The Transformative Power of Dialogue: Volume 12


Table of contents

(14 chapters)

The major thesis of this chapter is that dialogue has been a critical catalyst in human cultural evolution. As used here, dialogue means disciplined, face-to-face (or virtual), intentional conversation among the members of a group or a community. I distinguish between two kinds of dialogue: generative dialogue - the interactional means to establish common ground, or a shared worldview; and strategic dialogue - the interactional means to solve a common problem, create a collective plan, redesign an existing social system, or design a new cultural order. The chapter is organized into three sections: First, I describe the function of dialogue in human cultural evolution; from the initial emergence of Cro-Magnon pre-agrarian society to today's post-industrial civilization. Next, I present a current view of dialogue and highlight its characteristics. Then, I focus on the role of dialogue in conscious, self-guided human evolution. In closing, I outline a project that highlights the central role of dialogue in conscious evolution.

Conventional wisdom locates the origins of modern dialogue in the Classical Greek polis. The legacy of classical models of dialogue offer a continuum of philosophically compelling models that draw on distinctive aspects of Classical Greek ideals. Attention turns to three schools of thought as they relate to dialogue through the work of their leading exponents, Gadamer, Dewey, and Habermas, respectively. Each supports a distinctive model of dialogue and each has particular shortcomings and inconsistencies. The intent is to give readers a better appreciation of the requirements and resources available for grounding one's particular version of dialogue and for anticipating its potential difficulties.

Drawing from a social constructionist theory and its related practices, we propose the realization of transformative dialogue, a form of dialogue that may bring conflicting communities into more viable forms of coordination. We outline a range of conversational resources stressing relational responsibility, self-expression, affirmation, coordination, reflexivity, and the co-creation of new realities. The analysis is further extended through a case study of improvisation and organizational change. There is no attempt in the present article to suggest a set of relational rules. The attempt is to generate a potentially useful vocabulary of action, rather than a set of rules for negotiating among incommensurate realities.

This paper presents three dialogic concepts developed by Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin: answerability, polyphony and heteroglossia. These concepts are interpreted in relation to organizing and management and applied to data from a case study of a large American computer manufacturer. The study permits us to use Bakhtin's ideas to formulate the links between organizational change and language. We will show, using a Bakhtinian analysis of our case, how dialogue reconstructed a group of managers' understandings of their organizational reality and their identity as an organization. The analysis presents a view of organizational change as communicative, symbolic, dynamic and layered.

This chapter examines the problematic relationship between our increasing dependence on virtual communication and our need to evoke and maintain democratic values and practices. At the root of any community is the storehouse of its common goods, and the process by which such goods are designated as common is dialogue. Dialogue is characterized by two activities — speaking and active listening — both of which involve the will of the actors to participate. This kind of dialogue becomes especially important in a democratic society when there are differences and disagreements about what constitutes the good. In a diverse and plural society, the communicative practice of dialogue then becomes a critical process for the maintenance and enrichment of the fundamental democratic bond. Failure to sustain authentic dialogue leads to social fragmentation and isolation and to the erosion of democratic community. In what ways do today's media of communication in America — television, radio, and, especially, the Internet — enhance or constrain the possibilities for the authentic communication necessary to sustain democracy?

This essay describes a methodology that enables dialogue, decision-making, and transformational leadership in complicated and contentious situations. It is founded on thirty years of research and development. A hallmark of the methodology is the formalization of its scientific foundations, its use of technology, and its constant empirical testing in the arena of practice. The essay presents guiding principles for conducting dialogue in complex situations and their implications in terms of requisite laws of Variety, Parsimony, Saliency, Meaning, the Evolution of Observations, and Autonomy in Distinction-Making. The embodiment of these six laws within a technology-supported disciplined approach to dialogue, called “technologue,” enables collaborative interaction amongst stakeholders, contributing to the emergence of a situation-specific, socially-constructed, consensual linguistic domain that enables participants to forge a social contract for designing their future.

Dialogue is a special way of thinking and talking that invites people to open a space for learning together. Its purpose is to bring out change at the source of people's thoughts and feelings rather than at the level of results their ways of thinking produce. A case study illustrates how dialogue creates “collective intelligence” — a “field” of shared meaning and energy. The chapter then outlines the basic elements of an “action theory” of dialogue: the face-to-face obstacles in the creation of the field; the four basic phases in dialogue's evolution; and a strategic map of interventions to guide future dialogic practice.

Following a distinction between verbal dialogue and socioaffective dialogue, this chapter shows how psychosocial organization is generated by the socioaffective aspects of communication. Verbal dialogue (based on language and symbols), is shown to fit with Shannon's (1949) concept of information, reduction in uncertainty, and socioaffective dialogue (based on the arousal and regulation of affective energy) to fit with Gabor's (1946) concept, minimum of uncertainty. An empirically-based theory of communication (Bradley & Pribram, 1997, 1998), that applies Gabor's concept, views the interaction between affective energy and social control as an information processing system. When optimally organized as socioaffective dialogue, the interaction gathers and communicates holographic-like descriptions of endogenous organization throughout a social unit to in-form (give shape to) collective organization. However, both verbal and socioaffective aspects of interaction are required for optimal communication-the former processes the cognitive elements, while the latter processes the configural aspects of social life.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Public Policy Analysis and Management
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN