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Dialogical Fitness: Being Ready for High Quality Conversations

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In a corporate environment that is changing at warp speed, performing consistently at high levels is more difficult and more necessary than ever. Companies can’t afford to address their employees’ cognitive capacities while ignoring their physical, emotional, and spiritual well- being. Jim Leohr & Tony Schwartz (1)

Dialogue is “the art of thinking together”(2). Thinking together involves more than just kicking ideas around. We do that all the time. We hear what others have to say, listening only for things we can agree or disagree with. Dialogue, on the other hand, is the quest for mutual understanding. It is the respectful exchange of personal viewpoints. Dialogue results in shared ownership of solutions and social cohesion. Whilst dialogue is rare these days, we believe dialogue is key to effective coaching and something to be aspired to. But dialogue is effortful, and we need to prepare ourselves if we are to be able to engage in dialogue when needed. We need to cultivate within ourselves high levels of ‘dialogical fitness’.

The listening challenge

Few would argue that listening is a cornerstone of good coaching. Most of us are now nodding our heads sagely in agreement. Most of us may also claim to be competent listeners having been taught listening skills on a coaching or leadership development program. Fewer of us confess to being poor listeners, because to be a poor listener implies that we are disrespectful of others, and that violates basic social norms. But to listen well is hard. It is complex and demanding. To illustrate this point, let us consider how different it is to learn about the world using our eyes (reading) compared to our ears (listening).

Several factors make reading less demanding than listening. For instance, when we read:

We can control our rate of processing – by reading more slowly

We can recover easily from moments of inattention – by re-reading sentences

We can reflect on the message – by pausing to think

The message is usually clear – or it wouldn’t have been published

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