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About Dialogue
Good Conversation > About Dialogue

Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn.
        - Harold Saunders

At the heart of Philia is dialogue, which functions both as a process for and a product of our work. But what exactly is dialogue? How does it differ from other forms of discourse? And why have we chosen to constitute what we do as a dialogue?

Though the term "dialogue" is used in different ways by different people, there are certain generally agreed-on qualities that distinguish it from other modes of conversation such as debate, discussion and deliberation. In particular:

  • Dialogue seeks common ground. The goal of dialogue is not to convince, persuade or score points, but to achieve mutual understanding, trust and respect. In dialogue we listen not to find flaws and make counter-arguments, but to understand and find a basis for agreement.
  • Dialogue is collaborative. It recognizes that no single person has the whole answer but rather that everyone has something important to contribute - that each person's thinking can be enriched by the thoughts and perspectives of others.
  • Unlike debate, which is critical and often combative, dialogue encourages us to suspend judgment and re-examine all points of view, seeking strengths and value in the positions of others.
  • Dialogue is not concerned with deliberately trying to change behaviour or to move participants toward a predetermined goal. It is more about opening up new possibilities, opportunities and meanings, leading to what David Bohm describes as "a new kind of coherent, collective intelligence."

Why Dialogue?

Philia is deliberately constructed as a dialogue because we believe in the power of dialogue to foster deep discussion - what we call "good conversation" - among people of diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and values. Even more: we believe that dialogue is a critical element of any change process; indeed, that dialogue inexorably leads to action.

But new ways of thinking and acting don't occur instantly. We need to nurture "slow" thinking - to create spaces where we can explore ideas that arise, turn them over in our minds, share our thoughts and feelings with others, and allow meaning to unfold as part of a collective creative process. This is what dialogue makes possible.

The speed of our culture runs counter to dialogue. We want fast ideas to come out of a limited investment of time, and expect our discussions and meetings to yield immediate results - a project, a set of goals or, at the very least, a list of Next Steps to take. Reflective, flexible conversation that occasionally dwells in ambiguity makes many of us uncomfortable, at least at first. But as trust increases - both between members of the group and in the process itself - dialogue brings us ever-deeper understanding and reveals new possibilities and opportunities that we could never have reached on our own.

It is out of this "collective dance of the mind" that change takes place. Sometimes results occur quickly; sometimes they take months or even years to surface. Regardless of the time frame, we have seen dialogue open up new avenues of thought and new ways of relating. It is a powerful breeding ground for formulating, sharing and applying ideas.

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