2 Monologues doth not a Dialogue make!

Dialogic statements

In his practice, my friend, Chris Blantern, an amazing consultant noticed that many senior executives’ think that good leadership is simply about how well they are able to communicate with staff in order to get them to see their point of view.

Despite great advances in the field of leadership, like the illustration above, the “monologue” or “telling” approach to leadership is still pretty ubiquitous.  Over the years, he’s been told:

“We just need to tell them what’s right”.

“We need to get them to do what’s right”.

If they don’t “get it. it’s because we haven’t told them what we need to tell them, well enough”.

We need better ways of “telling them how it is”.

Can you help us get our staff to be “aligned” with what we think is right for the organisation? (i.e., Visions, strategic, operational, sustainability, turnaround plans, written/adopted by the senior leaders) ?

In management speak, this is sometime referred to as “an internal comms” or an “employee engagement” issue.

Chris believes, however, that meaningful interaction can only come from geninue “dialogue”. By this he does not mean learning how to have better conversations (turn taking, listening, clarity, body language, etc). He is advocating for a change in our assumption of how decisions are made, i.e., a belief that only leaders/experts have the answer, to the notion of that knowledge-action are co-created with others.

At the heart of this ‘stance’ is the belief that people are inherently purposeful, creative and knowledgeable.

If we take this as axiomatic, collaboration is about acknowledging that what others say is of genuine value and that working together is more likely to make a real difference to the organsiation.

As such, “leadership as telling” is replaced by “leadership as sense-making”, i.e., coordinating meaning and joint action in the face of complexity and diversity.

Sadly, most organisations continue to be set up to deliver the “wisdom of the oligarchs” rather than to deliver the “wisdom of the crowd”.

As with any paradigm shift, making this change is a choice –  a choice to genuinely include and value the other by being intentionally appreciative and invitational with regard to decision making.

Here are Chris’ practical suggestions of how we can all try to move from monologue to dialogue.

Try to:

  • share the conversation you are having with yourself as you talk to the other.
  • treat their stories as equally real and true.

    Chris Blantern
    Chris Blantern
  • want to know their interpretation of the situation.
  • really listen to what they are saying (not to listen in order to argue).
  • speak in the first person.
  • be curious about what they have to say.
  • be aware of your own taken-for-granted assumptions as you think and speak.
  • be open about their “half-baked” ideas – and tell them yours.
  • not adopt a position that you know what’s best for who you are talking to.
  • be honest with yourself.
  • not to cover up or spin if you are uncertain.
  • not to get your version of events established over theirs.
  • look for what you can do together – rather than focusing on what keeps you apart.
  • let your questions flow from curiosity rather than a desire to steer their thinking.
  • not to look for faults.
  • be critical of your own view.
  •  temporarily try to adopt their position while asking them to do the same for you.


Thank you Chris B – for the many years of friendship and mentoring!

One thought on “2 Monologues doth not a Dialogue make!

  1. I just cannot get the comment bit but I could not have put all this better. I tried for thirty years as a teacher in schools and colleges to help young people to be able to site in a circle and to discuss. Other teachers were not interested. They were only keen to present a ‘perfect’ lesson in the authoritarian manner. This is seriously needed for the political (real) education of youngsters.Roger Penney

    Date: Sun, 16 Feb 2014 12:09:48 +0000 To: roger.penney34@hotmail.co.uk

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