Info on Dialogue Process LO1440

Robert Levi (
Tue, 30 May 95 18:57:53 +0100

In response to Mary Margaret Palmer's request for information on the
Dialogue Process, I offer the following brief summary of Dialogue. I use
this in gatherings with folks who don't know a lot about the process:

Also, see a paper I posted, edited by Richard Burg (are you out there,
Richard?) from a talk given by Bohm, et al, on his version of Dialogue.
Host's Note: Richard Burg has graciously contributed the paper with the
talk by Bohm. It's too long to distribute to everyone on the list; I'll
put it in the ftp and Web archives. If anyone would like a copy who cannot
access these archives, please email me with the subject "Burg/Bohm Paper"

-- Rick Karash,, host for learning-org



An intentional and sustained inquiry into the assumptions, certainties,
and processes that structure common experience and inform collective
action. Dialogue begins with the premise that there is an implicate
undivided wholeness that can be made explicate. It consists of a flow of
meaning that requires a shared "field" of experience and attention.

Dialogue Requires Shifts From:
Knower to Learner
Competence to Vulnerability
Arrogance to Humility
Observer to Participant

Qualities of Dialogue:

Suspension involves putting an idea, feeling, or belief into the middle,
and taking one's hand off of it, so what gets put in the middle becomes
the property of the whole. You, as well as the group, can look at what's
there from many different angles. The investment is withdrawn and up for

The spirit of inquiry involves an open space in which to ask questions
about where a particular assertion, belief, or idea came from. Much of
what arises in a conversation is based on assumptions we make, and there
is often a need to question the data that led us to think a certain way.
In a dialogue, a person who is making broad generalizations can be subject
to inquiry. How did you get there? Can you give me the data that supports
your conclusions? There is a greater possibility for deeper understanding
with the inquiry process. Inquiry must be balanced with advocacy if there
is to be Dialogue.

Generative listening
Generative listening is essential in dialogue, and involves letting go of
"building my case" when someone is speaking from a different point of
view. It involves "listening for understanding," rather than preparing to
convince the other person that they are wrong.

Holding tension of opposites
Holding a space that has polarity and opposites is also an essential
quality of dialogue that addresses the wide variation in views usually
present in a diverse group. There is a need to have a container built that
respects the differences and enjoys and cultivates the energies between
the diverse elements.

Ladder of Inference
/----/ I take ACTIONS based on my beliefs.
/----/ I adopt BELIEFS about the world. --------------| My BELIEFS
/----/ I draw CONCLUSIONS. | affect the
/----/ I make ASSUMPTIONS based on meanings I added. | DATA that I
/----/ I add MEANINGS (cultural and personal). | select.
/----/ I select "DATA" from what I observe. <---------|
/----/ All the information in the world

We use this tool a lot to examine beliefs that are advocated by folks. If
you take the time to "walk" down the ladder of inference, there is a lot
of learning to be had, especially around the "MEANINGS" rung. Also, the
"reflexive loop" is another big learning piece...that our beliefs affect
the data we select (usually to reinforce our beliefs.) This has large
implications on the scientific method.

(Many thanks to Dr. William Isaacs for his excellent research into the
Dialogue process. His institute, Dialogos, puts on excellent trainings in
Dialogue. Dialogos can be reached at 617-576-7986. Tell them you heard
about them from Robert Levi on the Internet.)

There is a lot more I could write about, but I think I've done enough
"advocating". I look forward to any "inquiries" about the process.

Robert Levi             |  303-546-0679
2800 Kalmia, #A-327     |  email:
Boulder, CO  80301      |  "Think globally, change personally."