heart of the art

Dialogue- Isaacs

The Dialogue model was developed by Bill Isaacs. The model asks that we  reconsider the ‘rules’ we use to manage our communication.

Often the typical meeting room is full of people holding a series of conversations that come preloaded with hidden paradigms of belief, expectation and personal ambition. What this means is that the communication taking place is driven by a mixture of agendas, with everyone seeking to direct and steer the conversation in ways that withhold their point of view.

This is limiting, as conversations become stalled, redirected and challenged and in these spaces creativity and exploration is unsafe. The basic premise of dialogue is simple, that is that communicating in more effective ways will enhance creativity and innovation.

And this can be done through engaging in dialogue.

The core principle of dialogue is suspension. Suspension of our internal point of view and judgement whilst listening to others. Isaacs suggests that this allows a different flow of communication to emerge, as the conversation becomes free to follow its own course, driven by nothing more than it’s own meaning and the value that it holds within..

In fact the word Dialogue has its roots in the Greek words dia and logos.  Dia means through, logos is word or meaning.

So dialogue is a flow of meaning.

However, alongside this when it is our moment to be heard, we should also be brave enough to speak from our souls, expressing those things that are important to us, rather than trying to walk the middle line of appeasement. Isaacs terms this voicing.

Engaging in dialogue also needs us to listen and respect others voices and point of view. So that’s really listening to what others are saying, valuing their view point as we would like them to value ours, and thus encouraging their free, creative thoughts to emerge. 

In order to do this we need to recognise the habitual reflex we all have to jump in with our own thoughts, judgment, questions and voice that interrupt flow, direction and creativity.

Isaacs explains that in order to engage in meaningful dialogue then places and the people within them need to create safe spaces. Isaacs calls these ‘listening containers’.

They won’t just develop by themselves or instantly. It takes time. Typically their creation goes through four stages.

Instability of the container: People are fearful and feel unsafe.

Instability in the container: As people learn to communicate differently, initially they go through a stage of ‘running’ into each other’s opinions, leading to conflict.

Inquiry in the container: Exploring the reasons behind conflict.

Creativity in the container: As the container stabilises, the space becomes safe, and it is here that true dialogue really begins to take place.

Containers are small to begin with, but over time the container naturally begins to grow as ideas and confidence develop. Therefore, over time more people become involved in meaningful dialogue, ideas and creativity spread and thus begins a movement of change.