Dialog: slowing down to speed up


A notable leader I was working with discovered the importance of dialog with his team and others throughout the organization. While I observed great results when we worked together, I’d been out of touch with him for a while when we reconnected. I was expecting to hear about how time consuming this kind of conversation is and that he’d decided that dialog was pulling him away from all the urgent things that required his attention.

Surprisingly, this leader reported that the time spent in dialog with his team and others (both 1:1 and in groups) was time that was more than made up in increased productivity. “More than ever before, everyone is pulling in the same direction. This means that we get more done in a shorter period of time.” I was thrilled to hear that his attention to more dialog was actually a time-saver, helping with alignment, commitment, and forward movement. He had stepped up to the next level of leadership, doing exactly what he needed to go from great results to remarkable ones through the transformation that occurs through this special kind of conversation.

Having a dialog is an opportunity for discovery and growth, an activity that can change minds and hearts as well as move the people involved forward into a better future for the greater good. It isn’t quick. It doesn’t often happen on the run in a hallway or a one minute conversation. It takes intent, skill, and time. It can transform.

William Isaacs, author of Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (1999, Doubleday) defines dialogue thus: “a sustained collective inquiry into the processes, assumptions, and certainties that comprise everyday life”. This is the kind of conversation that creates a space for understanding each other’s views; in effect, it is “thinking together”.

Isaacs indicates the four key principles of dialog are:

Listening to put ourselves in touch with a larger whole. We aren’t just listening to parts of the conversation, but the intention is to listen for context and connections. We listen to see the whole person “enfolded” in all parts of the conversation. This requires stillness and presence that we’re largely not used to in our organizations, but it is essential.

Respecting defined as “looking again” at someone for understanding what has created their experience. This requires us to focus on a wide array of views and to hold them all at the same time. This is not about reaching agreement, but is more about being able to tolerate differences that may arise.

Suspending by learning to reflect in the moment. We come to realize and understand what is happening in our thoughts as they arise. Suspending requires us to hold our opinions, certainties and judgments in a way that promotes self-understanding as well as the understanding of others.

Voicing by asking ourselves “what needs to be expressed now?” and to choose to speak at that moment or to trust the silence that comes from it.

Having the intention and allowing the time for dialog is more than just a conversation. It’s a process that can transform you and your organization through collective wisdom while at the same time resulting in increased productivity and successful outcomes. It takes time and intention. But as the leader I know has highlighted, this can be a case for “slowing down to speed up”.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Dialog: slowing down to speed up

  1. We often use a term “slower is faster” … thank you for re-affirming that true dialogue is necessary and proper in improving productivity in the work environment. Our use of “slower is faster” focused most on Deming’s Zeroth Stage concept. Time you spend in dialogue with others before acting, removes rework later on and speeds up the process.

    Too many organizations think productivity is less meetings, more spreadsheets to track tasks, email, etc. The truth lies in what you discuss here … Having dialogue with others using the Listening, Respecting, Suspending, Voicing model is EXTREMELY POWERFUL.

    We appreciate your thoughts!

  2. Thanks Carl. I’d like you to think that I know something about Deming’s Zeroth Stage concept, but I don’t (however, I will be looking it up). In my role as an executive coach, I tend to observe a lot and just look for patterns about what works and doesn’t. And I know that dialog, as in Listening, Respecting, Suspending and Voicing – works, based on my own experiences and those of my clients!

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