An Application of Bohmian Dialogue in Organizations Prasad Kaipa and Russ Volckmann

Executive Summary: Two consultants (one internal and one external) dialogue on ways to intervene with an intact management team that was facing major, turbulent changes. This article describes  themes that evolved from our initial data collection interviews, our preparation for the two day-two night dialogue with management team and the results of our intervention. One of the two consultants worked regularly with the team for two years. We end this article with comments from participants on the process, intervention and what they got during our two year work with them.

Background: Russ worked as an internal organization development consultant for a premiere managed health care business. Prasad was invited to facilitate the dialogue process with themanagement team of an information technology  division and Russ had agreed to work with the team before and after the dialogue session.

Russ and Prasad first engage in the dialogue process to discuss and plan their joint consulting assignment of using dialogue as part of an ongoing organizational intervention with an intact management team. They explore how to bring dialogue as part of an ongoing organizational intervention in a division facing major, turbulent organizational changes within an hierarchical system.

Russ's consultation thus far had included data collection interviews, data feedback via a report to the management team. Key themes for this client group were:

  • Poor integration of members following two previous reorganizations of the larger system of which they were a part
  • Conflict and distrust among some members of the group
  • Mutual professional respect; and
  • Widely varying sets of assumptions about how to reorganize including resistance to a technical consultant's reorganization recommendations.

The client had agreed to bring in Prasad at this point to support the use of dialogue in a two-day, two-night offsite.

Russ: I am interested in the alignment and attunement that is going to be important between us when we are working with the clients. It is important to develop meaning and understanding together about this work. I've read about dialogue, gained some basic principles, and participated in a number of dialogue groups. You'd think that being at least a reasonably intelligent human being I'd be able to walk into a dialogue really knowing what I'm doing. I question that because I've watched my own behavior and my own way of managing myself in those contexts. There are elements of dialogue that I still want to understand particularly in terms of suspending what I already know and moving more into inquiry rather than trying to assert what I already believe I know into the process.

I've seen dialogue participants engaging each other from an old paradigm or an old method of discourse. There was very little time spent on the notion of dialogue itself. We jumped in with both feet and just started talking to each other. There was very little time taken to reflect on how our discourse related or didn't relate to dialogue. That surprised me.

What kind of preparation, what kind of understanding is important for people to have before they can use the dialogue process? My assumption is that people need to have some basic understanding of what dialogue is before they engage in it.

Prasad: When we are engaging in dialogue it is effortless. It does not mean easy — total attention is required, it takes a lot of effort to reach that effortless state. The purpose of engaging in this dialogue is not to resolve some issues, or to get at something. Giving a "description" of what dialogue is or what the expected processes are may be problematic.

At some level, human beings are naturally inclined to dialogue both within themselves and with other people. Dialogue between people deepens the relationship and may increase our ability to question each other without suspecting one's motives, even when we are both in conflict.

We can start with the assumption that we are going to have a dialogue but there are very few times when we really connect with one another at a deeper level of meaning. It doesn't hurt to provide some preparation, but dialogue is about "unthinking" or "unlearning" our assumptions.

Russ: One assumption is that people need to be primed in some way, that they need to have some kind of introduction, some kind of framework with which to enter into "effortless" dialogue. A way to do that is to frame a set a ground rules and guidelines.

Prasad: I think it is very valuable to have some ground rules as long as they don't obstruct the flow of meaning and they are at a foundational level — they support the dialogue process. If somebody doesn't have the distinction of "water," vs. "ground," they may quickly get into trouble. Boundary conditions have to be very clear, like where the water ends and where the ground begins.

Russ: You are saying there is a sharp boundary, that you are either in the water or on the land?

Prasad: Yes, boundaries can be sharp, but not necessarily rigid. As long as you are going to stay either in the water or the land, you do not need to concern yourself with boundaries. Only when you come to the edge you need to know the implications of going across the boundary so you can make a choice about it.

In the dialogue, if I say, "Russ, you are accusing me of this and you are wrong," then I'm making a statement that you are wrong. There are no two ways about it. In the above assertion, there is no possibility for you to be right. On the other hand, I could say, "Am I hearing this right, Russ? Are you trying to say X, and if X is what you are saying, then I believe X does not work, at least from my perspective," and that gives us a lot more freedom to explore further.

Russ: It also allows us to explore two different points of view and look at the assumptions that underlie them.

Prasad: Right. Suddenly what happens is conflict between us can move to the meaning at the root of the word "conflict." Conflict comes from the Latin root conflictus which is past participle of confligere, to strike together. Con-, together + fligere, to strike. So we strike together instead of striking each other.

Russ: So it is us.

Prasad: It is us. Instead of I vs. you, it becomes us vs. whatever is in the way. We can look at it, dig deeply, and understand what is not yet understood, what is unconscious and to be unfolded.

Russ: One of the things that gets in the way is the issue of trust. In this situation with our clients, there is an existing system with a history and people have had varying degrees of time to establish relationships. There are some strongly held feelings of distrust about personal agendas. There is mutual professional respect. There is anger and frustration and a sense of a lack of efficacy in their working together. There is little sense of strong mutual support among some of them; there are conflicting views about how they can best approach the radical changes that are taking place in their environment. So given all that, what are the implications for dialogue?

Prasad: I look at mutual respect as a foundation. First of all, "respect," is like "re-looking." It is from the Latin root respectus which is the past participle of respicere. re-, back +specere, to look at. In other words, the idea of respect is that you are willing to stand up and look in each other's eyes, look at one another and reexamine your relationship. That indicates openness.

Russ: So respect is our foundation.

Prasad: Yes. And once we have mutual respect, it allows for people to begin a conversation. Suspending judgment could come as a natural process of respecting one another.

Russ: Is suspending judgment one of the ground rules?

Prasad: Yes. I don't put it that way because each one's interpretation of those words can be very different. How can we make it much simpler? Suspending one's judgment could get them into examining their own mental models much more deeply than engaging with one another's mental models. Through the process of dialogue we can look at one another and, ultimately, each will look at himself. The process of dialogue is to help them to look. Not look at something, but just look, because most of the time people don't look. They go with pre-judged or pre-processed "prejudice," opinions. Is there a way in which we can suspend that prejudice?

Russ: Or at least raise it to awareness?

Prasad: Yes, at least an awareness. The second thing you brought up regarding our clients was there may be a deep mistrust because of previous encounters. My sense is that it is not about "I trust you" or "you trust me". Either we are in the presence of a larger trust or we are not. It is not like I and you and trust are not different entities.

Russ: You are assuming that trust is a social phenomenon, it is not an individual phenomenon.

Prasad: Yes. Trust is nothing personal. It is like choosing some food from the refrigerator. You choose a certain amount of trust when you feel hungry, just like you choose food. At times when you experience a certain level of respect, love, compassion, care, willingness to explore, or willingness to stay with not knowing, you might experience trust and say, "I'm going to stay with this long enough, even though I don't know where we are going, even though I am becoming afraid at this moment." We should remember that trust comes from the word true; the Greek root treu means tree connoting firmness. I trust the process or I trust that this is good for me indicates that we are holding firm and that we are making choices.

When you trust or when you hold firm, you do not experience related feelings of fear or anxiety or resistance. In our work with the clients we engage with them on past experiences and analyze those, and if we discuss past feelings, what will come up are the past reactions. But there is a way to set a context in which people operate out of mutual respect, and to engage with the dialogue knowing only that we know where to begin. And the idea of this beginning is to examine our own relationship with one another and with ourselves in such a way, that together we can be much more productive together. At least it will be less stressful to talk to you if I feel that you listen to me, and that could be a starting point.

Russ: I'm still thinking about the context here, because we need to make things explicit. For example, this management group is faced with a significant organizational change that is already taking place in their environment. They are needing to do something that brings them more into alignment with where that change is going. They are walking into the dialogue with strong commitments and biases toward different models for that effort, some of them with more or less fear about what decisions will be made around these models. The fear gets right down to the gut of where they live because it could mean the elimination of some of their positions or the relative demotion of some of these positions inside new structures.

Given that trust related dynamic and a hierarchical system where a boss and direct reports are the participants of this dialogue, how do we get people to think and get conscious about the fact that they are bringing all of those issues into the dialogue?

Prasad: We are never an empty sheet of paper. We bring everything we have got into everything that we participate in. It is important to include all of it. One thing which I have found to be powerful is for us to consciously wear our assumptions, our personal agenda, and exploring those out consciously.

Russ: I get a picture of moving from a win/lose way of thinking to a win/win way of thinking and that is one of the things we are trying to achieve through dialogue. Right?

Prasad: That is one way of looking at it. A discussion is constituted around win/lose and in a dialogue, we are in it together looking, examining and exploring and hence win/win is a more powerful way to think about it.

Of course you know that win/win, win/lose are all concepts which mean different things to different people. So everybody goes away with their own understanding and distinctions and interpretations of them. When we use concepts as ground rules without bringing the content with them, their interpretations become barriers.

Russ: What becomes barriers?

Prasad: The misunderstandings and different interpretations about the ground rules. When participants don't know where the ground is solid and where it is not they are giving up their ability to make their own choices, and their responsibility to facilitators. Ambiguous ground rules create conflict and participants may never acknowledge that conflict.

What we are suggesting is that a first step is to make sure your personal agenda is clear to you. It is perfectly all right whatever you bring. You may share your agenda with others if you feel it is appropriate. We are not asking you to do it, and we are not asking you not to do that. We are just asking you to become responsible and accountable for your actions while you dialogue.

The word accountability means "Ability to account for." It is about you, in this collective mode, in this group, in this family group, or intact work group, to be responsible, to respond to other queries and questions which people ask, and to account for your actions either past or present or future. Then together, we will create a possible scenario or vision or future where all of these individual agendas, instead of conflicting with each other, will fit together like pieces of a puzzle. This creates a compelling future in which all of our agendas can be looked at.

We can see what kind of a glue, what kind of a conversation we need to have, to make this future much more compelling. We will check that against the future which is already taking place, based on the changes over which we have no control. We can't control what headquarters does, we can't control the other changes your boss brings about, or what competitors are doing but we can choose what we want to do ---by ourselves individually or collectively.

If there is a way in which we can create an environment for collective learning, then there is a possibility that we might have a dialogue in which all of us are supporting each other. We may come up with some direction or conclusions not at the end of dialogue session but three months down the line. The context in which we engage in dialogue would be towards making one and one equal eleven (1 and 1=11), like a ten-fold improvement in whatever we are trying to bring about. So that is what is my agenda in participating in these dialogue sessions.

Russ: You raised the question of the facilitator in your comments. When I think about the facilitator role in a context like this I think of basically two ways of approaching that. One way is the kind of pure process observer. As a facilitator you are giving feedback about what you see happening, either in an individual or in a group dynamic. The other way is to give the group a structure and try to work them through the structure to achieve a task. What is the facilitator role is in a dialogue context?

Prasad: The facilitator in a dialogue is a person who has some practice at looking, someone who is able to look at both what is going on at a conscious level and at a background level. There is no separation of her being the ultimate observer trying to feed in, but she is an ultimate participator. This person is taking part in the whole. That means she is not depriving them of her role as a participator, and at the same time because she is looking at the process itself, looking at the dialogue itself, there might be something she looks at which other people who don't have the experience might skip through. At some time she might help people to slow down a little bit, to examine something which might become a barrier later.

Russ: Before you go on, let us recap a little what I think you are saying regarding the role of the facilitator in the dialogue process: one is to be a participant and the other is to support the group in taking the time necessary to take a look at what they are doing, what they are saying, what their assumptions are. I've got two questions about that. One is, are you talking about a participant in the context of the dialogue? Or are you talking about a participant in another sense? Second, in the role of slowing the group down to take a look at what is going on, are you raising questions, asking the person, "What are your assumptions?" Or are you feeding back to them, "Here's what sounds like an assumption behind what you are saying." How do you do that?

Prasad: When we are participating in a dialogue, I wonder whether you can truly separate content vs. process vs. context and say, "This is the content of the dialogue," without taking responsibility for the context and the process in which it is unfolding? Ultimately the content is about meaning flowing through the conversation, as Dr. David Bohm said, the meaning that transforms ones' self. What is the content? How and why is it changing? What is the context that is being shifted? Who is speaking? Who is listening? Who is changing? It becomes a dynamic interplay in which you begin to examine what is being examined at that moment. It is like observer and observed are discovering meaning together.

Russ: So all of us are in a partnership together. We are discovering and moving meaning through the group regardless of what the roles are that we bring to that context.

Prasad: Yes. You asked another question about the present moment. I don't know who said it, but somebody did, "If you don't take care of the past, you don't have the present. If you don't take care of the present, there is no future." So at one level, we need to be responsible, cognizant, and aware of our own agendas with which we came into the dialogue, and our so called "win/win" situations which we have designed. But when we are conversing from those frames of reference consciously we begin to examine the filters themselves. So at that level, when the dialogue does take place, when the sparks are flying, when there is meaning which is passing through, the roles become completely dissolved. Even the facilitator role. The facilitator is only required until that dialogue begins. It is like stoking the fire. But when that fire starts, it will consume everything.

Russ: Then we are really talking about learning. We are not just giving lip service to learning here, we are talking about jumping in with both feet and all the rest of ourselves into a learning process.

Prasad: At one level, yes. It is a process of learning in which we bring all our body of knowledge and examine the knowledge which has not been examined before. So what we are saying is: this is where we are, and this is what we've brought, and this is where we are setting up time and space to examine this. Whatever we've brought with us is insufficient for us to enter and transcend that space and time. That is what we are looking at, what we've not been able to look at before.

It is a process of learning-- to look together. It is a full-fledged unlearning, unthinking process in which paradoxically we begin to learn and think as a collective, a whole entity. And only when the dialogue doesn't take place is there a separation of who is the facilitator, who is the participant. As long as we are conversing at the level of meaning flowing through, there is no you, there is no me, and the words could come out of any body's mouth. It doesn't matter.

Russ: And that takes me back to the second question. As long as dialogue isn't taking place then, in the role a facilitator role, do I say, "We are not dialoguing," and call attention to what we are doing, or say "We are getting caught up in who is right and who is wrong," or something like that, and/or do I light a path to dialogue?

Prasad: What I've found to be valuable is not making people wrong and to notice that we are caught up by our past expectations or experience. By trying to create a path based on the past memories, we may stop the flow of meaning in the present moment.

Russ: So by sharing what we experience now, we may begin to spark. Which reminds me of Carl Rogers. He wrote that one of his principles of life was that those things that we think are most unique about ourselves are the things we share most widely with others. That is the assumption or principle underlying this notion of using our own experience to spark.

Prasad: This might sound corny or very philosophical— but whatever is inside is actually coming from outside and whatever is outside is what you put from inside. Boundaries are very porous.

Russ: At least we are connected and part of a field.

Prasad: We are part of a larger field. As long as we are conscious of it and act out of it, our individual boundaries expand. When we are unconscious of this larger field, we may think we have total freedom to do what we like, but we are limited, confined by our own boundaries. Paradoxically, just by looking at our connectedness, by noticing our boundaries and the larger field, we gain freedom from them. When we don't see our own boundaries, we may, by working hard, at times, go beyond them or even expand our boundaries, but they snap right back. It is not going beyond boundaries, but observing them dispassionately, that frees us up.

Russ: Once again, I still have two streams going. One is the hierarchy question in the context of boundaries, because that is a boundary condition. The second piece has to do with dialogue in which we are discovering our sameness. In most of my work, whether it is using tools like Myers Briggs or recognizing the value of confrontation in working across boundaries, the assumption is that the important differences and diversity among us will make us richer by coming together, rather than making everybody the same. So you take either one of those.

Prasad: You yourself said that hierarchy is a boundary condition. So I say let us include it as such and examine it rather than negate it and fight it.

Let us look at the discovery of sameness. The interesting thing about the diversity vs. sameness is that, until we recognize the sameness, the diversity cannot be distinguished. Until we recognize the diversity, the sameness cannot be acknowledged. So in a paradoxical way, which one we are valuing and which one we are entering the conversation from, allows us to expand the boundaries in another dimension.

The question of confronting means to meet face to face like being in front of something. So that means, when we are confronting somebody, there is a way in which we can look at what you see on that face freshly. See whether that has something to do with the other person or not, or your own assumptions, or about what happened with respect to what you think should have happened, or what did not happen. When the boundaries are transgressed unconsciously, peoples' feathers get ruffled. So the idea of looking at identifying the differences, starting from the sameness, or acknowledging the differences in such a way that we can recognize the common base are not mutually exclusive.

Russ: In the case of dialogue the assumption is that from that common basis we are able to generate meaning together — for both of us.

Prasad: As a starting point, yes. That means we need to get to the realization of how futile it would be to assume that each of us is creating bodies of knowledge which are entirely different and exclusive, despite the fact that we are all beginning at the same place from the same source, in the same condition.

Dialogue is to help us to discover this unacknowledged body of knowledge from which we start. From that point, we can begin to discover the processes of thinking and feeling themselves. And to look at the boundaries of what that is. From that common body of knowledge, that common set of assumptions, we can jump beyond thoughts and feelings. To confront what has not been confronted before, to look at what has not been looked at before, to include what has not been included before, is the purpose of dialogue. And that is where the meaning gets discovered, and we generate new knowledge. It is discovering the new that has always been old ———and the key word is discovering.

Russ: This is not a group of peers or a group of strangers coming together. This is an intact, executive and middle level management team. We have one boss and his direct reports. That is a boundary that we have created in our culture in terms of hierarchy. What kind of preparation does a boss need around this kind of work prior to going into it? Second, since these are boundaries all of the members of the group hold, not just the boundaries between them, but the boundaries between them and their boss, do we work with them around the notion that during a dialogue we're peers, we are letting go of "back at the office" kinds of distinctions?

Prasad: The preparation for the boss or for the employees is to examine, not negate, the relatedness. I don't believe that all hierarchy is bad and that networked organizational structure is the only way to go. I believe there is a natural hierarchy in nature. We get into trouble when we take a rigid stance on what that hierarchy means when we have a certain assumption about authority. We get stuck into control and authority and power, instead of freedom, service, making things work, doing the best that people can do, with creativity, growth and development.

Russ: What this implies is that in a dialogue where there is a hierarchy, the existence and the implications of hierarchy become part of the dialogue.

Prasad: That is right. It is about responsibility at one level. In the best situation, the boss is only an interface to some other level of hierarchy or some other people he is responsible to. What is she responsible for? One thing she is responsible for is growth and development of the people and for getting the jobs done for the function for which he is responsible. She is supposed to be accountable for the actions that the group collectively takes. Beyond that, the question of a hierarchy doesn't necessarily need to create a conflict in the traditional sense, a confrontation of roles and responsibilities in how the job gets done, or of what the individual is good at and what the boss is good at. Those could become part of a dialogue in which the boss begins to start noticing what gives her power. All these people doing the best that they can for the times they have together will make the boss look good.

The problem comes not because there is a boundary. There has not been a negotiation of boundary. In a dialogue, we are asking each of them to keep their personal agenda explicit, conscious and on the front burner. We are creating a conversation in which people can recognize and remove boundaries for themselves in relationship with other people. Collectively we are arriving at something which would be mutually inclusive. Together we invent, discover and create boundaries which are useful for us.

Russ: Among some of the members of this group there is a sense of competition. The competition is on the level of assumptions and ideas about the present and the future. There may also be a kind of political dynamic going on that may establish a narrower boundary that constrains trust and relationship.

Prasad: Any boundary that people have not taken responsibility for will become a barrier to dialogue. Any boundary can become a springboard for dialogue when we are willing to acknowledge it.

Russ: Boundaries can be structural or emotional. How do emotions like vulnerability get dealt with from a facilitator's point of view?

Prasad: In any group we are confronting each other with past behaviors, we are confronting each other with what did work, what did not work, what they said they will do and they did not, or what they were good at. It is through the past, dealing with the present, hoping that the future can be consistent if we work enough with the past and kind of clean it up.

Russ: Or it is feedback, like when you do this, this is how it impacts me, this is how I feel about it that sort of thing. You are getting feedback about your behavior.

Prasad: Right, but in dialogue it is about feed forward. The idea of a dialogue is to acknowledge, to appreciate, to take ownership, honor, be with the body of knowledge that we have. But that body of knowledge is not what dialogue is about. It is a springboard to dive into something that has not been experienced before.

It is not about fixing somebody, it is not about changing behavior, it is bringing to consciousness an awareness, with respect, with compassion. But with care. It is about not making somebody wrong, but acknowledging the human frailty. It is not about being vulnerable as an individual in a group, but being authentic about our own inability, and noticing that, and allowing one to take responsibility for that and embracing it in whatever way one can.


For two nights and two days the management group dialogued. In the first session we discussed the need for ground rules and that it is important for the group to have some agreement and understanding about how they are going to work together. We gave examples of some ground rules that other groups have used and the following emerged from the group in the second session:

  • Respect someone else's perspectives.
  • Willingness to listen to others' perspectives.
  • Checkout your own reactions before responding.
  • Everyone participate.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Emphasize the opportunities for learning.
  • Refrain from using absolutes.
  • Use "I" statements or variations on this.

During the two days, the dialogue did not go as we planned. We thought many participants would have questions or issues about the data feedback and we were prepared to use that as the starting point for the dialogue. But very little of the feedback was discussed.

Several times, we were not sure where the dialogue was going. There were times when two people were focused on working issues between them and the rest of the group listened. This helped build confidence in the process for all members and to deeper understanding among themselves. Silence did not mean withdrawal and quietness did not mean disengagement. Rather, each was experiencing an inner dialogue.

The executive and his direct reports started slowly expressing themselves and checking each others' responses. Even though we expected the executive to display authority at times when the conversation got difficult, this did not happen. Rather, he shared his own beliefs, questions and commitments, thus contributing significantly to the atmosphere of dialogue. The importance of his approach in a hierarchical context to the dialogue was critical to the team's successes. The stance he took was one of seeking their initiative and creativity in a context of a turbulent environment and his belief in the need for a more flexible organization.

We wondered about our role——facilitation of the dialogue and how it is different from other interventions. We stayed with what was happening in the room and accepted the process as self-organizing. We focused on the energy of the participants, their body postures, facial expressions, intensity or the lack of it in their words to guide our participation or facilitation.

During the dialogue, participants explored different meanings of their working relationships, their customers, their competitors, their services, and their perceived value of their services to their customers. Numerous points of view were examined regarding their current roles, their perceived value to the organization, the changing environment, and the future. Prasad introduced a conceptual model of learning in organizations which helped to give them a reference point for their conversations, without trapping them within his framework.

It was very clear that the group had achieved far more than any of us had anticipated. Before the dialogue, the executive had set general directions for his work with Russ. Russ had cautioned him about expectations of achieving great strides in those directions, and suggested that the dialogue process offered an opportunity to lay a solid foundation for the continuing work that needed to be done.

At the end the members said that they felt more like a team, that many of the issues which had separated them had been transformed into a foundation on which they could build shared approaches to their future. Some of the comments made at the end of the dialogue included:

"We are giving up control here and freely moving into the unknown. It makes me feel vulnerable and scared. I need extra support and when I am in trouble, I may ask for help (from the team members)."

"I am amazed at what happened here. Lots of attitudes changed in this room."

"We are part of a success story. I don't feel alone and it is really nice."

They jointly developed the following memo which they distributed to all the employees in their division.

"As you are aware, we had an offsiteÖ to discuss teamwork and the reorganization of [our division]. Our progress towards teamwork has significantly exceeded our expectations.

"In addition, we've identified steps and a timetable to continue our efforts in redesigning our division to meet the changing requirements and challenges of the new environment.

"We are looking forward to sharing our insights and information with each of you and to solicit your valuable input."

"Thank you."

Each member of the management team signed the memo before they left the dialogue.


The management group continued to work on discovering meaning and working with other levels of the organization to further explore meaning. As in any learning process, the dialogue goes on.

Russ worked regularly with this team for about two years after the dialogue. (At the end of two years, Russ quit working for the healthcare organization and started the CPR Group in partnership with Prasad and Chris Newham.)

Since completing the dialogue this management team has

  • developed principles to which they wish to be held accountable by other members of the organization,
  • engaged in a variety of activities to share the results of the dialogue with all others in their division,
  • explored and designed approaches to getting in touch with the needs and expectations of their customers,
  • undertaken analysis and development of action plans, and perhaps most significantly,
  • members of the organization have initiated changes in the work of the division, particularly across department boundaries.

The reports of their experience have generated interest in this approach in other parts of the organization and at higher levels. All in all, indications are that the dialogue process confirmed the importance of mutual professional respect for working on issues of trust.

What did we learn facilitating the dialogue process? As consultants we also learned and discovered our capacity for partnership in the learning process. Working with this group in dialogue was a liberating experience for us as we were freed from having to know how to go about solving a problem, planning solutions, or generating a vision. We were engaged with the client in a process of discovery that established a new way of working together.

Dialogue is not a methodology so much as it is a spirit of inquiry into the process of thinking and learning. No two experiences are apt to be alike. There are no hard and fast rules for assuring its success in any hierarchical context. This discussion has suggested some ways of thinking about and working with dialogue as an approach to organizational learning and creativity.

Additional comments from participants

"I was extremely impressed with the dialogue technique. I have been in team building/conflict resolution situations in the past and the "conversations" went for a considerable amount of time, each of the involved parties defending their respective positions. It was entirely different with dialogue, after Prasad explained what dialogue was and what was expected from each of us, it was as if the whole situation had been defused. I don't mean to imply that everyone instantly became good friends, but there was nowhere near the animosity that I have experienced in the past with conflict resolution groups. I would highly recommend this to anyone with the desire to improve working relationships at work, home, social groups or anywhere that people gather and there is a need to eliminate defensive communication."

- Mark Mills

"My reaction to the off-site dialogue was quite positive. It means that we could have a free flow of exchange regarding ourselves and our concerns without the barriers of posturing that occurs when together in typical staff meetings or smaller group settings in our day-to-day encounters. We were better able to recognize that we have a common goal of outstanding service to our clients."

"The dialogue reinforced some long standing premises that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that through mutual respect and better communications we could become more mutually supportive. The dialogue exposure was a unique personal experience for me and I think a rewarding one for all of us. It demonstrated that we can capitalize on all the talents found in a group and teamwork our way to success."

- Jim Harvey


Prasad Kaipa is the founder and managing director of the Mithya Institute for Learning.

Russ Volckmann workedwith a healthcare organization for 14 years and had his own organization called Codis. Currently he is the president of the CPR Group.

Acknowledgments: We truly appreciate the generosity of the dialogue participants for their commitment to learning and editorial comments of Anne Stadler, Chris Newham, Sarita Chawla, Ken Murphy and Perviz Randeria. This article was first published in a preliminary form in Vision Action journal published by the Bay Area Organization Development Network.


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