How to Engage in Greater Dialogue and Less Shouting

November 30, 2015


Twelve times during his address to Congress on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis used the word “dialogue.” For example: “I want to take this opportunity to dialogue…”; “I would like to enter into dialogue…”; and “resume the path of dialogue…”

What is a good dialogue? It’s the give and take of information and ideas – and it’s central to conflict management and resolution. There are a number of skills and techniques that you have to employ to assure you’re having a good dialogue:  All are critical communication skills.

Let’s start with listening. It’s probably the most misunderstood communication skill we use. Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk – i.e., thinking about what you are going to say next while the other person is talking. With this approach, we aren’t HEARING what is being said, so odds are our response doesn’t move the communication process forward. Effective listening includes:

  • Active listening – the deliberate effort to understand what the other person’s message is from his/her point of view.
  • Reflective listening – listening for content and emotions to show empathy, understanding, and acceptance.
  • Appreciative listening – listening to enjoy the experience of what the other person has to share.
  • Discerning listening – listening to gather information and get the complete picture.
  • Evaluative listening – listening to move to action and fix the situation.

Effective dialogue involves the free flow of relevant information – where people are openly and honestly expressing their opinions, sharing their feelings, and articulating their theories willingly, even when their ideas are controversial or unpopular. It’s a two-way exchange of information and ideas. People involved have to be aware of what’s happening and what’s being said. The following can help with meaningful dialogue:

  • Attending skills are very helpful in establishing ease. This puts everyone on an even level. Attending skills convey acknowledgment, and acknowledgment is recognition – it is the essential element of respect. However, acknowledgment by the other person doesn’t necessarily signal that they are in agreement with you.
  • Encouraging skills, which should be used when you have a need for the other person to elaborate on his/her thoughts or feelings.
  • Clarifying skills, which should be used when you are unsure what the other person is saying, and you want to reduce ambiguity and establish clarity.
  • Reflecting skills, which allow you to restate, in your own words, what the other person is saying.

If one of the objectives of your dialogue is to get good information from someone else, you can do so by varying the types of questions you ask:

  • Open-ended questions provide an opportunity for the other person to tell it in his/her own words. They often give the greatest amount of information.
  • Closed-ended questions invite limited answers. They are useful to obtain specific information or to clarify facts. You may need to use them to keep the discussion focused and on track.
  • Reflective questions provide an opportunity to clarify information previously stated. They are helpful if information appears to be conflicting, or if the other person appears to be uncertain or hesitant.
  • Factual questions seek specific and targeted information. They are helpful in separating facts from assumptions.
  • Opinion-based questions provide the other person with an opportunity to clarify his/her beliefs, attitudes, and/or opinions. They are useful in distinguishing first- from second-hand knowledge.
  • Descriptive questions provide an opportunity to describe the events or give a narrative account
  • Feeling or emotive questions provide the other person the opportunity to describe his/her feelings.

Since dialogue is a two-way exchange, you want to give good information as well. When you give information, you want it to be relevant, precise, and accurate. You want to ensure that the other person receives the information you intend for them to have. Beware of providing too much information at one time. It could be overwhelming.

Be specific and provide details. Ask yourself, “What information do I have that the other person needs?” Lack of specificity causes problems because people are not mind readers. Be honest and positive rather than negative. We hear and remember positive words better than negative words and the listener is more likely to remember what you said. Be accurate and check your facts.

It is important to encourage reactions and suggestions. Allow the other party to provide input and suggestions. Allow the other person to state his or her point of view without arguing or becoming defensive. Listen to learn. Be prepared to adjust your viewpoints, if necessary. As you work to create a two-way exchange of information, stay flexible about who asks the questions and who states concerns or provides information first.

Recognize that silence allows time to reflect and think about the information you’ve already received and to frame additional questions. Don’t interpret it as a negative. Hear silence as its intended.

Great dialogue leads to effective conversations. Effective conversations have balance, maintain confidence and self-esteem, and build trust, integrity, and constructive relationships. These are goals that all leaders should embrace. Greater dialogue and less shouting moves conflict away from positions and toward common, mutual interests.

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Using the right communication tools is essential for a conflict free work environment. Learn more about the power of great dialogue with these AMA resources and seminars:

About The Author

Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR and Barbara Mitchell are co-authors of THE ESSENTIAL WORKPLACE CONFLICT HANDBOOK: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager, Team Leader, HR Professional, or Anyone Who Wants to Resolve Disputes and Increase Productivity (Career Press, September 2015).

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