Day Three – Dialogue? It’s a brain thing….


Welcome to Day Three of the Exploring Dialogue series. The blogs are designed to consider the impact and influence of use-of-dialogue in everyday and organisational conversations.

Writing about dialogue is a head-scratcher.

I’m trying to write about something essentially verbal and experience-based. It’s hard to find good language for this, I’m finding…..

And yet it feels important to share some of the definitions and deeper meanings I attach to Dialogue – what it might mean to converse and interact well. I’m drawn to David Bohm when he points out that:

Dialogue comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word”.. and dia means through – it doesn’t mean “two”. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of that dialogue is present…a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us.” ( Bohm 1996 ,P 7)

Making Meaning
That “stream of meaning” is processed by our brains (and our bodies – I’m coming to that bit in a later post). We hear words, attach meaning to them, respond according to the meaning we make….someone hears, makes meaning, responds…ebb, flow, ebb flow…… And it’s in how we interpret and understand what has been said, that we start to agree or disagree with each other.

My point is we don’t “just say” into a vacuum. To be understood well is to acknowledge others are there, interpreting our words and to consider the impact of what-we-say-to-people and what-they-say-back more thoughtfully. It’s the difference between talking at (monologue) and talking with (dialogue).

Change Happens in Conversation – Literally
We are changed through our interactions with people and the wider world. I understand it might seem like an obvious thing to write (the temptation to say “Duh…of course we are” might be high at this point) but I’d offer this notion of change in conversation is something important, maybe even profound. Your differences, stories, reactions, interpretations affect me. I affect you. My brain creates new connections as we talk. I have new experiences and insights. I become different. You literally alter my mind:

“ As the study of plasticity of the brain evolved, scientists noticed that the brain was capable of creating new connections on a massive scale at any stage of life and did this in response to anything that was learned….It is now widely believed that our brain doesn’t just get rewired when life-changing events occur; it happens second by second in response to what is going on around us.” (David Rock,Quiet Leadership 2006)

So the brain responds and changes in conversation. We change in conversation. We shift each other, albeit slightly, when we interact… for me, this is where understanding and working with dialogue becomes important, compelling, maybe even beautiful. Because here, in small moments of talking, there is newness. Here there is the possibility of discovery, tolerance and connection. Here stigmas can be challenged. Here “the way we’ve always done things” starts to look less solid.

Connecting and Creating
When working with groups, teams and one-to-one with coaching clients, I have been fortunate enough to experience the profound, thought shifting, insight- giving moments that can and do happen when people share meaning and talk with each other. Not AT each other – but with each other. Generating a new sense of something together through words and questions. Building on an idea. Beginning to understand something previously unseen. Making new connections. Creating.

The energy that comes from these moments sticks with you. It creates a buzz in the room. A goosebumping on the skin. A quickening of the breath. A slowing of time. Did I say it was a brain thing? Ah…sorry… Lost track for a second.

Parting Thoughts
If you like, I could map out the difference between dialogue and discussion (Bohm’s view – like percussion or concussion, discussion is about breaking things up and into parts; like a ping-pong game where we bat words about and try to win points). I could get drawn into the semantics of whether or not something is a conversation or dialogue or talking well or collective intelligence. I’m up for that conversation if you want to buy me a coffee and we have some time together, of course I am….

…and that coffee discussion we have about semantics will, if I can stay open and curious enough, allow me to understand my view better or differently and allow you the opportunity to do the same…. or you may even, in conversation, help me to utterly change my mind, creating new synapses and thoughts. You could change the chemistry and mapping in my brain and I could change yours….

How cool is that?

And in this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops on 5th & 6th Feb and 20th & 21st March this year designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here:

If you are interested in the work, please sign up – if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.

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