Communicating Well As a Group

by Siobhan Soraghan


May you live in interesting times!

Chinese curse

We do indeed live in interesting times. Gone are familiar hierarchical structures, gone are simple rules of organisational life. The world is more complex, boundaries unclear and the future less certain. Unforeseen economic hardship and a shifting of the axis of economic power across the globe have raised the stakes of management. Yet no one person in a position of responsibility can possibly have the answers to the questions their organisations and communities face – who are we, where should we be going, and what is best for our enterprise and our communities, our planet...?

We need a new way of navigating through the flux and the imponderables – exploring and deciding together in our teams and in our relationships, rather than telling others or expecting to be told. If we are to have the best chance of averting calamities and capitalising on opportunities in these unpredictable times, we need to change old habits of individual knowing, debating and defending to new habits of collective enquiry, exploring and synthesising – a shared ownership of both the understanding and the more robust solutions that naturally emerge.

We can call this shared enquiry, exploration and synthesising ‘dialogue’ – sharing meaning through words. Everyone wins. Contrast this with debate, where one party forces their argument on another. There has to be loser and sometimes it is the voice with greater force rather than with superior logic that wins. Not that dialogue is without force or conflict. On the contrary, dialogue surfaces and engages in conflict, but healthily. Deep learning and robust, collectively-owned decisions result.

Doing dialogue is not easy. The purpose of this topic is to build your understanding by imparting key principles (many of which you can apply in a wide range of settings, not just work and groups) and to suggest how you might go about developing dialogue skills for yourself and your team. And hopefully you will be inspired to go out and find people to do it with.