How Daring to Dialogue Creates a Culture of Agility in Leadership (Part 1)
Have you ever experienced a time where you thought you were going to have a conversation, but instead you just got yelled at?
Have you ever thought you were going to have a conversation, but it ended up that one person spoke for the entire time and you didn’t get a word in?
Of course, you have. We all have.
And if we’re really honest, there are times when we have been the offender, rather than the victim of those. It makes sense, we’re working at a faster pace than ever in a time of constant change and it doesn’t always occur to us to be intentional about our conversation.
In fact, Playwright, George Bernard Shaw summed it up pretty well when he said,
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
A lot of times, we think we are communicating when we are really doing something else.
As an executive coach and team coach, and the author of The Art & Science of Facilitation, I work with leadership teams who are wrestling with big challenges that are getting in the way of the results that they really want.
In this three-part series, I will share some practical and actionable ways that you can bring more dialogue into your conversations. We’re going to look at what kind of conversations you have, when you suspend, and when you defend, and four actions that are required in all conversations.
In this first article, we are going to name and identify the types of conversations we have.
The Monologue: A Type of Conversation
Let’s look metaphorically at the kinds of conversations we engage in, and this comes from the work of William Issacs.
The first kind is monologue and monologue is a single voice, it’s turn-taking. I’ll say everything that I’m going to say, and then you can go.
It’s a monologue, it’s a download.
Comedians do monologues at the start of their sets, like Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show. Monologues are effective for getting a bunch of information out and setting the stage.
The Debate: A Type of Conversation
The next kind of conversation is debate, and it’s a beating down of the other. It’s probably the least effective mode of conversation.
This is advocacy for your point of view over others, and there will be a winner and a loser. In debate, I’m holding really strongly to my point of view. Unwilling to be swayed, my only job is to persuade or convince others of my way of thinking.
Debate can be very effective for highlighting the issues and really understanding the differences between two points of view.
However, when overused, which is often, debate can be quite toxic. Why? Missing form this conversation is inquiry.
For an example of debate, we can look at the political system here in the US. Political candidates often debate topics. And the mindset here is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to look at something.
On a smaller scale, debate can happen anytime there’s a decision to be made.
A common debate in my household is deciding what’s for dinner. This is my most dreaded conversation of each day. Either everybody wants something different and they’re advocating for what they want, or nobody has an answer at all. But if everybody wants something different and is unwilling to be persuaded, then we’re stuck. And deciding what’s for dinner at the end of the day is draining.
The Discussion: A Type of Conversation
The next kind of conversation is discussion and this word gets used a lot, usually with the intention of having a skillful conversation, which we’ll talk about in a moment, but it’s actually something a bit different.
Discussion is actually the kind of conversation that is set up for people to defend their points of view, but just in a more conversational way than we might think of as organized debate.
In fact, discussion means to “break apart”. And it’s certainly not a toxic back and forth, in the way that debate can be, but it can feel a little bit like table tennis, lobbing the ball back and forth.
Think about a time when you walked into a meeting and sat across the table from someone else and thought of yourself as separate from them and their issues.
A common example of a discussion (in Agile) is between a product owner and an architect. They’re working towards the goal of producing a product together, but they can often get stuck in thinking about their world or perspective that they bring. Thus think about end users versus technical design, and then the conversation can feel very broken apart in their different realms.
How Skillful Conversations Work!
Now, let’s circle back to the idea of skillful conversation and what people are often thinking when they use the word discussion.
In skillful conversation, we shift from thinking about sides to take and begin to look at the conversation itself as creating something. A bit like plowing the field where we’re digging under the surface, and this is where inquiry lives, and here the goal is to stay with something long enough to understand the thinking behind it.
In skillful conversation, we begin to shift from seeing just our differences to also seeing commonality, and this is where dialogue comes in.
Dare to Dialogue!
Dialogue, this last part is the art of creating a shared pool of meaning, and it’s a conversation with outsides. Only the idea of being curious and inquiring into differences and other perspectives. It’s the space where new thinking and new ideas happen.
In dialogue, like in debate, you can have a perspective, but your viewpoint doesn’t guide the conversation. In fact, in dialogue you suspend your point of view, not only to hear the others’ perspective, but to ask them more about it.
This is the space of curiosity and inquiry and listening without resistance, because this is where new thinking and innovation live.
The Gift That Dialogue Brings
When conversations bring new thinking and new insights and a view that we can do it, we can do this together, this is the gift that dialogue brings, and it takes a lot of courage to create.
The kinds of conversations we engage in are
- Skillful conversation
Each of these has a place and a time, and we need to know how to do each of them. Most of us are brilliant at monologue, debate, and discussion. We do them well. We’ve had years of practice.
In part two of this series, I will take you through examples of all five of these types of conversations, while part three will solely focus on dialogue.
If you’d rather take 30 minutes and watch Marsha present, click here to watch a video!