1992 | Uncompleted
Geometry of Sustainable Dialogue
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For a development of this argument see: Geometry
of Organizations, Policies and Programmes (1992)
What is built in dialogue? What structuring makes for sustainable
dialogue? How does a dialogue grow beyond its initial focus? How are new
perspectives incorporated? What makes for the dialogue's structural integrity?
How are divergent perspectives held within some form of common framework? How
are the insights built up in dialogue focused on action?
People make "points" as they enter into dialogue. These points may be
scattered and unrelated, reacting to some degree to previous comments. They may
also follow a "line" -- which may be clear, even dominant, or implict and
possibly deliberately disguised. Much dialogue could be considered limited to
such a style. Emphasis is then placed on building "understanding" and on "reaching
agreement". In such understanding of dialogue there is little sense of
structure. As a well-known book implies in its title, the stress is on "Getting
to Yes" as the goal of negotiation. Dialogue becomes intimately related, and
limited, to negotiation.
Current approaches to dialogue have not proved adequate to the
challenges of the times. There is therefore a case for exploring other
approaches. That explored here focuses on the geometry of elements constituting
the substantive content of the dialogue.
Once a "point" has been made, it may remain evident for a time, or it
may gradually sink into collective oblivion. It's existence can be sustained
for a while at least by presentation of a second -- and different -- point that
refers to the first, whether in support or opposition. "Dialogue" may derive
its meaning from such opposition between two points or perspectives. Little can
be built on this and the dynamics of such opposition can undermine any
potential community: Northern Ireland, Middle East, North-South, hostage
situations, marital breakdown, etc.
The immediate response is some form of mediation, deploying a range of
skills in reconciliation, as variously understood by different schools and
proprietary processes. The mediator offers a third perspective, as a
"match-maker". This perspective endeavours to bridge or relate the two initial
points. But the purpose is one of reaching agreement -- of discovering common
ground. Ideally the two perspectives merge or agree to disagree in inhabiting
the common ground. The negotiator disappears. Dialogue is labelled as
"successful". Tension is lost. Diversity is denatured or even homogenized. The
positive dimensions of the result are stressed.