Sometimes we can fall into the very unfortunate situation where we think we are having a dialogue with somebody, but what is actually taking place is parallel monologues. It is not uncommon for such conversations to feel very frustrating for at least one of the parties involved.
On occasions we might be on the receiving end of monologues, at other times we can be the ones delivering them, unaware of our own behaviour. What is useful is to know when and why a conversation is not functioning as a dialogue so we might adjust appropriately.
Effective dialogue is supported by three key practices.
Willingness to change your position
We will all have perspectives and opinions on a variety of topics, which will be informed by a number of things including our own belief systems and personal experiences. We can sometimes become so attached to our points of view that we refuse to even entertain a different perspective. This is dangerous as it can cause stubborn monologuing leading to a breakdown of dialogue.
Indeed, we know from research in the field of psychology that confirmation bias is something that we suffer as human beings. Confirmation bias is when people seek data that supports beliefs they currently hold. This also means that we are likely to reject or ignore information that refutes our beliefs. Not very good news, I know. That is why being aware of our own behaviour is vital.
If you notice yourself becoming defensive or resistant in a conversation, it is useful to ask yourself why you are behaving so? Are you interested in truly exploring and understanding the situation, or are you more interested in validating your position and defending your ego’s desire to be right?
Putting aside the need to be right requires humility. Without humility, we risk alienating others and missing important insights.
Sometimes, we can walk into meetings and conversations, particularly in business settings, forgetting that we are dealing with real people with real emotions. Practicing empathy requires us to not only understand the other person’s perspective, but also truly share what they might be feeling.
Empathy allows us to connect with each other at a very human level. And this connection is a powerful enabler of a deeper kind of dialogue that is born out of a recognition of our common humanity.
Many a misunderstanding and conflict could be avoided if we only attempted to see things as others do. Empathy allows us to go beyond the vacuum of our own thoughts.
Often, we are so caught-up in what we want to say that we might not even be listening to the other person. We might be so eager to unload our point of view that we forget to listen at a very basic level.
Unsurprisingly, basic listening is the foundation of any dialogue and having the patience to hear the other person out is the starting point for this. Patience is also linked to not needing to be right and empathy – the more we practice these, the more patient we are likely to become.
Patience can be cultivated by having an awareness of our own thoughts and behaviours. By being vigilant of ourselves, we can notice when we begin to jump ahead and stop listening. The difficulty here is remembering to be aware!
Bringing it all together
While the above practices can be used to support more effective dialogue, they do not have to be limited to that purpose. Ultimately, not needing to be right, empathy and patience are attributes that can become part of a general way of being that permeates everything we do. Focusing on them in the context of dialogue is a useful starting point.
So, the next time you find yourself in conversation with someone, ask yourself – am I really in effective dialogue here or am I just delivering a monologue?