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Dialogue Changes The Way We See The World | 對話,改變看世界的觀點

A good dialogue creates quality relationships and can fundamentally change the way one sees the world.

“Many people think that dialogue produces consensus and that as long as there is dialogue we’ll reach agreement; but, that is not true,” declared Philip Thomas, a consultant specializing in dialogue facilitation design.  “There are many ways to make decisions, and each way can have a dialogic quality.   Even though the ultimate decision may be made by a minority group, by raising the quality of participants’ interaction and information, the process can still be a dialogic one.”

Philip Thomas has spent the past twenty years involved in social change work in Central and South America in cross departmental, cross-ethnic, and cross-border public issues; using dialogue to resolve problems and promote change.  Philip’s rich and varied dialogue facilitation experience draws from a variety of experiences including high stakes negotiations such as between guerillas and army factions. 

I helped the CP Yen Foundation invite Philip to Taiwan to discuss the principles and process of dialogue.  Below is an EMBA Magazine interview with Philip Thomas:

  • What impresses you about the power of dialogue? 
  • There are many kinds of conflicts.  Some are about a disagreement over facts, in which case, if you collect enough information one can eventually resolve the problem, which makes it a relatively easy conflict.  In other cases, the parties agree what the goal is, but each side disagrees with the other’s means of reaching that goal.  Relatively difficult conflicts arise when we even disagree on what the goal is.  But the most difficult type of dialogue is when values are involved.  These issues are about a person’s belief of what is right and wrong.   

Changing The Way We See The World

A good dialogue can fundamentally change the way a person sees the world.  For example, in El Salvador there was a time when labor strikes and demonstrations erupted on the streets and a worker was killed by the police.  A Government official called my colleague who had before facilitated a dialogue between laborers and government officials.  The official told my colleague: ‘a year ago I would have felt that killing the protester was right, but after dialoguing with laborers, and seeing the way the other side sees the world, now I completely disagrees with the police’s behavior.’  This is the kind of change that can be created by dialogue. 

I’ve participated in peace negotiation dialogues between guerilla fighters and the army; both sides would meet once a month for to talk.  When these people are not in meetings, they would be trying to kill one another.  But because they both wanted to have a peaceful future both parties worked hard to create a space for engaging in dialogue.  This is the role that dialogue can place in even seemingly intractable situations.

  • What’s the biggest obstacle to engaging in dialogue? 
  • People do not automatically listen.  We were not born to inquire into the perspectives of others; on the contrary, we are more inclined to defend ourselves and advocate our own views; we are in a hurry to tell people what we think we know, but are uncomfortable to admit what we do not know.  So I think that increasing one’s ability to dialogue requires building a spirit of curiosity about the innumerable things we don’t know and begin asking questions.  Many people will feel that what we need is action and not talk.  The fact is though, that regardless of the decisions we make, only dialogue will create quality relationships between people.


Dialogue Does Not Mean Consensus 

  • What is a common myth about dialogue?
  • The biggest myth is that dialogue will produce consensus and that as long as we have dialogue we will achieve an agreement.  This is wrong, there are actually many ways to reach a decision: from authority-based to voting-based methodologies and to pure consensus; and each process each can more or less be dialogic.  That means, emphasis is placed on the quality of participants’ interactions and the quality of information, and even if I ultimately make the decision (and not you) the process can still be dialogic.  It’s a problem if we believe that the goal of dialogue is to achieve consensus.  I can keep my power to decide; I can let everyone know that I will make the final decision, but I want to first listen to everyone dialogue so as to understand each person’s thoughts.  Problems arise when the process is construed to look like an inquiry but participant’s views are not in fact not listened to at all.  That’s manipulation.  Many government agencies and companies for example would appear as if they are welcoming everyone’s opinion, but their intention is merely to present image of dialogue for public relations.  When we dialogue, we aim to put more points of view on the table.  Afterall, we are facing an extremely complex world and it is dangerous to over-rely on an expert’s “answer”, whereas we do need experts when we make decisions but their role is to assist us and not override us.
  • So is a dialogic attitude more important than skills? 
  • The ultimate decisional result is important as well as how we make the decision.  Higher orders of trust and collaboration produce greater flows of information leading to higher quality decisions.  Conversely, less trust and communication leads to less information and more speculation and assumptions.  This is what a positive or a negative cycle can look like. Dialogue can penetrate appearances and reveal deeper level things.  When we’re faced with problems we often look for answers to their symptoms; but the crux of many problems lies in relationships in the system.  For example, gang crime is a problem for some schools.  In some cases the troublemakers are students who have immigrated from Central and South America.  I was asked by schools to help resolve problems related to gang violence.  In the beginning the schools believed we should give these students conflict resolution skills training.  But looking at what structured the students’ relationships, we saw that at lunch break and after school the immigrants would gather to study English, which increased their alienation from other students.  So we redesigned the way these students study English by having them to learn with their classmates, naturally relationship would grow close and the alienation and violence problem was resolved.


Embrace The Things You Do Not Understand

  • What key recommendation do you give about dialogue? 
  • My favorite word is curiosity.  If you strengthen curiosity about the things you do not know, you will become more sensitive and willing to embrace what you do not understand.  Dialogue will then naturally follow.  Humility, ask questions as much as possible, and do not pre-prescribe answers.  
  • Do you think curiosity can be developed or is it innate? 
  • I think curiosity can be inspired.  If leaders are accustomed to asking questions, then that attitude will infect others; if you think you know all the answers, others will imitate you as well. 

Original article written by 方素惠, arranged by 陳庭安, and published in the EMBA magazine February 2012 edition (, and is also posted on the CP Yen Foundation website:

對話,改變看世界的觀點: 對話引導顧問湯斐力 


「很多人以為透過對話,就會產生共識。只要有對話,就會達成協議。這是不對的。」專長於引導對話的顧問湯斐力(Philip Thomas)指出。




  • 在你的經驗中,透過對話所能帶來的影響,印象比較深刻的是什麼?
  • 衝突有很多種。有些是對於事實不同意,針對這種衝突,只要蒐集到資訊,就可以解決問題,這很容易;有的衝突是大家對於目標是同意的,但對方法不同意;也有一種衝突,是大家連目標都未必同意,這相對來講比較困難。最困難的對話,是和價值觀有關。這是和一個人認為什麼是對的,什麼是錯的有關的議題。這是最難處理的衝突,例如同性戀、墮胎等議題。





  • 要開始進行對話,最大的挑戰是什麼?
  • 人性是不會自動去傾聽的。我們並不是天生會去探詢別人的看法;相反地,我們更傾向防衛自己、鼓吹自己的意見,急著說我們知道的,而不會很自在地去承認我們不知道的事情。所以,我認為要提高一個人的對話能力,就是要建立好奇的精神,對那些你不知道的無數事情感到好奇,開始問問題。然而,很多人會覺得,我們需要的是行動,而不是說。事實是,不論決策結果是什麼,透過對話,我們可以建立有品質的人際關係。



  • 關於對話,一般有什麼常見的迷思?
  • 最大的迷思就是,很多人以為透過對話就會產生共識,只要有對話就會達成協議。這是不對的。事實上,決策方式有很多種,從由權威者做決定、以投票決定,到完全達到共識,不論是哪一種決策方式,每個方式都可以或多或少具有對話性(dialogic)。也就是說,重視參與者互動的品質、資訊的品質,即使最後是我的決定,而不是你的,這個過程仍然具有對話性。但如果我們認為,對話就是要大家一起達到共識,那就會有問題了,因為對話不代表共識。不是所有的對話都會有共識。有時候,我可以保留決策的權力。我讓大家知道,最後會是我的決策,但我想先和大家對話,了解大家的想法。問題是,有些人會讓過程看起來,好像是在諮詢別人的意見,事實上卻完全不聽這些意見。這就是在操弄(manipulation)。例如很多政府單位和公司,會塑造一種歡迎大家參與意見的形象。但實際上,他們並沒有要這麼做。他們只是在做公關。對話時,我們必須把更多的觀點攤在桌子上。畢竟,今天我們面對的是非常複雜的世界。很多人過度相信「有答案」的專家。事實上,要做決策,我們的確是需要專家。但專家是來協助我們的,而不是凌駕一切之上的。
  • 所以對話的心態,比技巧更重要?
  • 這是一種心態的轉變。不只是決策結果很重要,我們如何一起做決策也很重要。因為有更高程度的信任和協力合作,就會有更多資訊流動;當有更多資訊流動,所做的決策品質就會更好。相反地,更少信任和溝通就會有更少資訊;更少資訊就會有更多猜測和假設。這是正面循環和負面循環。 透過對話,我們可以穿透表象,看到一些比較深層的東西。舉例來說,面對一些問題,我們常常可能直接聯想到很淺顯的答案。但事實上,很多問題的癥結是別的系統性問題。舉例來說,有一個學校對於幫派犯罪的問題很頭痛,其中有很多滋事份子是中南美移民的學生。學校找我去協助解決暴力問題。學校一開始認為,我們應該要訓練這些學生解決衝突的技能。但如果你從結構性的角度來看,會發現,正因為這些學生不會英文,午休或下課時間都被集合去學英文,結果反而和其他同學更疏離。我們思考,這些衝突其實是系統的問題。所以我們重新設計這些學生學習英文的方式,讓他們和其他同學一起學習,自然而然融合在一起,結果問題就解決了。



  • 關於對話,你會給的最重要建議是什麼?
  • 我最喜歡的字是好奇(curiosity)。如果你加強好奇心,對於你不知道的事情,就會更敏感,更願意去擁抱我們不了解的事情,而不是只抱著你知道的事情。這樣,對話就會跟隨而來。謙卑,盡量多提出問題,不要預先設定答案。
  • 你覺得好奇心是可以培養的,還是與生俱來的?
  • 我覺得好奇心可以被啟發。如果領導人很習慣提問,就會感染其他人;如果你以為自己知道所有的答案,其他人也會模仿你。     


本文原作者 :方素惠, 整理 :陳庭安,和載於EMBA雜誌2012年二月號




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