Is It Really Dialogue You Want?
Dialogue has become a buzzword of the modern age. In a time when we find ourselves feeling divided by the complexities of our diverse identities and disconnected from each other, despite the numerous technologies that purport to bring us closer, we search for meaningful and real human connections. Given this state of affairs, it is no wonder that so many people feel an affinity to the concept of dialogue, a practice that provides a working structure to foster these very connections and a framework to support engaging in difficult conversations. However, most of our every day interactions cannot truly be called dialogue, nor should they be. Dialogue is a specific process that can serve many positive purposes when it is implemented with forethought for the intention and readiness of the individuals or groups in conflict.
So what is dialogue?
Dialogue is an intentional conversation in which people who have different life experiences, beliefs and perspectives seek to develop deeper understanding. As a process, it is not finite, but rather an open-ended and fluid learning environment in which participants can begin to explore greater understanding; sometimes it is used to help individuals and groups in conflict. It is a process in which individuals take turns expressing themselves to educate others about their life experiences and listening to learn the perspectives of others. To this end, individuals who agree to participate in the dialogue process typically adhere to the following practices:
Participants need to be able to commit fully to the dialogue process, which can last for a couple of hours to several years. Dialogue also necessitates focused intentionality for shared understanding and ample time for all participants to be heard and understood. When all participants in the dialogue genuinely contribute and hold closely to these types of agreements, it allows a safe space to be created, which is a necessary first step for true compassion and understanding to occur. A skilled facilitator can help to provide the optimal structure and environment for dialogue to thrive.
When can a dialogue be helpful?
When is dialogue not an appropriate process?
Bringing people together to participate in a dialogue before they are ready can be dangerous and counterproductive. Dialogue is not appropriate when:
Assessing the volatility of individuals and groups in conflict is an important first step. Instead of deepening understanding of one another, individuals may end up attacking one another and defending their viewpoint at the expense of others, thereby strengthening their previously held viewpoints. This situation leads to further divisiveness which diminishes the possibility that they be willing to engage and seek resolution in the future. In short, bringing people together for dialogue before they are ready may actually perpetuate the harm and heighten the conflict that already exists!
Who can help lead a dialogue?
Trained dialogue facilitators are qualified to assist with difficult conversations. The CU Dialogue Network (CUDN) is a group of campus professionals who have gone through trainings to facilitate campus dialogues. They can also be helpful in ascertaining whether groups are ready to engage in dialogue. For further information, please contact Barbara Kulton, Co-Chair of CUDN, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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