Can We Talk?

Dialogue Duties

While the practice of dialogue is clearly useful for managing meetings, it can also help satisfy broader business needs. Creativity, for instance, may be enhanced in an atmosphere of dialogue. It is an excellent tool for companies attempting to innovate new products or processes, says Ellinor. Better team-building is another effective result of dialogue. It is also a useful tool for dealing with diverse work forces.

Generally, any long-term plan benefits from dialogue, says Gerard. "Another good place for dialogue is when you have recalcitrant problems occurring over and over again--when you obviously haven't gotten to the root of the problem," she adds.

Dialogue has limitations, however. The first concerns speed. Slow-paced conversations can be out of place in circumstances calling for fast action. "Dialogue is not a tool to use when you have some kind of emergency situation and need to make a decision quickly," warns Gerard.

This method of communication also may not work well when conflict among group members is high and people are unable to open up. It's also likely to fail when group leaders or company managers are committed to hierarchical, command-and-control formats.

Entrepreneurs may go wrong if they approach dialogue as an end in itself, without keeping an eye firmly fixed on the results they hope to achieve, warns Chawla. "Dialogue is the train by which you get to the destination," she says. "It's not the destination."

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Can We Talk?.

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