delving in a small circle






Pleasant House

The Art of Dialogue

by Nanna Aida Svendsen®

Dialogue groups are gatherings of people who come together simply to listen and say, what ever needs to be said, with out having a particular agenda or purpose other than the deepening of awareness and connection. Dialogue groups are blossoming. They are showing up in organizations, between management and unions, in women's, men's and networking groups, in educational establishments and amongst interested groups of individuals. They range in size from just two participants several hundred. Often they come together without a specific purpose or leader, and they represent a shift from communication that is essentially hierarchical to communication that is fundamentally mutual.

Engaging in Dialogue Process is a powerful way of being together where greater insight and understanding may unfold. It can even offer us a chance to be together in a non combative way, when opposing issues are at stake.

The word Dialogue comes from the Latin term Dialogos which means: flow of meaning. In the practice of Dialogue the idea is that the meaning or deeper significance of things has a chance to flow and come into awareness. Or to put it another way, it as about communicating in such a way that greater understanding and appreciation of self, one another, or any issue one is grappling with, may come into being. It is about delving for deeper levels of awareness. The Art of Dialogue is more that this however. It is also an invitation to Soul&emdash;to the central or vital part of ourselves or any present issue&emdash;to come forward and make itself known.

Click here for In Tender Relating, delving in a small circle: Seven women dialogue and delve together.

Continue for basic reading on how to dialogue and the art of dialogue practice

A Basic Form for The Art of Dialogue

Dialogue practice can take many forms. It can show up as a conversation within oneself, between two people, or as a group process. One basic format which was proposed by the late physicist David Bohm, is to sit together, without a leader, and without a particular goal (though the process can happily be applied to specific problem solving) and simply allow our deeper knowing or experience to emerge. The agreements are simple:

  • To face one another in a non hierarchically way: for example in a circle
  • To, if possible, begin the process with a few minuets of silence so as to offer people a chance to let go of what ever business they have just been involved in and become more fully present.
  • To speak one at a time&emdash;when one feels moved to&emdash;or to choose silence;
  • To express, as honestly, clearly and fairly as possible, that which moves one deeply.
  • To speak, when possible, from ones passion, wisdom or questioning rather than from ones positions and roles.
  • To express, when possible, thinking and experience rather than opinions.
  • To truly listen to each other;
  • To be open to one's unfolding experience and to express it if one wants to;
  • To bring awareness to what's going on inside oneself in response to what's going on in the group, and to use this awareness to evolve one's own understanding;
  • To give space for everything that needs to be raised, so as to give deeper levels of insight, creativity and meaning a chance to emerge;
  • Not to go into debate.


Dialogue Rather Than Debate.

Dialogue is different from debate in that it encourages diversity of thinking and feeling rather than suppressing them. In the practice of Dialogue, there is an agreement that no one idea or thought should win or rule over others, and that common agreement should not be sought at the cost of individual integrity and wholeness. No one's interest is given higher rank than any one else's.

The idea is simply to hear one another's perspectives, listen to each others experiences. These do not have to be agreed with, adhered to, or disagreed with. By letting our various view points stand, rather than attacking or defending them, there is a possibility for new understanding to emerge. Indeed diversity is frequently delighted in as long as the will of one is not imposed upon the will of another. When this can take place deeper and surprising levels of accord have frequently come forward. It is as if our very intelligence can at times be pooled, and its evolution encouraged, as differences are heard and held in ways that affords them the opportunity to coalesce into new feelings and ideas, individually as well as collectively.

An underlying premise, when dialogue us used as a problem solving tool, is that any part of an organization, system or group, if it has access to real information about the whole of which it is part, and has a chance to listen to itself, will start to think creatively and self organize towards the next evolutionary or possible step. This process is not about placing blame or pronouncing judgments. Rather it is about listening for a deeper awareness and understanding of what is actually taking place. When this can happen movement towards true and mutual resolution has a real chance to take place.


Tools of Dialogue.

One of the primary features of the Art of Dialogue is the creation of a environment in which participants chose to utilize certain tools in relating to themselves and each other. These tools are designed to facilitate authentic communication. Some of these are: listening to one's feelings, one's body, oneself and one another; being sensitive as to when something is

complete and when it is not; being attentive to what is missing; speaking when one feels moved to; being present; being alert to responses that may come up in association with what someone is saying, so that these responses may be named&emdash;not as an attack, but as a quest for understanding; being sensitive to the developing stages of any group and of the individuals within it, oneself included; and being alert to what is conducive to the kind of environment in which this can take place - what can contain it - and what is disruptive to it.

In a sense the process of Dialogue is like a mirror. The presence and listening offered can be like a deep well or lake in which one can see oneself or someone else clearly. It offers a chance, if one wishes to take it, to notice what one chooses to bring to the lake. What thoughts, feelings, notions, responses or ideas do you choose to share? What do you choose to have mirrored to you? How do you choose to use the listening offered? On something true and real for you, or that which stands in the way of something real? On chit chat, proving your point, being entertaining or....? How do you feel when you do? Or when others do? What helps the process flow, yours someone elses, the groups? What seems to stop it?

Dialogue process is a creative art, in which one is invited to listen or feel into as well as express deeper levels of awareness and experience.

Essentially it is a way of relating, even with oneself. Though the practice of Dialogue can be very rewarding it can also be rough. It asks that we be willing to adjust to new levels of compassion, kindliness, non attachment, presence, honesty, freedom and mutuality. In so doing we may have to face whatever is in our hearts that stands in their way - a feature that can at times make the process seem challenging. Yet if we are willing to stay with the process the practice can be heartening indeed. It can be a gift.


Yours in good faith Nanna Aida Svendsen.

Copyright © Nanna Aida Svendsen 2002