Dialogue for Change - "Three Room Dialogue"

This is a moment for fundamental rethinking in organisations, and communities, about critical questions.

Dialogue for Change
Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Perhaps more than at any time in recent years, this is a moment for fundamental rethinking in organisations about critical questions. These might be strategically oriented, such as to do with purpose, direction, positioning, partnering, values or how best to organise. Or, the questions might be more specific – for example: Why does a major long-term client seem to be pulling away? How can we understand the implications of a change in government policy? Why is a specific organisational initiative falling short of expectations?

What’s called for with such questions is dialogue, conversation whether virtual or face to face – involving key stakeholders and exploring the questions in depth to build shared understandings as a basis for further action. 

Thinking Together

Dialogue implies people whether an intact executive team or a larger group – thinking carefully together, grounding the conversation in evidence and data, exploring the perspectives of relevant others (including those at the margins, or who might otherwise be overlooked), sharing what matters deeply, and framing syntheses as a foundation for further action.

I work with you to design and develop a process that’s sensitive to your needs and context - thinking about your objectives, desired outcomes, who you wish to involve, and any parameters you need to work within. Importantly, the dialogue is designed to move things along, to get past the common tendency for conversations to go round and round as people reassert their positions, and to establish a solid basis for taking things forward.

Dialogue for Change Three Room Method
Participants at a Sydney Facilitators Network meeting, 13th August 2018 at UTS, where Don Dunoon (centre) presented a session on Three Room Dialogue.

A Light Supportive Structure

Over the years I’ve found that applying a light structure to support dialogue has benefits both in terms of outcomes and participant experience. A structure I’ve found consistently works well utilises what I term “three rooms”. The three rooms reflect the three OBREAU practices: Working from Observation, Attributing Reasonableness, and Speaking with Authenticity.

Just as the rooms of a house imply different intentions, activities – with the kitchen, for instance, associated with food preparation; the living room with entertaining and relaxing – the three metaphorical dialogue rooms also imply different orientations:

ROOM 1

"Grounding the Dialogue" – identifying and exploring relevant data, evidence and other observables.

ROOM 2

"Shifting perspectives"  imagining the standpoints of stakeholders, including those not in the conversation, allowing they can be reasonable at this time.

ROOM 3

"Our voices" – opportunity for participants to speak in raising questions and sharing what matters to them.

The process I call Three Room Dialogue can be applied with virtually any contentious issue (i.e. where there are no single pathways to resolution or advancement, there are different perspectives and there is associated emotional intensity).


Outline for a Dialogue

The specifics will vary, of course, according to client needs – including with the duration of the dialogue; the format, whether virtual (using, say, Zoom) or face-to-face; and the number of sessions.

Session length can be anywhere from two hours to five hours or more. One option is to have a series of shorter meetings, perhaps of 60-90 minutes each.

A dialogue is designed to build shared understandings, and it can be beneficial to schedule a separate session afterwards, for more detailed action planning based on the key themes and insights identified in the dialogue.

(While a dialogue might seem to require a significant time investment, a prospect is for much greater downstream time savings associated with people working from more commonly held understandings.)


INTRODUCTION

Welcome, objectives, outline of the process, introductory remarks from a sponsor.

ROOM 1

Grounding the Dialogue – identifying and exploring relevant data, evidence and other observables.

ROOM 2

Shifting perspectives imagining the standpoints of stakeholders, including those not in the conversation, allowing they can be reasonable at this time.

ROOM 3

Our voices – opportunity for participants to speak in raising questions and sharing what matters to them.

SYNTHESIS AND REVIEW

Distillation of main insights from the session

Initial framing of possible experiments / follow-up action

Reflections on the process

Next steps.

Benefits of Three Room Dialogue

  • Focusing on the evidence/data first, and then on likely perspectives of others, helps participants to move past their own opinions and positions, to recognise and question their assumptions
  • The light structure helps build confidence in the process and a sense that this is “going somewhere”; it’s not just talking for talk’s sake
  • Trust, openness and psychological safety are supported by the requirements to begin with evidence and to explore other viewpoints
  • The progressive unfolding of an issue, made possible by the three rooms process, allows for the subtleties and complexities of the topic to be revealed and explored
  • Reflecting the perceived quality of the process, a high level of commitment by participants to the outcomes can be expected.

To find out more about the possible application of Three Room Dialogue in your organisation or group, without obligation, contact me, Don Dunoon.


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