Can We Talk?

Bringing It Home

Peter Senge, co-author of The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (Doubleday) and one of dialogue's most visible champions, considers dialogue a key tool for creating the learning organization that has become an objective of many businesses today.

Other dialogue boosters include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Dialog Project has been researching the concept since the early 1990s. Dialogue experts also frequently cite David Bohm, a physicist and writer on relationships between quantum physics and everyday life.

Students of dialogue can choose from a number of helpful books, including the one mentioned above as well as On Dialogue (Routledge), written by Bohm.

If you think this is a technique your company can benefit from, don't stop with just reading about it. Personal instruction is essential for good dialogue, experts stress. Consultants suggest businesses attend three- to four-day workshops conducted by trainers, which cost about $1,500 per person, followed by regular in-house practice and implementation sessions.

It need not be that expensive, however. Chawla says some community colleges offer excellent courses on dialogue as part of their curriculum on learning organizations.

Follow-up is probably the biggest cost. Fetzer augmented its two four-day seminars with monthly practice sessions to help its employees incorporate dialogue into their daily work.

If that sounds like a surprising amount of trouble to go to in order to learn something that most of us think we already know, consider that the results can be surprisingly profound. "We didn't know what was going to happen when we gave people a chance to express their deepest desires about [our] organization," says Lombard. "But we found that people felt a sense of freedom, truth, participation and inclusion. It really began a cultural change for us."

Contact Sources

The Dialogue Group, (714) 497-9757,

Fetzer Institute, 9292 W. KL Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49009-9340,

MetaLens, (415) 479-5092,

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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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