Questions on Dialogue LO22967

Michael McKennett (
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 08:28:10 PDT

My name is Michael McKennett. I have been an observer on this list for
nearly two years. However, this is my first posting. I am an
intercultural communication and organizational design consultant currently
on sabbatical and living with my wife and computer in the Republic of
Moldova. Being here has given me some time to study and reflect on
problems that I 've had with practices that I have engaged in related to
learning organization theory. However, I am living in an English-speaking
vacuum here and have no one with whom I can consult. I am hoping for some
dialogue and insight from members of this public dialogue.

(1) "What approaches or processes constitute dialogue?"

One area where I have persistent questions - my own and workshop
participants -- relates to the practice of dialogue. Since I first began
to experience and study dialogue, and to introduce it into my work in
training and organizational and community development three years ago, I
've felt confused about what group communication processes or approaches
might fit the meaning of the term "dialogue." I suspect that I share this
confusion with many new to the practice. Perhaps with others not so new.

In my readings and discussions I have found a number of definitions and
distinctions used by dialogue practitioners to describe what dialogue is
(and is not), but less discussion about what approaches or processes
constitute dialogue. Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerrard, consultants on
interpersonal communication and co-founders of The Dialogue Group,
published the clearest position that I have read. They address what they
feel the distinctions are in their book Dialogue: Creating and Sustaining
Collaborative Partnerships at Work (1998) They talk about historical
antecedents of "modern dialogue" such as the talking circles of North
American indigenous tribes, the Socratic dialogues of the early Greeks,
and Quaker meetings. They distinguish between current contexts
"displaying dialogic qualities of communication" - such as self-help
groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous), the Foundation for Community
Encouragement's community-building workshops (Scott Peck's group), and
sensitivity and encounter groups such as those developed by The National
Training Labs - and dialogue.

Of these later groups, Ellinor and Gerrard say:

"Often, workshop participants will liken dialogue to other group
experiences they have had. We list some of the ones we are most often
asked about. It is important to note that while these modern contexts do
share aspects in common with the practice of dialogue, they differ in
their basic purpose and intention in that they are primarily focused on
personal growth and relational healing."

For Ellinor and Gerard, it appears that all dialogue approaches are forms
of dialogic communication but not all dialogic communication approaches
are dialogue.

Reflection #2: "What do you think about not classifying as dialogue such
approaches as FCE's community building workshops, self-help groups, and
NTL-type sensitivity groups that share some aspects of dialogic
communication in common with dialogue?"

I 've participated in a number of FCE's community building workshops as
well as many NTL-type encounter groups and self-help groups. I find that,
while I do not feel uncomfortable categorizing encountering groups as
approaches that share some dialogic communication processes in common with
dialogue but cannot be considered as dialogues because of their focus, I
am uneasy making the same distinctions for FCE's workshops and for
self-help groups. In my experience with indigenous communities, much of
the focus of dialogue is on individual and relational healing. Many
people come to dialogue groups with a personal interest and looking for
personal as well as collective change or transformation.

I am curious what other people think and feel about this? I would also
like to know where else that I might read for further insights into this

Michael G. McKennett
PO Box 3331
Chisinau 44
Republic of Moldova

Tel. 373-2-495895; Mobile 373-8-29104015; Fax 373-2-495895


"Michael McKennett" <>

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