4 thoughts on “Does Dialogue Always Require Trained Conversation Leaders?”

  1. In the faith community environment, leading dialogues is a HUGE issue. Further, it is a skill. Oned needs not only to be able to synthesize comments on-the fly, but one’s ability to show deep understanding to the person speaking is required in that faith environment (i.e. I am being watched to see that I hear and care – this model is a two-way street – almost dating…) The purpose of dialogues can be varied – some will be to come to consensus around an issue, some will be to educate (QandA format), some will be challenging (as in many New Member’s Orientation conversations). In such instances, one may be called to lead a few weeks’ worth of education, moderation, and guidance to a group of people who do not know each other but are considering becoming part of a larger community that will be both public and very personal.

    This is where your understanding of “moxie” comes in. Almost without exception, such gatherings will include at least one person, who when given the opportunity to speak, will drown out all others. This is the person who is asked to observe a two minute window and has just begun to roll at 10 minutes.

    It does take skill as a leader and moderator to enable all to feel heard, to nurture insights about the motivation and assumptions that underscore comments, and to be able to protect the dialogue from those who would rather carelessly over-indulge personal use of the group time-allotment.

    Thus, the one key skill I would point out is the ability to carefully listen and then summarize and repeat back to those who cannot self-moderate time use, then remind that all need to be heard. Some leaders start leading without really understanding that element of controlling the conversation – which results often in a kind of resentment on the part of others who have shared appropriately.

    I end here!

  2. I think it isn’t so much that it needs a trained person – but it needs the role. In other words, one or sometimes more people in a conversation need to play the role of leading the conversation.

    Certainly for conversations that are part of an initiative on a timeline with a purpose, it is likely that identified and skilled individuals will need to play this role to ensure a productive dialogue.

    But I also believe dialogue does occur naturally among people at times without a trained leader or conversation guide. I can think of cases where I have been part of social conversations that turn into dialogue because different people take on the role of pushing, summarizing, contrasting, challenging and supporting each other in moving ideas ahead.

  3. Brad, I liked this post a lot. David makes a good point, that there are exceptions to this rule, and I too have experienced them in my own comings and goings in community life. I think from an organizational perspective though, real dialogue or conversation-based engagement skills are too important to leave up to chance.

    I don’t know if it has to be an outisde person (you’re not necessarily saying that, I realize). I think back to The Harwood Institute’s Reconnecting Communities and Schools Work, where real people in real communities were trained to lead conversations. It wasn’t super extensive training but enough to get the ball rolling. And people felt comfortable talking to their neighbors as opposed to “facilitators.” I think of facilitators as having process but no content. I agree with you in that a conversation-based engagement leader actually has to bring his or her own experiences as a citizen into the space to help move the conversation. They have to have an understanding of how people talk, how to peel back the layers of that talk, how to make connections, etc.

    Here’s my question back to you: How in the world can we get more people in our organizations to have those skills? What are the trainings, tools, etc. that can create those skills? If the answer is that you’re either born with it or you’re not, I think we’re in real trouble!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s