The key principles for making dialogue

By ‘dialogue’ we mean the kinds of conversations that change something in us when we are part of them, and that shift something between the people who are involved in the conversation. We are in dialogue when we go into an open and unknown space together, where we dare to be truthful  and to co-create a space where others can do the same. When we challenge our habits of conversation (pay attention to our listening and speaking) and dare turning the camera around to face ourselves and the roles we might have within the systems we are trying to change. Read more here.

The four key principles of making dialogue are:

  1. Safe

  2. Open

  3. Personal

  4. Partaking

Photo by  Debby Hudson  on  Unsplash

Safe (space):

Safe space is the first principle for Dialogue, and it represent the importance of having and building trust in the dialogue group. When there is an atmosphere of trust it fosters a deeper level of connection, truthfulness and courage between participants. Those 3 components are highly needed in the dialogue space, where we want to hear all voices, include different viewpoints and move out of our comfort zone. In a safe space participants are able to show who they really are, and what they really feel and think.

Safe space is not given to the group by the facilitator. It is something everyone has to be part of and everyone has to work for. Safe space is something we build together step by step, and it start with focusing on trusting oneself. As Individuals we take these steps every time we trust ourselves to be who we are and trust ourselves to step out of our comfort zone. Doing this not only stretched the comfort zone of the individual, it helps other individuals to do the same, which stretches the comfort zone of the whole group and grows the safe space even more.

Safe space also has a basic practical component to it, which has to do with confidentiality. With the safe space principle we also want to remind people to be mindful about the information and stories that have been shared in the dialogue space.

Doing dialogue is always scary. Because In dialogue we are showing parts of ourselves we might normally like to hide or control. We try to let go of identifications, of truths, of beliefs of assumptions, and it might spark the voice in us that said “If i do not hold on to this belief that i have, what else is there?” Beneath the reluctance to let go of beliefs we can meet an anxiety that there will be nothing underneath my belief system. Doing dialogue is always a bit scary and therefore a certain safe space is always needed in dialogue. Part of building a safe space is therefore also to seek to remind or connect participants to an underlying feeling of “I am part of a whole”. Because when people feel part of an existing whole, it can help them to realise that “because I am part of a whole i am always able to be and feel safe”.

Key words: Trust in self and the group. Connection and truthfulness. Risk and courage. Willingness to share. Ambiguity and unknown. Out of comfort zone. Something we build together step by step. Confidentiality.

Open (space):

Open space is the second principle, and it means that the space we host as dialogue needs to have no prefixed agenda, no fixed plan or expectation about a specific desired outcome. The process is there to support the process itself, not the result in the end. This means that no one person knows fully what the conversation should be about, where it should go and how fast. The conversation develops and unfolds in real time, and arises out of the individual participants’ personal skills or attitudes.

When we are in such open dialogue space, we will need to rely on our ability to just be present. Present with what is showing up in the conversation in the moment, with our own body and with our sensations that connects us to more intelligences than the intellectual one. This challenges us to let go of the minds habits for making strategies and analyses about the past or the future.

One of the problems with “discussion”, is that we have little time to observe, we have little time to become empty and present, we are biased and prone to stand by our opinions and to verbalise our positions towards something. What the open space brings is time to oversee, reflect and observe what is going on a higher plane.

Dialogue should not be confused with discussion or debate, both of which, says Bohm, suggest working towards a goal or reaching a decision, rather than simply exploring and learning. Meeting without an agenda or fixed objective is done to create a "free space" for something new to happen. - David Bohm

Key words: Silence, Slowing down, present with what is, attention, body work, space, circles of talking.

Personal (space):

Personal space is the principle with which we understand the inner and outer dialogue as a symbiotic tool. Incoherence in the personal space can be a tool to uncover the incoherences in the collective space. When we find ways to connect the conversations around a cause to the dilemmas and challenges we face in our everyday life, The personal dimension becomes the micro aperture to understand what it means when we have to deal with the cause as a society.

Therefore we want the individuals who come to a dialogue space to stay personal, particular and concrete. In dialogue we seek authentic human being with stories and experiences, more than it is experts roles, authorities and knowledge sharing. This idea has directly shaped the “speaking from the I perspective” guideline. when we speak from the “I perspective” we remember to claim the things we say as OUR perception, not as the truth about the world. when we fall into what we call “the professor mode” we raise ourselves above the struggle or problem in our conversation. From here we tend to speak “about” the other(s) as if we ourselves were not part of it. But we cannot simply “make” change happen as if we were separate from the thing we seek to change.

When we stay personal, concrete, we claim our perceptions and our part in the system the dialogue can have a greater impact on the participants transformative experience. People do not change because they hear general facts and figures about a problem, we think people change when they experience a heart connection to the topic, through another person´s story. When we allow ourselves to be touched on a deeper level we become somehow different.

Key words: inner and outer symbiosis. personal experience. “I speaking”. everyday life. claim our perceptions. change through heart connection.

Fully taking part (space):

The Fully taking part principle reminds and invite participants to show up with their full “taking part” (mental, emotional, physical presence), and give this presence in service of the group. Instead of seeing one self as a participant who shows up to learn something for oneself and then leave again, we wish the Dialogue to be a place and an experience about giving something into a group or to another human being, with courage and with empathy.

It also means that we are part of the very problem we face (in ourselves, in our group, in our family or in our society) as well we are part of the solution we might be searching for. This mean we can and will turn the camera around, and see ourselves as part of the system we are trying to change.

Fully taking part, is the principles that connects us to the genuine understanding between us that we are being a whole together, and everything is in everyone. Every voice, opinions, (or lack of voice and opinion) are to some extent just the individual contributions, and to another extent also something that belongs to everyone. All individuals represent both themselves as well as the role they hold in society, they represent all the people who was part of shaping them (including their ancestors). In this sense dialogue is a place where we can train our collective awareness ability. Where we acknowledge diversity, which is reflected in endless and unique life stories of people, and being again and again reminded that we to some degree are part and can connect to each others stories and experiences.

When we hold the approach that each person is partaking of the whole meaning of the group, and that we are part of the system we are trying to change, it is not necessarily always easy or pleasant. The system almost inevitably contains great pain as well as great beauty, deep anger as well as unconditional love. If we separate ourselves from whatever is within the whole, we cannot take part in it - and we return to abstracting, judging and defending: “I am not like that person,” or “he is bad and I am good,” or “she does not see what is happening and I do.” The partaking principles asks us to listen for an already existing wholeness. It ask us to believe that in order to make others reachable, to make thing better, to restore wholeness, we do not have to fix or change people. instead we might ask “What is the underlying wholeness that we can find here, without changing anyone or anything?”

Key words: Wholeness. Big We over small I. Everything is in everyone. full presence. inner and outer awareness. The whole world is part of us.  


With these 4 principle we open the space for Dialogue.

We use these 4 principles because it helps groups to enter a deeper (and to many a more unfamiliar) level of conversation. That is a conversation where we can go into the unknown together, where we might be unsure where things are leading us, where some things could feel ambiquish and even uncomfortable to be with. And for us as a group to be together with such experiences, the 4 principles helps us to stay in Dialogue, and hinder us from ending up in fighting, separation or withdrawing from the conversation.

When the dialogue embodies the quality of these 4 spaces, It takes the energy of our differences, our ambiguities and channels it towards something that has never been created before. The 4 spaces principles is what can make a dialogue process transformative.