Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

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.

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