Do You Discuss or Dialogue?

Do You Discuss or Dialogue?

It's impossible to be in business—or any group endeavor, really—without meetings. (If you find a way, let me know.)

How those meetings are run makes a world of difference to how productive they are—and how connected people feel to “the cause.”

It can be easy for a discussion to degrade into a monologue by those in charge about what they want, rather than a rich sharing of everyone's thoughts and assessments. So we focus on creating dialogue and encouraging everyone to contribute.

Over many years, we've developed a tool for creating effective meetings called the dialogue guidelines. We've found them to create a more open environment, so we share them as we can. (Feel free to download, print, and use them in your meetings.) But dialoguing is more than a communication tool. It’s a leadership tool.

We see dialogue as a process focused on achieving a specific end goal. The first step is to determine what the group sees that goal as being. Without a common goal, it's more difficult to keep everyone on the same path—and it’s much easier to sidetrack into the divergent paths to various individuals’ goals.

It's important that everyone in the meeting feels that their thoughts will be respected and listened to—else, why share? Why even pay attention? A good dialogue involves people who are open to the perspectives of all, regardless of titles ... who speak to the center and pose questions to all (not just to the most important person in the group). You never know who might have pieces to solve the puzzle.

Openness can be a challenge—brainstorming of solutions is so easily shut down by negativity. One side wins and all others lose. This is why it’s so important to abandon preconceptions, listen to one another and avoid judging ideas prematurely—these all lead people to trust the group enough to share their inspiration and to find common ground among the ideas shared. When the space is free of judgment and minds are open to understanding others’ points of view, no one has to bury his/her creativity. It’s much more productive to explore unusual ideas than to shoot them down on sight.

Be brief. Give everyone equal time. Clock people if you have to. No boring monologues. Enough said.

Let your vision of the future, that wonderful goal to be achieved, open you to creativity and imagination. Try to have fun as you solve your problem and create that future you desire.

How have you seen ideas thrive in the fertile ground of dialogue? What criteria would you add?