3 Must-Knows of Dialogue


By Tim Schuster

As a person and leader with conviction and principle, you often find yourself engaging in conversation with others. From stakeholders to clients to coworkers, communicating in a way that is productive, efficient and loving is the goal. And this requires dialogue.

But do we share an understanding of dialogue? In our politically charged environments and inflexible local institutions, there seems to be little room for a genuine understanding of dialogue. We may be missing out on one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

Recently, Dale Durie, Leader of The Seeds Community, and a forthcoming Friendraiser Partner, sent me the slides he uses when teaching college students about dialogue. It’s incredible stuff. From these slides, I want to share with you three things about dialogue we absolutely have to know. Thank you, Dale, for sharing with us!

1.   Know what dialogue is NOT.

It’s good to start with what dialogue is not.

Dialogue is not discussion. Dale says discussion is “passing information” or simply trying to “win points.” Often, the goal of discussion is to “amend the alternative.”

Dialogue is also not debate. A debate wants a winner and a loser. It wants persuasion. It thirsts to be right, correct and orthodox. Debate and doctrine grew up in the same house. If discussion is about amending the alternative, debate is out for blood. It wants to “murder the alternative.”

Dialogue doesn’t care who wins or who is right. Dialogue doesn’t see the world in such dualistic terms. At the same time, it's also important to note that dialogue is not about agreeing - or even finding common ground. 

So what then is the goal of dialogue?

2.   Know the goal of dialogue.

The goal of dialogue is to tap into and leverage “corporate intelligence” to create a far superior alternative. Like debate and discussion, there is an exchange of words, but the source of the words is a much different. Dialogue comes from a different place because it wants to go to a different place. 

Dialogue is a certain kind of experience. It’s the kind of experience where each party “suspends” their position “so as to collaborate on an alternative that was not held or imagined before starting.”

Whereas debate is organized around taking sides, dialogue is organized around a common, life-giving center. 

Dialogue is also bad at math. Dialogue refuses to believe that 1+1+1=3. Dialogue says 1+1+1=3 can be 20. Or 100. It’s more art than science. If you are graduate of Carlson, you call this synergy.

It’s peculiar, that dialogue, because as much as it is about talking with words, it’s also about reflecting. In parallel with the speaking of words, it requires reflection because dialogue, when it’s embraced, is truly a “living experience within and between people.” Reflection is the difference between an event and an experience.

The goal of dialogue, then, is to engage in the fine art of thinking and building ideas together in such a way that ideas can build on one another. This is why we talk at Midtown relentlessly about using Yes, And.

3.   Know where and how to practice your dialogue skills.

Now that you know what dialogue is not and what the goal of dialogue is, we can speak (er, dialogue!) about where and how to practice these skills.

First, start where you are. Do you belong to a family? Practice there. Do you have co-workers and do you go to meetings? Every single second of those meetings requires a choice to engage in the art of dialogue. Your church, hobby, club and team are places ripe for dialogue. Of course, the Midtown Friendraiser is a great place to dialogue.  

Second, once you have the place, it’s time to sweat. You have the opportunity to contribute by reflecting on what is happening in the moment in that space – and react the words of others in ways that overcome discussion and debate. You have the opportunity to transform the conversation into something genuine and generative.

Keep a journal. Or tell a friend. This book and this book are recommended by Dale. If nothing else, simply pause for a few moments each day and reflect on how it's feeling to pursue dialogue.