Dialogue Process

The Dialogue Process centers around listening—to yourself as well as others. Shared and personal meaning emerges within a group through listening to what is said from a standpoint of inquiry and reflection (Isaacs 1999).

What follows are detailed and then streamlined scripts for a Dialogue Process session in which the participants learn about the process as we go. (These scripts build on those of Bradford 1999.)

Detailed Script

[Facilitator speaks:] Dialogue Process session on [facilitator fills in topic]
Pass this sheet around, each person reading one paragraph of a script prepared by Allyn Bradford and Peter Taylor.


In the Dialogue Process meaning evolves collectively through mutual understanding and acceptance of diverse points of view.

To master the Dialogue Process requires learning a variety of communication skills including a tolerance of paradox (or opposing views), the suspension of judgment, and empathetic listening. It also requires making the entire thought process visible, including tacit assumptions. In this process, instead of imposing our views on others, we invite others to add new dimensions to what we are thinking. We also learn to listen to the voice of the heart—our own and others—and strive to find ways to make that voice articulate.

The purpose of dialogue is neither to agree nor to determine who is right. Rather, the purpose is to discover the richness of diverse perceptions that create a shared meaning that emerges from a group through inquiry and reflection. The meaning that evolves is dynamic as it moves through many diverse phases. If others contradict, the challenge is to learn from what they have said.

The origin of dialogue goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is also found among preliterate Europeans and Native Americans. More recently David Bohm, the renowned physicist introduced the Dialogue Process into the scientific quest for knowledge and also used it to address social problems. Bohm said that “when the roots of thought are observed, thought itself seems to change for the better.” Dialogue, he said, “is a stream of meaning flowing among and through and between us.” Dialogue is now being used in schools, corporations and government to develop rapport, resolve conflict, and build community.


1. You don't have to agree. Listen with the expectation of learning—that is, assume that the speaker has something new and of value to contribute to your comprehension and then stretch your mind to find out what that is.

2. None of us has the whole truth. Seek to comprehend the many facets of meaning that emerge from the group. Appreciate how the diversity of perceptions enriches the quality of the dialogue. In your responses do not problem solve, argue, analyze, rescue, nit pick or give advice. Rather, try to understand how the diverse views connect with each other.

3. Pay attention to your listening. Listen for the “voice of the heart” as well as the mind—yours and others'. Tune into the language, rhythms and sounds. Listen as you would to hear the themes played by various instruments in an orchestra and how they relate to each other. That's what makes the music. In Dialogue, that is what makes the collective meaning.

4. Free yourself up from a rigid mindset. Stand back and respond, rather than reacting automatically or defensively. Balance advocacy (making a statement) with inquiry (seeking clarifications and understanding). In advocating do not impose your opinion, rather simply offer it as such. In inquiry seek clarification and a deeper level of understanding, not the exposure of weakness.

5. Communicate your reasoning process, i.e., talk about your assumptions and how you arrived at what you believe. Seek out the data on which assumptions are based, your own and others. Bring tacit (hidden) assumptions to the surface of consciousness.

6. Suspend, rather than identify with, your judgements. Hold these away from your core self, to be witnessed or observed by yourself and made visible to others.

7. Confidentiality: Do not speak afterwards about what is said in the dialogue by attributing it to anyone, even if you don't name the person. Instead, simply talk about what you are thinking or inquiring about as a result of having been in today's session. If you speak to anyone from this group about what they said, follow the same genuine inquiry you practice here.

8. Turn-taking: The overriding idea: Keep focused on listening well. You won't listen well if you are thinking about whether you will get to talk next or are holding on tight to what you want to say. So take a numbered card (or put your initials into the online chat box) when you feel that you would like a turn, but keep listening. When your turn comes, show your card, and pause. See if you have something to follow what is being said, even if it is not the thought you had wanted to say. You can pass.

There is no need for questions to be answered right away. If the question relates directly to someone, they can pick it up when they next take a turn. This differs from usual conversations, but think of questions as inquiries that you are putting into a shared space.

Try to make the turn-taking administer itself so the facilitator can listen well and participate without distraction. When you finish speaking (or if you decide to pass), put your card on the stack of used cards so the person with the next card knows that they can begin (or call on the next person in the online chat queue). The facilitator's role becomes simply to recharge the unused stack of cards when needed and gently remind people to follow the guidelines.


Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that's at the front for you as we go into the session.
[Stop passing the sheet around at this point, and take turns in checking-in.]

[Facilitator speaks:]

Turn-taking dialogue about the topic at hand for the time available

[Facilitator reminds group of the topic]
* * * *
[Facilitator closes off the turn-taking so as to keep the last 8+ minutes for the last two phases of the Dialogue]

Writing to gather thoughts from what has emerged

Two-three minutes for each of us to write.


Go around the circle with each person saying one thought that you are taking away to chew on after this session.

Refresher on Guidelines

The Dialogue Process centers around listening—to yourself as well as others. Shared and personal meaning emerges within a group through listening to what is said from a standpoint of inquiry and reflection (Isaacs 1999). The guidelines for this process are as follows, starting with mechanics and moving to attitude:
  • When you think you have something to say, take a card or put your initials into the online chat box to add your name to the queue. Then go back to listening.
  • After you end your turn talking, place your card on the used stack or call on the next person in the chat queue. (When the turn-taking administers itself the facilitator can be a participant, stepping back into facilitator role only when needed to gently remind participants of guidelines.)
  • When it comes to your turn, pause. If you don't remember what it was you'd wanted to say or if it's no longer apt to where the conversation has gone, you can pass.
  • When you take a turn, don't try to go through all the points you might have noted down. That makes it hard for the person speaking after you to see what thread to follow. Keep it to one or two points—you can always take another turn later—and finish your turn if you find that you are repeating yourself.
  • In what you say, expose what you are chewing on; it's not so helpful to you or the dialogue to assert what you have already settled for yourself.
  • Protect the reputation of others in the group and outsiders. That means not disparaging any named or identifiable person nor sharing something that would embarrass or could be used against them.
  • If you ask a question that seems to be directly taking up something said by one speaker, offer it to the whole group to consider. Indeed, the specific speaker cannot answer until their next turn and even then may choose to speak of some other concern.
  • You don't have to agree. Suspend, rather than identify with, your judgements. Stand back and ponder, rather than reacting defensively. Communicate your reasoning process.
  • Listen with the expectation of learning. None of us has the whole truth. Appreciate how the diversity of perceptions enriches the quality of the dialogue.
  • Silence is OK. After all, the deepest insights from dialogue process come from listening to yourself think.

  • Bradford, A. (1999). “Guidelines for dialogue.” http:// www.cct.umb.edu/guidelinesdia.htm (viewed 2 Jan 2012).
    Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York: Currency.