Volume 37, April 2004: Dialogue: Thinking Together

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2004 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.” — Robert Hutchins (1899-1977)

“When men exercise their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their opinions, if they are to be called, will be the same.” — Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

“I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.” — Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

“You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.” — Plato (427-347 BC), Dialogues, Theatus

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!” — Frederick Nietzsche 1844-1900)

“The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.” — Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Creating a safe environment for dialogue and learning together.
  • Inviting diverse opinions from all strata and walks of life.
  • Demonstrating the values of free inquiry – listening, respecting, speaking the truth.
  • Shared inquiry, where judgment is suspended and deep assumptions are unearthed for examination.
  • Distributing power and leadership, providing an opportunity for all to have a voice.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Most of us who have achieved high rank are also well-educated, high-powered professionals, who are committed to excellence. We are also the toughest learners. Did we not achieve our stations through knowledge – by having the right answers when called for? We have become very good at defending our positions and deflecting blame elsewhere. There is a lot at risk, needing to be viewed as all-knowing and mistake-less. In fact, we have probably made few mistakes, therefore we have never learned from them. It is a bold step to let go of "defensive reasoning" and position your leadership as seeking the answers, rather than having them. For this reason, this issue is devoted to a different way of thinking together – dialogue.

Frequently Asked Questions

“How do we ‘dialogue’?”
The work of Bill Isaacs (1999) is very helpful here. He defines dialogue as “a conversation with a center, and not merely sides.” Where discussion is an analytical tool, to break things apart and decide on action; dialogue is generative, a ”shared inquiry,” where there is no single answer. A circle is the best formation for people to speak and think freely together. Rather than a technique, dialogue is more a quality of being. Isaacs outlines four behaviors essential to dialogue:
  • Voicing – speaking the truth about who one really is and how they think.
  • Listening – without resistance or imposition.
  • Respecting – awareness of the integrity of another’s position.
  • Suspending – suspension of assumptions, judgment, and uncertainty.
“We seem to be stuck in that academic mode of combative discussion. How do we get unstuck?”
It’s interesting – discussion, percussion, concussion – all share root meaning. Get the clanging concept? We are taught to challenge and dispute each others’ ideas, in order to win the battle and show up the smartest. Being right is far more important than finding the best answer. Being stuck in Positions is “Advocacy” – where the goal is to win the argument. “Inquiry,” on the other hand, is looking into the data and assumptions behind the positions, in order to learn (see Peter Senge). A useful exercise is to ask people to expose their thinking – their data, rationale, interests, logic trail behind their positions. This is what I think and here is why I think it, in an orderly, non-interrupting way. Then encourage Open Questions, e.g., “What are your views?” for more information. Creating a safe environment for dialogue means overriding years of negative experience in group discussions. Carl Rogers aptly pointed out that judgment is the single greatest barrier to communication. People have watched the process of introducing an idea, having people beat up on it, debate it, then decide on it or throw it out. Then call for another idea. And get nothing.
“Wouldn’t it be pleasant if we could ask people to view ideas as ‘theories,’ as something separate from the person? So that there is no failure or shame when an idea is examined.”
It would also help if we adhered to the creative process of “divergence before convergence.’ Generate lots of ideas, giving everyone a voice around the table, before applying any decision rules. It is also useful to have a Facilitator, whose job it is to “hold the space.’


See our other e-zine issues on Learning Organizations, Effective Listening, and Mediating Conflict.

Courses on Learning by Dialogue.

How to bring dialogue into the classroom: Teaching through Dialogue and Reciprocal Teaching.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Selected websites on Dialogue: Selected Websites on Dialogue.

Read the Power and Promise of Deep Dialogue: Dialogue Institute.


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  • Baker, Larry L. Listening Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
  • Bolton, Robert. People Skills. New York: Touchstone, 1979.
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  • Fischer, R., & Ury, W. Getting to Yes. Boston, MA: Houghton-Miflin, 1981.
  • Garvin, David A. Building a Learning Organization.Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1993, 78-91.
  • Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966.
  • Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. NY: Doubleday, 1999.
  • Key, M.K. Creatively and constructively managing differences. In M. K. Key (Ed.) Managing Change in Healthcare: Innovative Solutions for People-based Organizations. Chicago: McGraw-Hill, 1999.
  • Kreps, Gary L. Organizational Communication. New York: Longman, 1986.
  • Nonaka, Ikujiro. The knowledge-creating company. Harvard Business Review. November-December, 1991.
  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey & Sutton, R.I. The smart-talk trap.Harvard Business Review. May-June 1999.
  • Reardon, K. Interpersonal Communication: Where Minds Meet. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1987.
  • Rogers, Carl R. & Roethlisberger, F.J. Barriers and Gateways to Communication. Harvard Business Review. November-December, 1991, 105-111.
  • Sandwith, Paul. Building quality into communications.Training & Development. January, 1994, 55-60.
  • Senge, Peter M. The leader’s new work: Building learning organizations. Sloan Management Review, Fall, 1990. 7-23.
  • Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency/Doubleday, 1994.
  • Senge, Peter M & Kleiner, Art (Eds.) et al. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization.Currency/Doubleday, 1994.
  • Senge, Peter M. et.al. The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
  • Whitney, Diana & Amanda Trosten-Bloom. The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003.


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