The Dialogue Spiral is a model that shows us as facilitators and as participants how any group process naturally develops, what phases a group will experience in a natural flow of conversation, and how to identify what underlying dynamics is at play in that process.
The Dialogue Spiral helps us to understand and embrace that creating meaning together through open conversation and dialogue, it is not at all always a straightforward process and it is not always easy to reach. Even when we want to listen well, speak from our heart. create harmony and meaning, what happens is that we also often experience phases of unclarity, confusion and frustration. Therefore the Dialogue Spiral as a map that holds the function of guiding, directing and showing where we might be on the journey to reach dialogue or what phase of conversation we are in, can help us to connect and go through the phase together with awareness.
Pseudo and Conforming: (“We are the most awesome group”!)
The pseudo phase is the first phase where we are trying to uphold an experience of harmony and togetherness. We are feeling connected to the idea of being a group together, and we see all the things we have in common in order to fit together. To be part of a group that is awesome brings a sense of safety and belonging. When we wish to be and fit together, we also need to figure out what the rules and norms are. “what does it take to fit in here, and how should I be and behave so that i am included and part of this”. Therefore the voicing and speaking when we are in this phase is often characterised as polite, nice talking, were we want to say and be what we think other might want to hear and see to accept us.
As a conversation develops in the group, there inevitably comes a point where we sense some form of disconfirmation. Our point is not understood, or we face disagreement, challenge, or attack. At that moment, we usually respond with anxiety and/or anger, though we may be barely aware of it, and we often do not show the direct anxiety or anger in our direct expression. In the pseudo phase we would not want these feelings to surface, instead we would use our defend mechanism to protect ourselves by staying quiet or to move the focus by making projections towards something other than where the discomfort truly lies.
We neglect to engage with the fact that we are all having different biases, blind spots and judgements. We push away the things that would make us different or wrong, we hide the judgements we have towards (ourselves and) others, we don’t share the fears we have of potentially being judged by others. We do not want to create doubt in the space and group by sharing our own inner doubts. If we oppose the group norms and the agenda it could mean that we will be opposed, it could mean that we will be excluded and isolated because we do not support the ruling norms. But of course in every group there are fears, judgements, there are frustration, and if the group does not find a way to move past the pseudo phase, these fears and judgements becomes subversive and might turn into gossip, withholdings, isolation, back talking and lip talking.
Confronting/chaos: (“I am so frustrated!”)
The chaos phase shows us that the challenge lies in leaning into what feels intense. Stay with the heat and the inner and outer struggle and tension is important and can’t be left out for dialogue to happen. Having a tension within and about something does not mean that we oppose the group or an individual, it means that we sense what is truly going on. When we cross from pseudo to confrontation we call it to pass the false unity. If we blindly accept and protect the unity it become a false unity, but if we dare to engage with our groups disunity, engage with how we are different, how we are challenged, and what is the source of our tensions, it is the way for us as individual and for us as a group to pass the false unity.
This phase can feel a bit uncomfortable and chaotic, because we are now shaking up the system we before protected. We challenge and eluminate the unconscious norms and biases we lived with. We might find ourselves taking big risk for showing ourselves truthfully, we take risk for being unpopular when we stand against something we do not agree with, we might find ourselves in conflict with others and we find ourselves engaging with and acknowledging our own inner tension and feelings of dissent and fragmentation.
If we compare the experience to a body that has a small wound, the pseudo phase is where we want the body to look good and feel good, and we cover the wound with a bandage and hope the wound could heal with time if we let it be. In the confrontation phase we rip off that bandage and take a closer look at the wound, why is it there? What is actually needed for it to heal? You could say we learn something about the wounds and from the wound. For the dialogue it means we learn and engage with that which holds the power to fragment our group.
“For many, Dialogue is perceived as flowing, congruent and pleasant – a safe space where judgments are suspended and opinions deferred and everyone is getting along. But the truth of the matter is you need struggle to birth something new. Tension is the point of creation. Nature demonstrates this every day. From the seed whose sprout pushes through the earth to the delivery of a child to the birth of a star, tension exists. It is necessary” - Dialogue Practitioner
Generative dialogue (“Lets learn from the differences we have and embrace all that that we dont know”)
When the group or group members individuals become aware of the paradoxes, resentments and differences that exists within them and between them as a group, and they find a way to engage and interact truthfully with these forces, the stage is set for real dialogue.
In the phase of Dialogue the confusion, differences, disagreements, resentments are still present with us, present in our conversation. But in dialogue we are able to stay with and acknowledge these realities in us, while at the same time we at any moment practise to let go of our attachments to these realities. In dialogues the conversation is we also know that we HAVE opinions, and we know that we ARE not our opinions. In dialogue we question where our opinions, triggers and resentments are coming from, and we are able to learn more about them from a much more reflected perspective, heightened awareness and understanding of the intrinsic systemic nature of every position, reality and opinion. When we can let go of our viewpoint like this, we practice to stand in the shoes of others and use our ability for empathic listening. We listen deeply to and connect with others stories, others experiences and we allow ourselves to be impacted by others, which slightly shift our own reality and viewpoint. I am not just listening objectively to ideas; I am listening subjectively from inside you and me. In this phase we also practice to speak from our hearts with awareness and we also practise being able listen to ourselves and recognising “where I’m coming from when i say what i say”.
In the dialogue phase the conversation is characterised by becoming more spacious, becoming slower, becoming more present in the moment, and the slower speed allows individuals to also find presence within themselves, with their bodies and sensations. From this present and more quiet place a new reality can emerge, new truth can appear between people, and the whole system can find new alignment.
“It is in the present conversations that the new world gets made” - Ria Baek
Pre- sensing (“we reach a new wholeness where the parts are integrated into a fuller understanding of us…”)
Through a good dialogue phase what happens is that the parts that before held the power to separate the system, has found a way to integrate into a new reality. The parts are part of the whole in a more systemic, healthy and organic way. The group is no longer the same group as before. In this phase the system can harvest the fruits from having done their “community workout” that has happened in the other 3 phases. The group members in the presensing phase will experience a form of inner silence and peace that appears when the safety is within the group itself, and no person needs to rush or succumb to, or be occupied with outer rules, outer opinions, outer norms, and outer expectations to find security. It means the group members can express themselves in new and bigger ways, and the conversation between the group members can be truly transformative and enter into what we might call a “generative fields” (where the conversation is from and to something more and something bigger than this specific group).
This type of conversation is one where there might be less needs for words, for rules, for plans, for communication. Things can happen unspoken from a place of deeper alignment and connection, which fosters less ego to be present and boundaries to disappears. This shows up as participants dare to start speaking from a place that has not yet been processed by the mind. The words that comes are being born out of the sacredness of silence and presence. It shows when ones particular point, “the things I wanted to say”, might come into the conversation through the words of others. Who says what is not so important, what wants to emerge between us is the important thing.
This phase is carries the full potential of dialogue, because This type of conversation can hold and can be with the ambiguities, contradiction and paradoxes, while at the same time also sense, lean towards and hear the new possibility that sits there between and is already present, if we choose to hear it.
Group, individuals and whole societies can find themselves flowing through these phases and this spiral. Some of us gets stuck in one phase, but most often, we we care, we find ways to push through and develop. The most important thing to know about the spiral is that it is a never ending process, and each time you find yourself or your group back in pseudo you can trust that you not at the same point, you are spiralling.
The Dialogue spiral levels of conversation is both an awareness tool and a map of practice. We need both the awareness of these different ways of talking and listening and the capacity to move among them. It is not enough to be aware of the spiral but to have experiences with it, and this is why we need to find our communities of practise. Such Community is what we wish to offer within collaboratio helvetica.
Sources and Further literature to the topic:
William Issacs - Dialogue