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What is Dialog?

YOUR Journey in Dialog was launched in March. On 36 Thursdays, Editor Irving Stubbs, founder of Living Dialog’s Alignment Network, delivers messages that include his experience, his reflections and insights of others about transformational dialog.

He views transformational dialog to be a physiological, psychological and theological experience. The subtitle of his Blog is: “A means to better ends.”  If you would like to engage a group of friends or colleagues to go beyond just reading the posts, here are some “Tips” for your consideration.  

Tip #1 Meet every three weeks to explore three posts at each gathering of 90-minutes each.  

TIP #2 My experience is that a group of nine is optimal for transformational dialog but I have had good experience with a few more and a few less than that number.  

TIP #3 Define the purpose and share the  Tips for your gatherings.  

TIP #4 Although reaching agreement is not the goal of dialog and suspending judgment about others’ views and opinions is important, disagreements should be shared openly. When disagreements are shared, it is important to validate them as a different way of looking at a subject rather than trying to strong-arm an agreement. Disagreements can energize a group to clarify and seek meaning that goes beyond the initial conflicting views.  

TIP #5 Invite those who hold back to speak out. Respect, however, that some people are naturally less inclined to speak out. Discipline is needed to assure equal opportunity for all members to contribute.  

TIP #6 Instead of listening for what is correct or to find agreement, listen to find what is meant. What does the person who is speaking mean?  

TIP #7 When someone’s contribution to the dialog is not clear, it often helps to restate that person’s contribution in different words and then ask the person if that’s accurate. Such attempts to clarify can surface new layers of thought that go beyond the initial contribution.  

TIP  #8 Assume that each member of the group has a piece of the answer to issues surfaced and that together the group can craft a new and better response. Celebrate new insights, greater clarity, and deeper understandings as they occur.  

TIP  #9 Barriers to effective group interaction include ingrained habits of non-listening, pride that gets in the way and resistance to change. Barriers also include disrespect for one another that may suppress openness, lack of trust that causes resistance to reveal “secrets” and competitiveness that expresses itself in jockeying for influence.  

TIP  #10 Dialog does not proceed stepwise like climbing a ladder. It is communication that stimulates the growth of people and groups when participants are free for open exchange and clarity. The deeper experience we have in dialog, the greater potential we have for personal and group transformation. 


Engaging in Robust Dialog

Why is dialog the middle name of our Ministries and our series of books. Dialog is not just another word for conversation. When we say “dialog” we don’t mean talking a subject to death. What we mean is digging deep into a subject, down to its roots. It’s more than talk, discussion, debate, or sharing, no matter how honest. Real dialog is much more. In fact, real robust dialog can help us discover God’s Liberating Truth. Robust[1] dialog can help us understand the Seven Ultimate[2] Principles for Living Today. Those principles reflect the lifestyle of God’s new creations.

Robust dialog occurs when we free our minds to exchange ideas openly and, in the process, discover new meanings. These experiences happen in different ways and at different times in a group. The deeper we delve into dialog, the more facets we are likely to discover. The deeper the dialog, the greater potential there is for spiritual transformation. This level of communication grows a community in communion.

Dr. Donald G. Dawe[3] described the theology implicit in real robust dialog. “The Scriptures become the living Word of God to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Dialog is the means used by the Holy Spirit to interpret and seal the Word of God in the Bible on our hearts and lives. Dialog is the channel through which the Holy Spirit works to bring the living Word of God to us. The Holy Spirit is free to operate through careful and thoughtful study, in moments of sudden insight, in dramatic changes of consciousness, or slow, steady growth in grace.”

Louis Agassiz taught in a way that generated this parable.[4] One of Agassiz’ students, Samuel Hubbard Scudder, was asked to observe a fish—a Haemulon. Scudder reported that in 10 minutes he had seen all that could be seen in that fish. Waiting for the professor the student made a few more notes. When he reported his findings, the professor listened but told Scudder he missed the most conspicuous features of this fish. Scudder went home and thought about the fish overnight. The next morning he told the professor still more that he’d seen of this unique fish.

Agassiz congratulated his student. He noted all the progress made. But imagine Scudder’s dismay when he was told  there was yet more to learn about the Haemulon. Scudder was to continue to look, look, look. After three days Scudder saw yet more he hadn’t seen before.

To find deeper meanings in the Scriptures we must look, look, look.

 Barriers to real robust dialog

A national corporation used dialog to help its leaders work through thorny issues.  With better understandings of themselves and their work, they could make decisions with more agreement than would have been possible without real dialog. Still, certain barriers got in the way. We asked each of these corporate officers to list the five biggest barriers to dialog. Here’s a sampling of what they listed:

  • Pride that gets in the way
  • Resistance to change—“We’ve always done it that way”
  • Different personalities and personality types
  • Getting beyond pre-determined perceptions
  • Lack of trust—resistance to reveal “secrets”—concern about leaks
  • Politics—walls of protection and defense between functions
  • Egos—would require increased vulnerability
  • Fear based on the “shoot the messenger” syndrome
  • Not enough time together

In spite of experiencing the benefits of dialog, these officers were realistic about the difficulties of relating in the spirit of dialog. They understood that real dialog does not occur quickly or easily.

Benefits of real robust dialog

      • Builds courage to speak and share
      • Uncovers what limits discovery
      • Allows sensitive issues to be discussed without defensiveness
      • Disagreements are seen as a different way to look at a subject
      • Resistance to new ideas is diminished (negative entropy[5])
      • Releases energy, stretches, liberates
      • Nurtures profound knowledge and wisdom
      • Increases receptivity to transformational power
      • Changes worldviews
      • Changes behavior
      • When there is an ex­change of meaning that goes beyond an exchange of words, views, and thoughts, we move from “I-It” relationships—in which we treat one another as objects— toward “I-Thou” relationships—in which we treat one another as persons.
      • In “I-Thou” relationships, we experience an enhanced alignment within ourselves, between or among us, and with God.
      • Dialog leads to koinonia (community).
      • In koinonia, we find a path that leads us beyond fragments of community to community as the whole family of humankind.
      • In koinonia, we often experience an awesome encounter with the being that one theologian calls The Eternal Thou (Buber)[6]).

    Are you ready to engage in the kind of real dialog that will help you discover how well you know God? Get together with a couple of friends, invite each of them to download our free PDF of What’s With You and God, and let the book’s questions guide your interaction. If you would prefer a paperback or Kindle version of the book, you can order it on Amazon. 

    [1]Strong – able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions – not perturbed by subtleties or difficulties – energetic

    [2] Basic or fundamental – The best example of its kindthe maximum possible strength or resistance beyond which an object breaks

    [3] Professor emeritus at Union Presbyterian Seminary – Richmond, VA

    [4] The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz, American Poems, 3rd ed; Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.

    [5] Entropy is the systemic “friction” that impedes orderly and effective functioning – negative entropy is the opposite of this

    [6] M.K. Smith in his article “Martin Buber on Education” (2000), in the encyclopedia of informal education (, reflecting on Buber’s view that “all real living is meeting,” observed that, “The meeting involved isn’t just between two people or between someone and the world. Buber believed that ‘every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou. In other words, each and every I-Thou relationship opens up a window to the ultimate Thou.

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