Deep Listening & Dialogue

Deep listening and dialogue are extremely helpful to working productively together, so organizations benefit greatly from cultivating these practices. But they are also key life skills for personal development. Learning by practice is the best approach here, so it’s helpful if the same group can meet regularly over a considerable period of time. At the same time, individuals should practice in day-to-day situations, between group meetings. Typically, I facilitate the first several conversations, then group members alternate filling that role. A core attitude is to stop trying to change other people—rather, change the way you relate to them, even how you feel about them.

But, if you can’t change dysfunctional people (read here, “people you disagree with you or who just plain bug you”!), how can you break old patterns? First, you’ll usually find that people do change, as others begin to relate to them differently. They probably don’t enjoy those old patterns either—everybody’s trapped in the same dynamic. Second, you still give feedback—honest but tactful—only the objective isn’t to show that they’re wrong but to describe which dynamics you perceive as helpful and which ones you don’t.

This kind of group-work requires an utterly safe environment—both in and between conversations. Perhaps this seems unrealistic. (It’s certainly unusual!) What makes it possible is that, the more you’re able to see things from others’ perspectives (especially those of the people who irritate you), the more you see their potential to contribute in helpful ways.

As an organization, you can use this knowledge in an epigenetic way. You use negative feedback (damping down, not blaming and shaming) to put the lid on dysfunctional patterns. And you use positive feedback (amplification and encouragement) to increase ways of interrelating that are mutually affirming—and ultimately more productive (because they incorporate those contributions from each member that others value most).

Deep listening and dialogue are among the best ways to cultivate “relational trust” within an organization. Practicing them faithfully takes strong commitment. But doing so will build a cohesive, positive, and well-aligned organizational culture, which will in turn produce a whole range of benefits in terms of work environment, commitment, job satisfaction, and productivity.

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