by Alice Foley, facilitator of Plowshare’s Dialogue Initiative

In his article, The Ultimate Leadership Task, Richard J. Leider identifies what most leaders in human services have known for years – “the soft stuff is the hard stuff”. The human side of leadership:  helping people cope with change, dealing with divergent viewpoints, effectively addressing conflicts and taking responsibility for one’s actions are examples of this “soft stuff”. When we fail to pay attention to the soft stuff, much valuable time, energy and resources are wasted

·         Fighting for turf

·         Avoiding anything that makes us look bad

·         Pretending everyone is aligned with decisions

·         Squelching disagreements, compromising on important decisions

·         Blaming others for our mistakes

·         Losing valued relationships


Focusing on events or blaming others for problems distracts us from seeing long-term patterns that lie behind the events. When we begin to see the patterns that create our problems, we are open to transformation.

 Much has been written about Learning Organizations since 1990 when Peter Senge published his book, The Fifth Discipline.  His work hinges on the art of Dialogue, a potentially powerful mode of inquiry and collective learning that can transform our way of thinking.  If used correctly, this unique process of communication can transform group interactions by making visible the thinking and assumptions that formed our beliefs about the world. As we become aware of how these thought processes affect us, we begin to think creatively and collectively, communicating fully as we make clearer decisions.

Not simply a conversation, Dialogue takes us deeper into ourselves through the subject we’re discussing, allowing us to see patterns of self-limiting beliefs that affect everything we feel, say and do. In Dialogue the focus is on the process, not the subject itself. It allows us the time to reflect on how we are in groups and how we may be inhibiting our personal growth, the organization, and ultimately on the culture in which we live.  Within this powerful process lies the potential to transform the way we create the future of our world.

How Does Dialogue Affect the Culture of our Future?

 ·         All members contribute to the group wisdom

·         We inquire in ways that build trust

·         Difficult communications are bravely faced

·         Untapped talent is utilized

·         New thinking emerges though collective meaning