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Do You Converse or Shake Apart?

Are you aware of the types of communication you're delivering? Do you pay attention to the results you're getting from your communication with others? Are you aware of your internal conversations with yourself?

I often work with managers and leaders on the differences between inquiring and interrogating. If you've ever been on the end of an interrogation, even from a friend, parent or spouse, I'm sure you get my point. Inquiry on the other hand, means you're engaged in the discovery process in a genuine and curious way. You are interested in what the other person has to say and their views and opinions. You make an attempt to understand them.

Recently a new distinction came to my attention. This is the difference between dialogue and discussion. Most of us consider ourselves to be in discussions with others. However, the Latin root of the word 'discuss' is "discutere" which means to dash or shake apart. So to discuss is to shake apart what others say...sounds a bit like being in an interrogation room, doesn't it?

Dialogue on the other hand, refers to interacting in ways that build shared understanding and increased meaning rather than colliding into frustration, confusion and disagreement. In other words rather than my way or the highway, we're both looking at the highway and deciding together the best way to navigate.

A dialogue allows you to influence another's perspective by first demonstrating respect for the person and a willingness to understand their position. In a dialogue, you use collaborative inquiry and deep listening skills to provide others with a sense of being heard. Are you a good listener? When I asked that question of my executives, they always say, "I think so, but I could be better." What is usually happening is that one listens long enough to form a judgment or think they know what comes next; then they stop listening and are merely waiting to talk (which means they're no longer listening) or even worse they interrupt immediately.

The key I want you to get is that when others feel heard they become more willing to open up to your point of view. Is this not true for you? Often they don't care if you take their suggestion or opinion, what is important is that they were heard and that all the alternatives have been put on the table.

Dialogue requires: a shift in mindset from telling others your opinions to inquiring about their opinions. Listen deeply, then Inquire and paraphrase what you heard without judgment. This allows people to open up to the dialogue and feel important and respected. This fosters empowerment and collaboration. Be conscious of your mind wandering and focus on what they are saying (and not saying). Check out your assumptions; ask them to say more about something you're not clear on or you need more info on.

You'll know you're in dialogue when your partner is fully engaged, the conversation is suffused with laughter, all are listening intently, you are eager to build up what someone else has said (always acknowledging their contribution first) and when the different viewpoints excite you rather than annoy you.

If your trust in others diminishes along with your patience and good will, you are more likely in discussion/interrogation mode. Unless you're with the FBI, this is not likely to work to your advantage.

(Portions adapted from an article on Tips for Effective Dialogue

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