Everyone knows how to have two-way communication. You talk for a while, then somebody else talks for a while. So why did the Fetzer Institute send its employees to a series of workshops to teach them about dialogue?
"We were looking for creative ways to work out conflicts, deepen our relationships with each other and generally communicate better," explains Wendy Lombard, director of organizational learning for the 50-person Kalamazoo, Michigan, health-care research foundation. After looking over the available communication courses, they chose a series of four-day workshops from the Dialogue Group, a Laguna Hills, California, consulting firm.
Lombard felt the dialogue seminars were different from most offerings in the way they emphasized the value of exploring feelings and building trust in group settings. And instead of just learning to converse better, Fetzer employees were taught specific skills designed to improve understanding and boost team productivity.
The difference between dialogue and other communication techniques is that dialogue is not really about talking, says Sarita Chawla, president of leadership management consulting firm MetaLens in San Rafael, California. "It's in listening that dialogue happens," she says.
Companies such as Hewlett Packard, AT&T and Shell are hearing dialogue's promises--and they're responding by sending employees to similar seminars. But unlike some recent management trends, the drive toward dialogue is well-suited to small organizations as well.
Small companies can easily involve everyone in dialogue, says Chawla. And this communication technique works particularly well when getting projects off the ground, whether you're hiring a new employee or starting a business venture.
Whether large or small, companies that look into dialogue won't be disappointed, says Lombard. The results include a deeper sense of community, greater trust among staff members and a more complete understanding of the organization's mission.
Benefits also reach the bottom line, notes Lombard. "It's more productive," she says. "Things get done faster because people have a shared vision."
Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, writer specializing in business topics.