Productive Dialogue

by Daniel L. Smith
Director of Development
Josiah White’s Quakerdale Foundation

In this world of digital communication the ability to have meaningful conversations has declined to the point you could almost say that it is a lost art. The goal of this post is to identify some of the components needed to lead a Productive Dialogue.

So what is a Productive Dialogue?

First, it is productive in that it is intended to accomplish something; of which building healthy relationships should be at the top. Productive dialogues are not conversation for the sake of conversation.

Second, they work best in a peer-to-peer atmosphere rather than a superior-to-inferior environment. The roles and titles of those involved may range from CEO to mail boy, but productive dialogue happens best when each person’s views and opinions are as welcome and important as everyone else.

Third, because it is a dialogue it must meet the goals and expectations of all parties involved. A dialogue is not a monologue!

If the only reason for your conversation is to get your point across then it will be impossible for the communication to be a dialogue. It may be productive for you because you got your point across, but it will NOT have met any of the expectations of others involved. Depending on what is said and how it is presented, your listeners may feel as if they have been lectured. Rarely does that build healthy relationships.

What do I need to consider when trying to set up a Productive Dialogue?

Communication Format. Be sure to choose a communication format that is preferred by as many people involved as possible. If you don’t you run the risk of participants not engaging or checking out. (i.e. I hate trying to have a dialogue by text message. I can only go so long before I’m mentally gone from the “conversation.”)

Location, Date, Time, and Duration. As much as possible, if you are the initiator of the conversation, let the others involved set the location, the date, the time, and the duration. Be sure to encourage all participants to be in a place where they are as distraction free as possible for the length of the dialogue.

Expectations. State your reason for the dialogue and ask the others who will participate if they have any other topics that need to be discussed. Depending on the duration of the conversation you may have to set up another time to address additional topics.

Summary. Communicate back to the individual/group a summary of what was decided. It might look something like this in an email:

Team,

We have decided to set January 23 at 10:00 AM for a dialogue on how to best use the proceeds from the recent sale of a donated property in Minnesota. We will meet at the location of our choice using Zoom (be sure the location is as distraction free as possible). I will set up the video meeting and invite each of you to join. Responding “Yes” to the invitation will let me know you both received it and are planning to participate. The meeting will last no longer than 1 hour. If time allows we will begin a discussion on the possible use of AWeber for our email marketing (to be lead by Chuck Connors).

For Christ and His Kingdom,

Daniel L. Smith
Director of Development
Josiah White’s Quakerdale Foundation
(641) 497-5294 x1272

What are some tips for conducting a Productive Dialogue?

Start with the Summary. At the beginning of every dialogue be sure to restate the agreed upon summary for the conversation. Using the example above, I might start out my Zoom meeting something like this:

Good Morning. I want to welcome each of you to our conversation this morning and thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to participate. As per the email I sent out when setting up this meeting, we are here to discuss the possible ways of using the proceeds from the recent sale of the Smith property donated to us back in October of last year. We are planning to conclude by 11:00 AM. If time allows Chuck will lead a discussion about the possibility of using AWeber for our email marketing. Are we all okay with this?

Objections or other topics. If there are any objections to the summary, or if another topic is offered, stop and get a consensus on how to proceed. It may very well be that a new course of action needs to replace the original plan. Do not proceed unless everyone is on board with the discussion plan.

Active Listening. Be sure to use active listening throughout the conversation. It is vital to make sure that what is said by a speaker and what is heard by the others is same thing. So many times I have been in the middle of a conversation where we are debating (that’s the polite way of saying arguing) a point only to discover that we are both saying the same thing, just from a different perspective. Active listening requires the following:

  • Hear – making sure you are focused on hearing what the other person is saying and not thinking about anything else; that includes your perceived response. I cannot hear what the other is trying to communicate if I am planning what I will say next!
  • Repeat – when the speaker has finished state back to them in your own words what you thought you heard.
  • Okay – if you don’t get a “Yep, that’s it” response to your restating what you heard, then start again back at Hear. Do NOT proceed any further in the conversation until what you repeat back to the speaker gets two-thumbs-up!

Action Plans. Before the conversation concludes, be sure to complete action plans for what was decided. Action plans consist of the following:

  • What task was decided to be done
  • Who is responsible for making sure it gets done
  • Who will be assisting (if any)
  • Target date when task needs to be completed

Close. Finish your time together by summarizing your action plans and thanking each participant for being involved. If additional sessions will be needed then follow the guidelines outlined in “What do I need to consider when trying to set up a Productive Dialogue?” above.

What if we run out of time?

Set some sort of notification to let you know that you only have 15 minutes left before you reach the agreed upon duration for the dialogue. Make an announcement to all involved that there is only 15 minutes left. You will then need to take one of the following courses of action:

  • Just keep going because you will finish on time, or
  • Decide if you want to:
    • Extend the current conversation, or
    • Schedule an additional meeting.

Thank you for taking the time to go through this blog post. Be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions, or if you would like us to address another topic.

I do NOT pretend to know everything there is to know about productive dialogue. I don’t do them perfectly and most likely never will. These are just some of the principles I use that have helped me be more Productive in my Dialogues.


Copyright 2020, Josiah White’s Quakerdale Foundation, all rights reserved

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