Engage - Claremont Lincoln University

Dialogue: An Alternative to Destruction

Last week in the United States, millions of people waited anxiously for the Senate vote on the future of healthcare in the United States, one of the most important domestic issues in recent years. And ultimately, that vote came to pass. While millions were able to sigh in relief and others in disappointment, the nation’s leader, President Donald Trump, took to Twitter to make a brief statement of his own opinion on the outcome.

“3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”

What I took away most from this particular statement lies in President Trump’s three-word sentiment: “Let Obamacare implode.”  This comment suggests that President Trump would allow a national initiative (access to affordable health care) to fail regardless of the harm to the citizenry.  Surely we have more options than this one.

Oh, but perhaps we are not looking for options.  The goal is to win – no matter the cost.  This is not the way tough problems are resolved nor the path to good policy.  Destruction with a punitive void only causes people to dig into their positions making it even harder to reach a workable resolution.  There is an alternative to destruction – it is dialogue.

Dialogue is conversation characterized by a balance between advocacy and inquiry, in which understanding multiple perspectives is the goal.  Dialogue has a proven track record.  It has been used effectively in Northern Ireland, South Africa and by Johnson & Johnson.  But like most processes that work – it takes both a mindset and a skillset.

Dialogue is conversation characterized by a balance between advocacy and inquiry. Click To Tweet

The mindset is one of possibility –  dwelling in the question: “what could we achieve if we worked together?”  There is an openness to new ideas; a willingness to explore, rather than reject.  There is an assumption that the others in the conversation are of good will and capacity and willing to stay the course to an innovative outcome.  Dialogue is absent of ridicule, blame and disparagement.  Most importantly, it is absent of judgement.  The purpose of dialogue is to explore not to decide – decision comes after exploration.

The purpose of dialogue is to explore, not to decide. Click To Tweet

The skillset is tough.  Dialogue requires many skills but three are key:  listening, crafting questions that draw out useful information and creating an empty space for a new idea. 

How hard can listening be?  Don’t we do it all the time?  Often we hear; seldom do we listen.  We hear so we can reply with our own ideas.  We hear so we can refute the thoughts of the other.  We hear so we can blame about past missteps and errors.  These actions lead to argument not to dialogue.  What if we listened to learn new ideas – without judgement?  What if we listened to be able to build and improve on an idea?  What if we listened to build relationships by acknowledging a good idea? If not an entire idea, then perhaps the bits and pieces that can come together as an option.  What could we achieve if we listened together?

Asking questions is a good thing, right?  Well, not always.  It depends on the question.  There are dirty questions – “do you always keep your desk so messy?” There are challenging questions – “how can it possibly cost that much?”  Neither of these questions will get you useful information though they might get you a nasty response.  Dialogue requires one to master the art of the open, exploratory question.  An open, exploratory question is one without a challenge and cannot be answer with a one word answer.  An open, exploratory question might be…

  • Could you walk me through your thought process on this?
  • This is not the way I see it, could you help me understand your view?
  • How do you think the recipients would see it?

And finally, based on listening and asking exploratory questions, dialogue generates options. Dialogue is not just conversation but conversation meant to resolve a complex issue.

Dialogue is not just conversation, but it's conversation meant to resolve a complex issue. Click To Tweet

Options are proposals for action but like listening and asking there is a skill to making proposals.  You can give an order: “Okay, this is what I want you to do.” Or you could just be vague: “Think about this and we will decide later.”

It is unlikely that either will result in action.  From dialogue there are several options around proposals:  “what would you think if we did this?” or “here is an idea, can anyone add to that?” or “what if we did…” or “what else could we do”.  The goal of a proposal in dialogue is to bring the best of the ideas together to create choice.  Rarely is there only one way to do things; creativity comes with “what if”.

So the end of the story is that we do not need to destroy.  We have the capacity to design.  We just need the mindset and the skillset.  Imagine what we could do if we all worked together!

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

Dr. Eileen Aranda is President of Claremont Lincoln University. Dr. Aranda spent many years as a management consultant focused on facilitation of the strategic management process, development and implementation of organization change efforts, assessment and mediation of internal organization problems and management team development. She holds an MBA and Ph.D. with an emphasis in strategic management and organizational development from University of Washington and is co-author of Teams: Structure, Process, Culture, and Politics (Prentice Hall, 1998).

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

1 comment

  • I enjoyed reading this article. My local city council is at a standstill concerning a difficult and controversial decision. I don’t know how I would make it. Dialogue has already taken place. However, because of the controversial nature of the decision, it has caused division in the community. I see where some of the points in the article may help remove some of the divisiveness. However, beliefs and assumptions are involved too. Good luck Mayor.

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

Dr. Eileen Aranda is President of Claremont Lincoln University. Dr. Aranda spent many years as a management consultant focused on facilitation of the strategic management process, development and implementation of organization change efforts, assessment and mediation of internal organization problems and management team development. She holds an MBA and Ph.D. with an emphasis in strategic management and organizational development from University of Washington and is co-author of Teams: Structure, Process, Culture, and Politics (Prentice Hall, 1998).

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