The Dialogue Recipe
With 2017 upon us, we wanted to offer up a short recipe to help you ring in a new year. It’s not a recipe for anything you can eat (and for that we sincerely apologize). But it is for something truly nourishing: dialogue. We want to remind you, like we remind ourselves, that meaningful dialogue takes real effort but the return on investment is great, because it lies at the heart of our work, our communities, our organizations, and our democracy.
Dialogue is the key ingredient in collaboration. And collaboration is really hard. Anyone who’s ever tried it knows what a challenge it can be to combine a range of perspectives to achieve a singular goal.
Start by sharing your own perspective in a calm, fact-based way. Listen to the other perspective without shutting down, judging, or leaping to conclusions. And most crucially—even though we all do it—work hard to avoid the trap of just waiting your turn to speak. Elevate your listening so that you are only using the finest, purest, most effective listening skills you have. Real dialogue never gets created without a healthy dose of active listening.
To try out active listening, check your own impulses and desires to speak for the moment, and absorb the perspective with the expectation that you might be influenced by what you hear. It might help to repeat back what you’ve heard, to check for understanding. Observe, too, the effect of your listening on the other person. When you listen actively, you create trust.
Over the last few months, many companies have used these principles to initiate powerful workplace dialogues about race. At Goldman Sachs, company-sponsored forums kicked off with a common question: “How do the recent events affecting us as people, in turn, affect our interactions at work?”
Tim Ryan, CEO of PwC, underscores the forums on race at work with the idea that employees “spend a good portion of their lives within the walls of this firm and more than anything, I want them to be able to bring their whole selves to work.”
At AT&T, CEO Randall Stephenson jumped in the conversation himself, saying, “Tolerance is for cowards…Do not tolerate each other. Work hard, move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”
Dialogue: one part effective sharing, one part active listening, one part willingness to be influenced—and to be uncomfortable. Mix and stir and head into the New Year a little more enlightened.
Writer Cedar Pruitt is a senior diversity consultant at IBIS, specializing in inclusive leadership and culture at organizations ranging from start-up companies to competitive universities.