Dialogue Engagement Skills

Peter Garrett and Jane Ball

Dialogue Engagement Skills

Dialogue establishes what could be called ‘common sense’ amongst those who participate.  It is a mode of talking and thinking together which establishes a common understanding amongst a diverse group of a dozen or more people.  This is particularly helpful; when you are trying to understand a situation, wanting to find a common direction, keen to have everyone participate in the process, seeking clarity or trying to learn from past experience.
There are some simple skills, that are easy to learn and better with practice, that will help a group of a dozen or more people get into dialogue.

ROOM SET UP:  Setting seating in a circle is conducive to dialogue.  In a circle everyone can see everyone else, which is not the case at a board room table or lecture theatre.  Also no seat is more important than any other which implies that everyone’s contribution is equally important.

CHECK-IN:  A check-in is an invitation for each person at the very start of the meeting to say what they are thinking, feeling or wanting to tell others in the conversation.  This gets people into the room and concentrating on what they are doing, and it gets all the voices into the conversation thereby making participation in the meeting easier.  The check-in may be prompted by a question that sets a direction, and people might speak in a set sequence, whenever they choose, or being chosen by the previous speaker.

DIALOGIC MODES: All talking together is some mode or other.  The most basic form is monologue, where one speaker holds the floor.  There are 7 dominant modes, namely monologue, debate, discussion, conversation, skilful conversation, dialogue and generative dialogue.  Each mode provides a different level of engagement for a different purpose.  Choosing which mode is most helpful, and the ability to shift from one mode to another helps groupings of people to talk and think together effectively.

DIALOGIC ACTIONS: The dialogic actions are useful when a conversation is simply not working and is essentially dysfunctional.  It involves understanding and using the 4 dialogic actions in a healthy sequence and by doing so, shifting the effectiveness of the conversation.  The four actions are Move (for direction), Follow (for completion), Oppose (for correction) and Bystand (for perspective).

DIALOGIC PRACTICES: The dialogic practices are essential for a high quality exchange between participants, and using the practices will lead the group into dialogue.  Without these dialogic practices it is impossible to have a high quality conversation.  The dialogic practices are Listening (rather than being distracted), Respect (rather than violation), Suspension (rather than being certain you are right) and Voice (saying what you think or feel rather than saying what you think will go down well).

CHECK-OUT: This is the invitation, at the very close of a meeting, for each person to say how they think the meeting went.  The check-out may be prompted by a question, and it may cover observations, note d actions, suggestions for doing things differently next time, outstanding issues to be discussed and so on.

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