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Honest dialogue: the key to a sustainable futureĀ 

October 2016

By Sarah Rozenthuler
 
From my experience of running dialogue programmes for numerous global corporations, I’ve discovered that the key to creating sustainable organisations is thinking and talking together.    
 
Open and honest communication is an essential starting point for building a resilient future, and should play a fundamental part in any major organisation change process. Miscommunication and ‘silo working’ costs organisations millions daily, leading to rivalry between departments, lack of trust within teams and unresolved personal conflicts which all undermine collective performance. Avoiding open and honest conversations stops progress in its tracks.  
 
So what tools do we need to build effective communication?   
Systemic Dialogue is a powerful strategic process for catalysing change in organisations, drawing on collective intelligence to inspire creative solutions. Stuck patterns of ‘talking nice’, ‘talking tough’ or not talking at all need to be identified, interrupted and replaced by more skilful ways of interacting. When we change the dynamics of our conversations, the rules of engagement and the quality of listening, we widen the field of possibilities. Fresh inspiration, new ideas and innovative resolutions to problems emerge that would never be reached by individuals thinking and working alone.  
 
The benefits of Systemic Dialogue include its proven ability to:  
 
• Build trust, leading to effective leadership, happier teams and successful projects  
• Cultivate collaboration: people who talk together create together 
• Improve relationships: we deepen our connections with people by talking openly 
• Resolve conflict: difficult feelings can fester, a good conversation clears the air 
• Encourage creativity: the spark of new ideas often emerges from the creative tension between different points of view  
• Increase wellbeing: people who have substantive conversations are happier than those who just do small talk 
• Open doors: finding the courage to speak out creates new opportunities, including pay rises, promotions and other unexpected perks  
 
So how do we call dialogue forward? 
Creating a culture of dialogue is an act of leadership, but anyone at any level of an organisation can contribute. Although seeding a culture of dialogue is a generative process with as many forms and manifestations as there are people and organisations, four key elements in the process stand out.  
 
1). Focused intention 
Someone needs to hold the desire to activate a culture of dialogue. Drawing a group of people together to create shared meaning and discover new insights provides a powerful and necessary energetic foundation for dialogue to take place. An invitation to talk needs to stir people into action.  
 
2). A charged container 
A meeting space needs to be created for the dialogue. There are concrete aspects – including the room, light, air, seating and access to nature. There are also more subtle aspects: as people enter the space, they need to feel able to open up and suspend “business–as–usual”. A crucial component is that people feel a sense of safety and trust.  They need to believe that bringing themselves authentically to the conversation will be respected – and rewarding. When people meet authentically, openly and expansively, this “charges” the space with co-creative energy. 
 
3) Diversity of perspective 
“It’s as if we’ve been programmed to be collectively smart,” writes  
James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds (2004). In order for a group of people to be “wise”, however, certain criteria need to be met. Chief amongst these is that participants have diverse points of view. People need to feel that their uniqueness and perspective – and that of all the others – is encouraged. There needs to be an atmosphere of welcoming, curiosity and acceptance.  
 
4) Dialogic practices 
Participants need to learn and share skills that foster dialogue. Embodying new patterns – for example, of speaking, listening and asking questions – may sound simple but it’s often not easy. Leaders need practical support, committed practice and ongoing encouragement for these ways of interacting to become the new muscle memory.  
 
Combined with these elements, the Systemic method provides leaders and change agents with a range of powerful mapping tools and processes, as well as a framework of key systemic principles, whose integrated use unlocks great potential for innovation and energy to achieve excellence. 
 
Together with Systemic Coach, Edward Rowland - whose company The Whole Partnership provides cutting edge transformation trainings in organisations – I’ll be introducing leaders, consultants and coaches to the power of Systemic Dialogue in a new leadership skill-building programme, Leading Systemic Dialogue: Unlocking Collective Intelligence, on 9th and 10th November at St Ethelburga’s Centre in the City of London.  
 
During this Leading Systemic Dialogue programme, we’ll be teaching how to create the conditions for collaborative thinking and dialogue that stimulate energy for action, and we’ll show how to make successful interventions to re-focus conversations when they become stuck. Participants also have the chance to assess their conversational skills and expand their capacity to engage with and listen to others.  
 
 
Sarah Rozenthuler is a leading international figure in the field of multi-stakeholder dialogue. A chartered psychologist and leadership consultant, she creates transformative change for global leaders and their organisations, including Old Mutual, EY, PwC, Virgin and the World Bank. She previously worked with global thought leader Bill Isaacs, founder of the consultancy Dialogos, and co-led the Leadership for Collective Intelligence programme for senior executives. Her book Life-Changing Conversations (2012) has been featured in the Sunday Times, the Observer and the Huffington Post.  More information: www.sarahrozenthuler.com  
 
 


The Whole Partnership | UK & NI Ireland | Communication

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