From ‘alternating monologues’ to a dialogue!

March 19 2020

At a time when the whole world seems to be under siege, good communication is perhaps more important than ever.


When in communication with colleagues / associates, the ideal scenario would be that BOTH parties are wanting to move towards a satisfactory outcome. As we know, it sadly isn’t always that way.


If you think of a recent discussion that didn’t reach a satisfactory (to both) conclusion, it could be that it wasn’t really a dialogue, but a case of alternating monologues.


(you could also think of a future conversation, coming up, where a good agreed outcome would be really nice!)


I was prompted on this vital distinction when listening to a John De Martini podcast. His application was more in the realm of personal loving relationships, but I could see the application to workplace conversations.


A dialogue is a two-way piece of communication, which enables progress of the subject towards a positive agreed outcome (if that’s possible in the circumstances). It also tends to support an ongoing relationship.


On the other hand, a discussion that consists of alternating monologues will NOT enable a progression of views, as the parties just stick to their guns or even embed the polarities more deeply. It will likely go nowhere productive.


In that scenario the party with the most power will usually win out.


And the relationship is more likely to be damaged than developed.


It’s a similar theme to the idea presented by Peter Senge –balancing Advocacy with Enquiry.


As we get more senior, one of the capacities we typically get better and better at is advocating for a position we believe in. That’s a fabulous skill, as long as we also get better and better at the other side of advocating – listening (enquiry).


The power of the question ‘tell me more’ is one interesting way to explore this, and to unpack whether conflicting values, or something else, is at the base of the disagreement.


When you encounter opposition from a strong advocate, it’s worth a try to see where it takes the conversation. “Tell me more…” (about …..) can help you and your conversation partner identify what is could be getting in the way.


A related technique is ‘chunking up’. Find a higher value that you both believe in, and take the conversation forward from that perspective.


This improves the chances for turning (intractable) alternating monologues into a genuine dialogue.


And if you can find shared values and set aside lower-level differences, it’s likely to be highly effective.


Best wishes with the conversation, both in and out of work, at this challenging times.