Teaching dialogue process on the spot: A shared meaning that emerges from a group through listening, inquiry and reflection

Participants can learn about the dialogue process on the spot, with no prior preparation or introductory lecture, by following this script (which borrows from a script by Allyn Bradford (2001); see also Isaacs, W. 1999. Dialogue. NY: Currency, and a more detailed script.)  Best to allow 75 minutes for the script, check-in, and a dialogue process experience that indicates the potential of the practice.


Dialogue Process Session on facilitator fills in topic

Phase A Pass this sheet around, each person reading one paragraph of guidelines from Allyn Bradford and Peter Taylor

The Dialogue Process is an opportunity to listen—not only to the thinking of others, but also to our own thoughts and feelings that had been below the surface of our attention.

When a group does this together over a period of time, “meaning” emerges and evolves collectively through mutual understanding and acceptance of diverse points of view. In this short session, however, we cannot expect this to be the dominant experience.

The Dialogue Process works well when participants tolerate paradox and opposing views, suspend judgment and listen empathetically, and try to make their entire thought process visible, including tacit assumptions. Instead of imposing our views on others, we invite others to add new dimensions to what we are thinking, and strive to find ways to make un(der)expressed voices articulate.

In this spirit, balance advocacy—making a statement—with inquiry—seeking clarifications and understanding. In advocating do not impose your opinion, rather simply offer it as such. In inquiry seek clarification and a deeper level of understanding, not the exposure of weakness.

The Dialogue Process requires structured turn-taking. The overriding idea is to keep focused on listening well. If you’re thinking about whether you’ll get to talk next, you won’t listen well. Ditto, if you’re holding on tight to what you want to say.

Take a numbered card when you feel that you’d like a turn, but keep listening. When your turn comes, show your card, and pause. See if you have something to follow what’s being said, even if it’s not the thought you had wanted to say. You can pass.

There’s no need for questions to be answered right away. If the question relates directly to someone, they can pick it up when they next take a turn. This differs from usual conversations, but think of questions as inquiries that you’re putting into a shared space.

Try to make turn-taking administer itself so the facilitator can listen well and participate undistracted. When you finish speaking (or if you decide to pass), put your card on the stack of used cards so the person with the next card knows that they can begin. The facilitator’s role becomes simply to gently remind people to follow the guidelines.

Phase B. Check-in
Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that’s at the front for you before we go into the session proper. This need not be about the topic of the session.

Stop passing the sheet around at this point, and take turns in checking-in.

* * * * *

Facilitator reminds participants of the topic, then we move to
Phase C. Turn-taking dialogue about the topic for the time available minus 5+ minutes.

* * * * *

We keep the last 5+ minutes for

Phase D. Check-out
Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that you’re taking away to chew on after this session.


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