Paulo Freire said, “Dialogue can not exist without humility.” At the outset of this course we spent a significant amount of time exploring our own understanding of dialogue. Ultimately, I discovered dialogue, like meditation requires, suspension. Bohm says suspension forces us to notice our thoughts but not lean into them nor repress them. This was reminiscent of our learning in mindfulness–we acknowledge and return to our breath offering humility to ourselves and those around us.
This sentiment applied directly to Capstone work and stakeholder group. Getting the disability community to suspend their own thoughts on quality care for people with disabilities required building a safe container where people are encouraged to shed their preconceived ideas about the current care methodology and look for something new. This Capstone asked people with disabilities, their families, governmental bodies, lobbying groups, care professionals and industry leaders to believe that their might be a better way to ensure quality care is present– we were hopeful that our proposal concerning the implementation of a quality standard tool would open further dialogue that allowed for suspension and we were committed to helping that dialogue take place.
Below you will find my final coursework reflection from my time in the Dialogue class and a full list of objectives that the course offered.
Articulate contemporary theories and practices of dialogue
Model techniques of active listening
Demonstrate skills that foster productive dialogue
Reframe conflict for shared understanding, options, and mutual benefit
Research and articulate contrasting perspectives among diverse constituencies
Define the perspectives that need to be explored and information that needs to be gathered for the needs analysis for the Capstone Action Project
Learning Objectives Mastered
#1 & #2- Articulate contemporary theories and practices of dialogue AND Demonstrate skills that foster productive dialogue.
Artifact: Discussion Post Week 7 Dialogue
During this discussion post, I present a personal taxonomy of dialogue which highlights what I believe to be the best practices and techniques learned throughout the course. This taxonomy includes many key theories and practices of contemporary dialogue, organized into themes, which presents the ideas of Bohm, Issacs, Pearce, Stone et.al and Suter.
I believe the discussion post shows mastery because it analyzes and offers insight into my understanding of dialogue learned through the thought leaders introduced to me during this course. This post helped me finally conceptualize the practice of dialogue and see it as a tangible. I would not have been equipped to use any of these techniques before the course and lacked self-awareness around my own social world and bias.
My taxonomy includes: recognition of self and understanding bias and social world; letting go which uses the act of suspension and harnesses the desire to move beyond the current space; listening which is the act of considering others and creating awareness; voicing which is the act of sharing openly and without expectation and finally the recognition of others which develops a shared understanding and creates a new social world.
I could have improved the taxonomy by including Pearce’s idea of the afterlife. He asserts that every conversation creates an afterlife that colors our ability to communicate and connect. And the afterlife of the conversation is what we remember and carry with us—it impacts our ability to build relationships and engage authentically with others.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that a huge part of effective dialogue is the recognition of others. While I’m not entirely sure we ever truly see all of someone, I do think our social worlds are dependent upon bringing more awareness to the people around us, valuing them and bucking the idea of otherness. It’s in newly created social worlds that we begin to create community and shared respect—this might be the reason for dialogue itself.
This course has taught me that dialogue transcends the words we speak—it involves our memories, bias, body language, perceptions and desires. We are all human and there is fragility to the way we communicate.
As a result, I’ve become much more aware of what I’m trying to communicate and what is trying to be communicated to me. I approach conversation more mindfully and seek deeper connection when engaging with people. I’ve learned that my desire to fill space with useless conversation doesn’t accomplish much.
Recently, I’ve been interviewing for a new job. One of the organizations is really interested in creating a new individual giving program though they admit they aren’t really sure where to start. I went to the first interview and was determined to create a shared space where I could have a conversation about the position rather than a traditional Q&A interview. I longed to see how the women interviewing me would want to engage with me and if they would be open to having someone on their team ask questions. After answering one of their questions, I would follow up my response with an open ended inquiry on the topic they initiated. At first, they seemed a bit taken back but as the shared questioning continued, I felt like we got really close to creating dialogue. The interview was certainly more conversational and meaningful than some I’ve been on. Before this class, I would have followed the traditional prompting and waited to ask my questions at the end of the interview. Instead, I was able to use what I learned to change the dynamics of the conversation.
Learning Objective Mastered
#3- Model techniques of active listening
Artifact: Discussion Post Dialogue Week 3
In this discussion post I explore my own bias and ability to actively listen. Throughout the post and discussion with my peers I am able to analyze my reaction to a piece of music I wouldn’t typically listen to and explore how that paradigm impacts my ability to listen in a larger way.
I believe this post shows mastery of the techniques of active listening. Ironically, it is an exploration of how not to actively listen. For this discussion we were asked to select a song we wouldn’t normally listen to and write down our judgments and perceptions about the message of the song, the intent of the artist and our overall reaction. I purposefully selected a song I couldn’t stand—at the time I didn’t realize this would impact my ability to actively listen to the lyrics and decipher meaning. Through my discussion with my peers, I was able to see that my net of thought, or all the opinions, memories and feelings I had about the artist and song, kept me from being able to suspend my assumptions. As a result, I presented a very biased reflection of the song.
At the end of the week, I included this reflection:
*** I’ve learned that much of my understanding and judgment of this song comes from my previous experience with the artist and seeing her live. I was confused by her non-verbal communication and the context of the type of songs she sang.
Sutter and Bohm would tell me I was unable to suspend my assumptions and engage in deeper dialogue and Isaacs would argue that my ‘net of thought’ prohibited me from seeing/hearing the song in any way other than my memory allowed.
Now I can see that active listening requires you to suspend your judgments but it also requires you to check your ego. I selected a song I didn’t like and I felt justified in my distaste—this is more than apparent in my real time reactions. How often do we enter a conversation feeling well justified to make whatever point we intend to make? This justification of ego keeps us from really hearing others.
When we can’t hear people we can’t ask questions. If we can’t ask meaningful questions then we can’t begin to understand others and work towards building a shared social world. I believe it is the act of listening is what allows us to open up. Most people assume we show vulnerability by voicing but it’s much harder to listen to someone thoughtfully and then create space to respond authentically—it is in that exchange that we begin to create a container to share with one another.
This course has taught me the difference between hearing someone and actually listening to them. When you hear someone you acknowledge their speech but you aren’t necessarily connecting with them or the message they are trying to share. When you actively listen you are engaged body, mind and heart with someone—there is a mindfulness to actively listening.
I’ve realized throughout this term that I’m great at hearing people but not necessarily listening actively to them. I blame this in part on living in a world full of distractions and having what feels like an endless list of things to do. It can be really hard for me to create space without those distractions to really listen.
When I’m at work I make the conscious decision to put down what I’m doing, look away from my computer, turn off my music and face my body towards the person talking to me. I watch for body language, tone changes and points of resistance. I’ve been trying to make better eye-contact and acknowledge what people are saying in the moment by repeating their sentiments for confirmation. I’ve started to send more follow-up emails after thinking deeply about conversations while trying to balance my own bias. My peers have commented that I seem more alert during conversations which makes me feel good about some of the stuff I’m trying to do to improve dialogue with the team.
Learning Objective Mastered
#4- Reframe conflict for shared understanding, options, and mutual benefit
Artifact: Assignment 3
In this assignment I explore the critical, I’ll Kill You, conversation from the film 12 Angry Men. The paper discusses the challenges in the conversations and offers suggestions on how one of the characters could improve their communication techniques to reframe the conflict and build shared understanding of the issue at hand.
Reframing conflict was one of the more difficult objectives for me to grasp—before watching the film 12 Angry Men— I assumed that reframing conflict meant proving your point until your conversation partner was able to see your side of the conflict and concede their opinion. This is clearly not the purpose of reframing conflict nor does it help usher through shared understanding, new options for a solution or create mutual benefit for those engage in the conflict.
In many ways, reframing conflict means getting the conversation partners to focus on what it is they doing not what it is they are arguing about—Pearce calls this systemic thinking. When you are able to create space where all participants feel safe and are asked to focus on the bigger picture then you can reframe conflict into a productive dialogue.
In this assignment I reflected on how important it was to look at your own bias and social world to seek not only better self-awareness but to understand why the conflict might be occurring in the first place. If people are unable to suspend their own assumptions and recognize their own bias then the conflict will remain no matter how long the conversation goes on.
I offer this as rationale for my solution in the assignment:
It’s in these moments of questioning, acknowledgement and silence that Juror 8 needs to be actively listening and aware of his “ladder of inference” or set of conclusions he draws based on his own understanding of right and wrong. (Issacs, 1999, pg. 96) The more Juror 8 can let go of his own social world the more likely he is to understand and breakdown the bias of Juror 3. This could be a long and arduous back and forth and Juror 3 might never really able to fully suspend his assumptions but he could learn to trust Juror 8 and that would go a long way in preparing him for the conversations throughout the rest of the film.
I believe in the case of the conflict between Juror 8 and Juror 3 that it is Juror 8 with the power to reframe the conflict by offering thoughtful silence and meaningful questions. Used in combination these techniques might allow Juror 3 to feel safe and offer insight into why he is so bent on delivering a guilty verdict—ultimately reframing the conflict to one based on creating shared understanding rather than proving a point.
Conflict is a result of assumptions, bias and a limited social world meaning we create it. This course has taught me to be more aware of my own bias and to be mindful of why conflict is arising in my world. Am I not being authentic, am I too busy trying to prove a point, am I really listening to my conversation partner? What about this conflict can I change or need to take responsibility for?
There is a woman in our office who is constantly in turmoil or conflict with other members of our team—an observation I wouldn’t have noticed without this class. I used to think she was experiencing all of these challenges because she was a strong personality, who pushed back when people weren’t doing their jobs or needed to be motivated to move forward. I can look at her interactions now and realize she is so unwavering in her ideals that it makes it impossible for people to feel like they are having any sort of dialogue with her. It becomes more and more apparent that she only engages when she is trying to prove a point and it is a big issue in our office.
More and more, I’ve found myself taking on the role of questioner and facilitator in our team meetings. I’m trying to get the conversation to move into a more positive direction by asking open ended questions, asking people to share their feelings or offering silence when I want to see what will emerge. This has been a challenging task and I have to constantly assess my own motives for doing so—am I really offering help or am I just frustrated with this woman?
Ultimately, my intentions are to create space for people to explore, imagine or see the bigger picture of the issue at hand.
Learning Objective Mastered
#5- Research and articulate contrasting perspectives among diverse constituencies
Artifact: Assignment 2
In this assignment I research three articles on effective communication with people with disabilities and offer solutions based on the research for improving my own communication techniques.
I thought it would be helpful to research people with disabilities and the barriers they face when trying to communicate in the world. My research led me to 3 articles that explored the impact of poor communication in the health and care of people with disabilities. Often these people are belittled or ignored because we assume people with disabilities cannot communicate effectively. This isn’t true—people with disabilities can use effective communication but it is from a perspective we don’t understand and cannot relate to.
I believe this assignment shows mastery because it allowed me to explore solutions to my own challenges when communicating with people with disabilities.
I offer these solutions to create dialogue:
- Acknowledge and accept people with disabilities as whole with experiences that color their net of thought.
- Recognize that like me, individuals with disabilities have their own internal experiences and social experiences that inform how they react and communicate with me.
- In our own paradigms we see like-minded people as whole and accept other people’s experiences or net of thought as normal while looking at outsiders as strange. I must see people with disabilities as whole before I can create a new social world with them.
- My role as a dialogue partner is to ask good questions to expand the social world we are building and breakdown the paradigms we operate through.
- Avoid Pearce’s transmission model where I believe my words, thoughts, behaviors and actions are being interpreted exactly as intended.
I noted in the Collaboration Week 9 discussion post this reflection:
I noticed that these recommendations [ SEE ABOVE UNDER SECTION ON MASTERY] transcend having a disability and are good practice for any person you are engaging in dialogue. I’ve been moderately successful—I’ve noticed I’m much more patient. And I don’t expect people to understand me all the time which has made my frustrations around being questioned or asked to explain something more than once less of a sore point. I do think suspending assumptions is hard and it requires real mindful work and I’m not always successful at tabling my bias. It’s a work in progress.
Again most of our learning around dialogue come from recognizing our bias but this assignment introduced me to Issacs idea of wholeness. People are whole regardless of what we might think of them and it is important that we recognize others as such. If we refuse to see the intrinsic value of people we can’t really create a new social world with them. Now I enter conversations with the foundational belief that we are all whole and carry with us meaning. This has been a great equalizer in conversations and has helped me push through some of my judgments about others.
Learning Objective Mastered
#6 – Define the perspectives that need to be explored and information that needs to be gathered for the needs analysis for the Capstone Action Project.
Artifact: Discussion Post Capstone Prep Week 10
In this discussion post I explore the stakeholders I will be interviewing, the perspectives I hope to gain and the needs and resources discovered through my initial conversations.
I believe this discussion post begins to show mastery of the learning objective. I was able to create questions to use as a guide to help me explore my project and what I am hoping to accomplish. It was important to me that the questions were succinct but would also offer space for people to expand or for follow-up questions to be asked if they were needed.
In order to truly reach mastery, I need to explore the role of the corporate and philanthropic sector in collective impact and gain their perspective if I want a complete analysis of the issue. I’m having a hard time finding members of that community who are willing to partner with me and want to be interviewed.
This discussion post was the only post we’ve done in relation to our Capstone for this course but I believe the literature reviews in our social change course also helped me define what perspectives I would need to glean in preparation for this project.
I believe moving forward that it would be helpful to conduct focus groups and facilitate dialogue between the stakeholders I’m working with to see if my understanding of collective impact is feasible in the disability community.
During these two interviews I was much more patient than I thought I would have been. I realized that I was more interested in getting my stakeholders to lead the conversations rather than lead the conversation myself. I believe both interviews were much more conversational in tone and flexible than typical interview might be—it wasn’t so much about my questions but about what would emerge as we talked and explored the issue together.
Bohm, D. (2013). On dialogue. Routledge.
Isaacs, William. Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together. New York: Random House [Doubleday], 1999.
Pearce, W. Barnett. Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Suter, V. Facilitating Dialogue. Retrieved from: https://vsuter.org/dissassemblages/dialogue-vs-discussion/ (Links to