What is needed to call dialogue forth?

Group of leaders calling forth dialogueHaving worked with leaders and their teams for over 15 years, a crucial insight I’ve had is that the ability to foster better dialogue is a critical skill. Holding powerful meeting spaces to navigate critical business challenges and find solutions that strengthen the whole system is pivotal to better performance. In this post I share some practical suggestions about how you can create the conditions in your team that will improve problem-solving, decision-making and innovative thinking.

What do we mean by dialogue?

Bill Isaacs, one of the world’s leading authorities on dialogue, and a former colleague, writes in his seminal (1999) book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together:

“Dialogue, as I define it, is a conversation with the centre, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization in into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and correlated power of groups of people.” (p. 19)


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Talking together about big issues – Unlocking collective intelligence

Circle of leaders in dialogue unlocking collective intelligenceWhat does it take for a group of people to talk about what really matters? How can a group of leaders have more collective intelligence than the individuals present? What practical tools help leadership teams to improve their dialogue? On the eve of our next Leading Systemic Dialogue programme, I’ve been reflecting on these questions.

To agree a new strategy, articulate a compelling vision or create a new product, a deeper quality of dialogue is needed than often occurs in organisations. Creating the conditions where innovations emerge is an art – and science – that is underutilised by many leaders. It is, however, a capacity that can be learned.

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What makes a good conversation?

I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog. I’m excited to be starting a conversation with you about… conversation. I believe that talking together is central in our lives. If we improve how we converse, we enrich our lives.

HSBC Ad: A world of investments is just one conversation awayWalking down Oxford Street in central London last week, I saw an ad in the window of HSBC bank. It read: “A world of investments is just one conversation away”. It made me think how valuable a single conversation can be and how a career can change as a result of one short talk.

Some years ago, I spoke with a fellow consultant about my passion for dialogue. I was inspired by Bill Isaacs’ work, particularly his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. We often think of dialogue as between two people, but Bill had described how to create a conversation amongst 20 people so they could access their collective wisdom.

“But what’s your thinking on dialogue?” my colleague asked. “What do you have to say?”

I was so stirred by his question that I went home and sketched out some ideas. Several years later, when I received an unexpected email from the commissioning editor of Duncan Baird Publishing asking me to submit a proposal for a book on conversation, I dug out the scrappy notes that I’d tucked away. Because of that short talk years earlier, I wasn’t too overwhelmed at having to write a book proposal. Nearly a year later, when I delivered the manuscript for my book, Life-Changing Conversations, I gave thanks for the gift of that question from my colleague.

Let me know what you think

I look forward to exploring with you how we can expand our capacity to talk, even when there are tough things to say. I welcome your comments, queries and insights, and I want to hear your stories about the power of good conversation in your lives.