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Dialogical Fitness: Being Ready for High Quality Conversations

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Listening offers none of these advantages because:

We generally have to keep up with the speaker

We lose track if we lose focus

We can become distracted if we reflect too much

The clarity of the message depends on the speaker’s vocabulary, accent, and/or speech habits

As such, competent listening is much more than sitting and hearing another person’s words. We must also comprehend those words and actively seek to understand the meaning ascribed to those words. This requires the capacity to concentrate for long enough periods to allow others time to organise their thoughts and ideas. It requires patience to allow people that time and space, and the curiosity to explore the story in depth. Perhaps most importantly, we need to be able to self-regulate – to manage our reactions to things we like or dislike, find interesting or disinteresting, or that make us happy or sad.

High quality listening is therefore a high intensity interpersonal experience. One that requires considerable energy; the energy to concentrate, stay patient, remain curious and manage our reactions. Because good listening is so critical to dialogue, we think it’s relevant to consider how ready, willing and able (or fit) we are for such activity. Hence the idea of dialogical fitness.

Competent listening is much more than sitting and hearing another person’s words. We must also comprehend those words and actively seek to understand the meaning ascribed to those words.

Dialogical Fitness

Twenty years ago, Gary Loehr and Tony Schwartz published an article entitled, The Making of a Corporate Athlete (1). In it they argued that the performance of people in organisations could be enhanced by emulating the training principles of professional athletes, especially in respect of their rest and recovery rituals. These rituals were important, they explained, because of the “oscillations” – or short breaks – they created, allowing important energy reserves to be restored. The more we think about dialogue, the more we believe a person’s fitness for dialogue depends on the successful management of key energy reserves.

Adapting Loehr and Schwartz’s four-tier high performance model, we propose these reserves are: physiological, emotional, cognitive and (what we’ll refer to as) spirit.

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