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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Great dialogue includes listening

Good communication is the oil to a well run organizational machine. Sometimes I do well at communicating, other times I don't. It is a continual learning process.

It was pointed out to me this week that an essential tool for communication is dialogue.

What is dialogue? Dialogue is the process by which a group of people come together to pool their learning resources in a manner that cannot be accomplished individually.

A group of people practices dialogue when the members contribute to a free flow of thought, resulting in the group learning together.

This concept has been developed by MIT business professor Peter Senge.

He contrasts dialogue with discussion. Senge writes, "In a discussion, different views are presented and defended, and....may provide useful analysis of the whole situation. In dialogue different views are presented as a means toward discovering a new video. In discussion, decisions are made. In a dialogue, complex issues are explored."

The purpose of dialogue is not to "win" but to "discover".

To have good dialogue, Senge outlines the three basic conditions necessary:

1. All participants must "suspend" their assumptions while at the same time communicating their assumptions about the topic.

2. All participants must regard one another as colleagues and friends on an equal plane.

3. There must be a facilitator who guides the connect of dialogue. Most people do not know how to dialogue. They know how to discuss, argue their point. For the team members to practice dialogue, there must be someone who opens the door to dialogue and keeps that door open.

All of this is wrapped around the concept of listening.

Three rules of good communication: Listen, listen, listen.

I recently read of an office supply store the author saw a new and improved technological gadget and $400 speaker phone boasting "handset-quality" voice reproduction. The main selling point on the box was "Now you can talk and listen at the same time!"

Isn't this the problem with human interaction, that we have a tendency to try to talk and listen at the same time? Do we need technology to make the situation worse?

The primary obstacle to effective communication is our inability (or unwillingness) to listen. For many, conversation isn't about communication, it's about competition, verbally outmaneuvering the other side to win an argument. Stephen Covey says, "Many people do not listen with intent to understand. They listen with intent to reply." Of course, this kind of non-listening gets us nowhere.

The Bible tells us to be "quick to listen and slow to speak." (James 1:19) This is the key to success in relationships on both a business level and a personal level. Technological breakthroughs notwithstanding, it is impossible to listen and talk at the same time; we can do one or the other. The more we listen, and the less we speak, the more likely we are to communicate effectively.

Irving Shapiro, former chairman of DuPont, once said, "People who accomplish things do more listening than talking." In The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz said...

"Big people monopolize the listening. Small people monopolize the talking."

Our challenge today is to monopolize the listening - to be eager to hear what others are saying. In doing this we will have taken step one in breaking the communication barrier, and have great dialogue.


Teresa O. said...

I am assuming Peter Senge was being quoted here. Our organization has spent a lot of money and time investing in employees to help us learn how to become better listeners and communicators, and to provide an atmosphere for collective thinking. Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline and other books are the foundation of which we are learning to have quality relationships, quality of collective thinking, quality of collective actions, and quality of results. It all starts with quality of conversation or as referred to at work “generative conversation.” In order to have that you must be able to listen, suspend your mental models, and be open to “trying on” new thinking. It is not easy listening to someone else and automatically think of “trying on” this foreign idea. It’s harder still to listen without forming a response to something I just heard. I need to listen to the full view, and often the full dialogue, before making a judgment. The barriers come from our experiences and culture that we often are not open to new ideas. I am always trying to be a better listener and yet I feel I fail all the time. This is a great reminder for me to ponder, not only in the work place, but with all meetings and conversations.

Youth Extreme said...

It is listening with out filters. We want to filter all we hear through our life experiences and see how and where they fit into our beliefs and ideals. It is when we can't find a comfortable fit that we want to express our own thoughts and opinions. What is hard is to take the filters off and be open to the words that are spoken. Good listeners listen for intent, meaning, and purpose instead of listening for opinions, faults, and mis represnted facts. THe goal this year is to listen more, understand to a greater degree and speak less....That is going t be a huge chellenge to me..

Jon said...

It's a huge challenge to me as well...but, through experience, I've learned it is so much easier to stop talking when I have both my feet in my mouth...that usually happens when I don't listen or get competitive with the subject matter. Apologies fly after the fact but the solution has usually flown as well. I think this is a great goal for the year!

Go with God!