Dialogue is essentially the flow of meaning. If that’s the definition, what’s the standard that a dialogue should meet to be called successful.
Since dialogue is about establishing meaning, there is no one winner or loser.
The purpose of a dialogue is certainly not to win over someone, or sell your point or to change someone’s thinking immediately.
Unlike a conversation or a chat , dialogue is not an event. It’s a journey.
Consider this case:
I was coaching a leader who wants to change some behaviours in her team. She has given some feedback in the past but doesn’t see any significant change.
She is now considering establishing a dialogue with the team to understand the cause of this behaviour in order to address underlying issues and hopefully create a change.
She understands that dialogue is not agenda driven, it is outcome-driven. When there is no agenda , it is difficult to evaluate if she has achieved any success in the dialogue journey.
Here is the key: The only indicator of success in a dialogue is a “forward shift”
Dialogue is meant to create connection and direction. As long as dialogue provides an opportunity to connect and results in a forward shift, it is a successful dialogue.
In this case, a forward shift can mean any of the following:
- The team recognizing the behaviours that are not serving them
- The team being willing to discuss the behaviours openly
- The team sharing the reasons behind those behaviours
- The team asking questions to understand the leader’s issues with the behaviour
- The team agreeing to continue the dialogue to dig deeper.
And any more no. of possibilities…every step forward is the success of dialogue.
Naturally, failure to move forward is a failed dialogue. What could that look like?
- The team refusing to engage in the conversation
- The leader creating a hostile/unsafe environment where everyone just shuts-off
- The team and leader ending up entering into an endless blame game.
- The leader loses their calm and threatens the team to make changes.
We confuse dialogue success with the success of an individual party. But true dialogue doesn’t divide, it connects and helps people move forward.
If you are stuck in a dialogue, find a way to create a “forward shift” and take that win!