What is dialogue?

Dialogue is a conversation between those involved in a problem or conflict. For us, this often involves attempts to deal with complex social problems and societal conflict, but also includes conversations to resolve lesser conflicts and reduce tension within organisations. 

Complex social problems require a dialogue that includes the relevant perspectives and the actors involved. This requires careful design and skilful facilitation.

Societal conflicts, and indeed all problems that involve tension to some degree, require an approach that creates fluidity: moving from fixed positions to mutual understanding and even empathy. The facilitator strives to create a safe space characterised by openness and clarity in order for that which needs to be said can be said.

It is a process that makes the implicit explicit, that makes the unseen visible and the unspoken speakable. It contributes to the building of trust and the strengthening of relationships.

Dialogue is a process of building sustainable peace between those with opposing views or perspectives. It may lead to concrete decisions or agreements, but this is no requirement. Parties to dialogue may reach the understanding that they differ but can live side by side with mutual respect.

Dialogue is only a tool

Dialogue is a tool. It has many forms, each of which can be used to achieve a specific purpose. Knives are tools. They are used in cooking, carpentry, surgery and gardening. They are all different kinds of knives. A kitchen knife is of little use to a carpenter and a machete is not suited for surgery.

In the same way you will need to consider which dialogue you need to deal with a given situation. The way in which it is used, and the quality of the dialogue is as important as the choice of dialogue. Large groups and small groups require different dialogue processes. Simple problems and complex problems will require different approaches. If there is conflict present, mediation might be required. Sometimes you will need to negotiate – a practice that also requires dialogue.

In the Dialogue Triage you will find indications for the type of dialogue that is required to deal with a specific problem.