to yourself, you can end up talking around the subject and undermining opportunities to learn new ways of thinking.

Talk about what may be blocking. You may need to identify the specific areas of disagreement that are preventing you from considering each other’s thoughts. The need to be right and the need to save face can cause in impasse. Identify the real cause of the stalemate.

Discuss ways to overcome barriers. You may decide to agree to disagree. You may decide to keep trying to explore the issues and reach the most useful point of view. Or you may decide you need someone to facilitate the process.

Ask which facts, assumptions or reasoning might change an opinion. It may be necessary to go beyond what has been shared so far. You may need to explore which opinions need to be modified to achieve resolution. Ask what kind of information is needed.

Find ways to get the information. Once you realize that more information is needed, someone should take responsibility for getting it. You may also invite other knowledgeable individuals to participate in the dialogue, someone with new information or opinions unlike those expressed in the group.


: “I hear that the Johnson kid has been given the Go Green project.”

Dolly: “Yes, I heard that, too.”

Jack: “Well, that’s outrageous. I told the boss I wanted that project. I’ve been here six years. I’ve got tons more experience than he does. It’s like I was passed over! It’s not fair to give a plum project like that to a new guy.”

Dolly: “So you’re saying that project leadership should go to whomever has been here the longest?”

Jack: “Well, yeah, if he’s got the experience. I thought I was being groomed for a project like this. I’m better qualified.”

Dolly: “Are sure about that?”

Jack: “Sure, I’m sure! He’s only been here two weeks!”

Dolly: “Maybe he’s got experience you don’t know about. Do you know what he was doing before he came here?”

Jack: “No, but he looks young enough to be my son! What kind of experience could he have?”

Dolly: “So, you’re saying young people can’t have relevant experience.”

Jack: “No, it’s not impossible. But what could it possibly be?”

Dolly: “Well, I heard he was an intern at EnerTek for nearly two years, and he was working on some kind of amazing new battery. A huge chunk of Go Green depends on energy storage. Maybe he can help us grow the contract by adapting that new technology.”

Jack: “Are you sure about that?”

Dolly: “That’s what I heard. Maybe young people can have experience, too. “

Jack: “Well, I’m going to check it out. If it’s true, that changes things. I could get up to speed on the energy storage issue, but it would take time. And I don’t know about this new stuff. Maybe I reacted too quickly.”

Dolly: “Maybe. But I think it's good you're willing to check the facts before making a final judgment.”

Jack: “Hmmm.”

Listen, keep an open mind, inquire, advocate, check the facts, learn...a lot more fruitful than trying to win an argument.

Watch Meredith Bell's encouraging video on this topic!

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

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