Organizational transformation

Designing Organizations for Dialogue

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Husband, foster parent of 2 children.

The Short of It

  • Often within organizations, there can be a tendency to allow one-way tracks to develop in terms of communication.
  • Projects need clear pathways for understanding that extend throughout the project - not just the start.
  • Creating open channels allows dialogue to flourish leading to more natural connections.

In an article in TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences titled “Why is conversation so easy?,” Simon Garrod and Martin J. Pickering, set out to address a simple question:

If monologues are technically less difficult (ie: the person only has to listen and doesn’t have to interact or be prepared to interact), why are conversations actually easier?

You would think that since we would be able to devote all of our energies to listening to a monologue, without having to worry about what we should say, how we will be perceived, what grammar and vocabulary we should use, etc., that extracting meaning from monologues would actually be easier.

But the opposite is true.

Part of what leads to understanding is what Garrod and Pickering call “interactive alignment” or our ability to align ourselves within a conversation around clear goals, values, words, sounds, grammar, etc.

And these rules are just applicable within organizations.

Often within organizations, there can be a tendency to allow one-way tracks to develop in terms of communication. Policies and practices created in one place are simply “presented” to those further down the chain. There is often an assumption that by the time something gets to the presentation and sharing phase that it already has full understanding baked in.

The challenge with that assumption is that if, in Garrod and Pickering’s words, humans are “designed for dialogue rather than monologue,” then simply receiving information is often not enough for clear understanding. There has to be an iterative and continual conversation between parties in order for full understanding to evolve.

One approach for improving these issues within your organization is to make sure that there is a clear pathway for understanding that extends throughout the project - not just something that is front-loaded at the beginning.

By creating an open channel where dialogue is encouraged and allowed to flourish, all parties involved can connect in more natural ways that lead to a clearer and more robust understanding of the issues and the solutions set up to address them.

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