The Miracle of Dialogue

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

How often have you had the experience of being with another person where you show an interest in them by asking questions about their life and listening to them and then realize that they don’t show the same interest in you? Or have an experience where the conversation is almost completely superficial? Do you often find yourself wishing, as I do, that the meeting or the discussion or the dinner were over because it wasn’t a satisfying experience for you? Do you find yourself inwardly resisting or avoiding future encounters with such people?

It’s a basic human need to want to communicate and to have meaningful interactions with others–spouses, children, parents, friends, co-workers. And yet it isn’t easy or comfortable to achieve real communication–meaningful exchange–which may explain why it occurs so rarely.

Communication That Strengthens vs. Diminishes Us

Dialogue is the key to having real communication–the kind of communication in which both people feel a connection with the other and have a strong sense that a meaningful interaction is taking place–where there is a flow of meaning between them. To have dialogue means much more than two people talking to each other. Often in conversations, each person is trying to one-up the other or make their point no matter what or impress the other one with their knowledge or experience with little or no sensitivity to the other’s reaction. They talk past each other and one or both of them often feels frustrated or at least dissatisfied when it’s over. Or one person does most of the talking while the other listens passively, gradually losing interest.

Having real communication starts with the belief that it’s possible to bring meaning to every encounter whether it be a department meeting, a dinnertime discussion or a phone conversation with a friend. Then comes the conscious decision to engage in such encounters with the intention of having a dialogue–“I want to know how you think and feel and I also want to let you know how I think and feel so that we both will come away enhanced and strengthened by our interaction.”

Such dialogue is possible only we genuinely care about the other person at some level and have the capacity to show interest in their ideas, values and experiences. Equally as important are our desire, courage and ability to share our own views and beliefs. In short, real and meaningful communication requires each person to be both self-disclosing and empathic.

The Gordon Model offers people the communication skills they need to have this kind of meaningful dialogue–it offers them both the ability to understand and empathize with another’s life experiences through Active Listening (accurate receiving) and the ability to express their own ideas, opinions, values and experiences in a way that lets others know them better and as a result allows them to know themselves better as well (I-Messages or clear sending).

I-What Gets In Our Way

Clear sending–It’s not always easy to be congruent, i.e. to have our words match what we are thinking or feeling. It often takes real courage to be our authentic self, to be who we really are because we expose ourselves to the reaction of others. Being congruent means that we will be known as we really are and there can be fear attached to revealing ourselves–fear that we will be judged, misunderstood, not taken seriously, ignored or rejected. And when others aren’t fully present or aren’t attentive and skilled listeners, this too inhibits our willingness and ability to express ourselves as we really are. That’s the bad news. The good news is that instead of feeling frustrated and upset because we didn’t speak up, there’s a feeling of well-being, satisfaction, peace, relief, even elation that comes when we have the courage to reveal ourselves as we are, without pretense. Each time we do this, it contributes to our core strength–often in ways that aren’t instantly apparent.

Accurate receiving–To do this means giving the other person our full attention, acceptance and understanding. It means suspending our own thoughts and feelings for the time being and allowing the other person to express who they really are. It doesn’t mean we need to agree with them; it does mean we set our judgments aside and attempt to see the world as they see it. When we are able to be open to another’s experience, there is much less chance that they will feel defensive or on guard and a good chance that they will feel accepted and understood. Think of the feelings of relief, even catharsis that you have experienced when someone has truly understood you at a deep level.

Being Open is the Key

When we have the courage to open ourselves to others and when we can allow ourselves to be open to their experience, true dialogue can occur and as a result, the relationship and each person as an individual will flourish. In addition, just think about how much more interesting life would be if we all made a conscious attempt to engage with others in this way.