Dialog as a Radical Act


If you have ever attended a professional classical or jazz music concert and really listened to the music, you know what a dialog can be like. The music has an ebb and flow that is beautiful to listen to. The musicians must stay close to the music, listening carefully for their cues. When each note is played, it is in keeping with the rhythm and the context of notes that come before it and bridges the way for the notes that follow. There are nuances and changes in the musical language that give special meaning to the listener. So it is with a form of conversation called dialog.

Dialog also has an ebb and flow and it requires the need to stay close to the words, inflection and tone of the conversation. There is a rhythm and ease in the language and interaction. Many of you may have experienced a dialog that created the kind of flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Dialog is a rare event in our modern organizations. Most often when we are speaking face to face with someone, it is a one-way conversation reminiscent of staccato in certain types of music: detached, abrupt, disjointed and disconnected.

It is radical

Dialog has an important place in your leadership. It can create the space where the important things that have been left unsaid get expressed. It’s the foundation for leading at a higher level than you’ve led before. It creates, solidifies, and sustains the relationships you need to support greatness in your organization.

However, dialog in the workplace is a radical act because:

It requires you to slow down, going against the pace of your work life.

It requires personal courage to avoid the tyranny of the urgent and the daily distractions you face.

It takes your undivided attention and your presence.

It isn’t considered of value and it isn’t rewarded in most organizations.

Dialog requires skill

Many of us aren’t hard-wired for dialog. It requires practice and skill development. William Isaacs, who wrote a lovely book called “Dialog and the Art of Thinking Together” says that in dialog, people are not only speaking together, they are creating together. According to Isaacs, in order to speak and create together, you must:

Listen to yourself and others without resistance and imposition;

Respect the integrity of another’s position;

Suspend your assumptions and judgment;

Speak the truth of what you really think.

We all know that we need more of these things from the leaders in our organizations. Practice them. Start the dialog that needs to occur in your organization and watch music happen.

What’s one small step you can take to start a dialog today?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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