A range of authors (e.g. Gerard and Ellinor 2001; Isaacs 1993, 1999; Schein 1993; Senge 1995) suggest that dialogue can positively transform organizational cultures. Do you agree with this assessment? Why? Why not? Engage with relevant academic literature in developing your argument.
Student Name: Nguyen Vu Hoang Dung
Student Number: 11477445
In organization people spend 80 percent of their time to communicate (The British Psychological Society 2012). Communication is a key tool to share information, foster different opinions and build alignment and trust. According to Gerard & Teurfs (1995), the process of dialogue is an invitation to create organization cultures through conversations. It acts as a learning environment that shifting individuals to “a deeper understanding of collaboration in groups, and a new way of sensing their connections to others throughout the organization” (Querubin 2011, p.19). It brings all the ideas together and suspends judgment so people will have a greater chance to understand each other (Brayman, Grey & Stearns 2010). This essay will analyze the role of dialogue in transforming organizational cultures positively and all the benefits it brings. However, it will also examine the challenges of implementing dialogue.
Organizational culture includes shared values and beliefs that guide behaviors of all members and determine the way things should be done in the organization (Sergiovanni 1984). Company has its own culture usually indicates higher performance. The role of dialogue is not only to spread the common values and meanings that company wants its employees to follow but also allow everyone to express their own interest. According to Gerard and Ellinor (2001), the main purpose of dialogue is to produce collective understanding. Firstly, they compared the differences between dialogue and discussion. In discussion, people tend to protect their own thoughts and do not truly concern about other’s opinions and needs. They play as a speaker’s role rather than as a listener.
It might leave the remainder out of discussion with frustration, isolation and disrespect. Decisions could be made by the person who has the most power and influence in the group (Gerard and Ellinor 2001). Hence it weakens the aim of enhancing organizational cultures. In contrast, when employees participate in a dialogue, their role as a listener is more important than as a speaker. They desire to hear what others want to say. They try to fit all different perspectives into a common value. Therefore, if issues occur, they listen to deeply understand other’s thoughts and opinions (Gerard and Ellinor 2001). By doing that, employees are getting closer to each other and conflicts are minimized. They help their team or their department to build shared culture.
Secondly, Gerard and Ellinor (2001) stated five skills of dialogue including suspension of judgment, listening, reflection, assumption identification and inquiry. They defined the meaning of suspension in dialogue is not to stop one’s judgment about a problem. Instead, they have to aware what their judgments are and “then holding them lightly so they can still hear what others are saying” (Gerard and Ellinor 2001, p. 7). After listening carefully to other’s ideas, they need to reflect their own assumptions. Therefore, to revising whether those assumptions are linked to the organization or not. If they cannot understand the differences, they must inquire for more information. Hence, this process of dialogue enables each employee to foster different views and converge them together to become one unique aim. Organizational culture is enhanced.
In agreement with Gerard and Ellinor, Isaacs (1999) analyzed four principles of dialogue based on Bohm’s research in 1996. They are listening, respecting, suspending and voicing. Firstly, Isaacs had compared listening skill in dialogue to listening to music. He stated a single note of music could not deliver the meaning of the whole song. It is similar to one’s role in a conversation. A single idea is not sufficient to set purposes and cultures for the whole organization. Hence, dialogue is an excellent practice to give people a chance to listen deeply and get into the nature of the conversation. Secondly, he defined respecting as getting to know more about one person and figure out what sources or circumstances has created their particular thinking.
Based on this understanding, people in an organization will pay more respect to each other. The main goal of respecting in dialogue is not to seek decision but to tolerate difference, gap and conflict (Isaacs 1999). The third principle of dialogue, suspending, is determined similar to Gerard and Ellinor (2001). And the last principle Isaacs mentioned is voicing. He suggested people should listen internally so as to select what should say and what should not say in a circumstance. Sometimes keeping silence and listen can achieve the best result. Therefore, the purpose of voicing means people contribute their speech, not only for themselves, but to the whole idea. Overall, these principles are considered having positive effects on organizational learning. They emphasize group and organization achievements rather than an individual accomplishment.
In Schein’s study (1993), he described dialogue as “talking around the campfire” (p. 391). He used “campfire” as a metaphor to explain how decision is made through dialogue. In the past, people sat around campfire during meeting and shared their own opinions. Arguments would never come up as people just simply expressed their thoughts without any discussion or debate. Through that, they were aware themselves which idea was acceptable and were unacceptable (Schein 1993). This process allowed enough time for each person to listen to a deeper layer of other’s opinions then reflect on their own assumptions. Moreover, Schein introduced the check-in concept. At the beginning of the meeting, each person will respectively contribute his or her ideas, views and feelings to the group as a whole, and therefore, “has helped to create the group” (Schein 1993, p. 392). Lastly, Schein stressed the limitation of eye contact. This makes people feel easier to suspend disagreements and concentrate on listening.
Senge (1995) determined dialogue as a facilitator for team learning. Based on his research, team is the key unit to build culture in an organization. By applying dialogue into team learning process, it develops shared vision and brings result every member truly desires. It also creates teamwork and shares equal leadership to each member in the group. Through sharing a common pool of meaning, culture is positively transforming from individual to group values and beliefs.
Although dialogue is proved to have a great effect on organizational culture, there are challenges in implementing it into organization learning system. The first challenge is due to hierarchy level in an organization (Raelin 2012). Dialogue requires equal say and sharing from each member of the organization. However, employees tend to afraid of expressing their true views in front of their managers. They leave decision making to people at higher position. In top-down companies, upper levels of management have full knowledge of desired targets, goals and norms. They have the right and ability to create and change organizational culture. They enforce rules and duties on their employee. They usually do not spend time to listen to individual’s opinion and feeling. Hence, it is very challenging to apply dialogue into this type of business.
Furthermore, if the organization involves a cross-culture, that employee come from different culture backgrounds, there is a need for a more lengthy and complicated process of dialogue (Schein 1993). In this type of organization, people use different languages and operate from different mental models. Organization needs to design a dialogue that enables all these people to communicate effectively. Thornhill, Lewis & Saunders (2000) also emphasized there is may be a need to “re-designing of performance appraisal systems and reward systems” and “the re-definition of job roles to induce employees into accept the new behavior expected from them” (p. 27). Hence it is costly and time consuming.
Finally, dialogue may not be suitable to apply to all organizations cultures in the world. For example, Western culture is different from Eastern culture. As dialogue encourage the limitation of eye contact (Schein 1993), people from the West will consider this as impolite or even disrespectful (Spindler 1990). In addition, in Western countries people prefer confrontation whereas Eastern people prefer to say what they feel most appropriate in this circumstance or least hurtful to the others (Schein 1993). Therefore, dialogue must be selective so it is suitable for each particular organization.
In conclusion, dialogue has played a key role in positively transforming organizational culture. It acts as a learning environment that shifts individual to group thinking. It leads each employee to recognize the essential of collaborating in a group. Querubin (2011) demonstrated that dialogue enables members to “become open to diversity and lose an “us vs. them” paradigm so prevalent in task-oriented cultures” (p. 19). Hence, group achievement is more important than individual accomplishment. Moreover, dialogue includes suspending of judgment, listening, respect, reflection, assumption and voicing. Through all these principles, dialogue creates collective understanding and leads all members of the organization to higher commitment. However, the implementation of dialogue still faces several challenges, including hierarchy levels, time consuming and different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, selective approach of dialogue must be considered to apply to specific organization.
Bohm, D. 1996, On Dialogue. Ed. Lee Nichol, Routledge, London & New York.
Brayman, J., Grey, M. & Stearns, M. 2010, Taking Flight to Literacy and Leadership, Rowman & Littlefield, viewed 16 December 2010,
Ellinor, L. & Gerard, G. 2001, Dialogue at Work: Skills at Leveraging Collective Understanding, Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA.
Ellinor, L. & Gerard, G. 2001, Dialogue at Work: Skills at Leveraging Collective Understanding, Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA, pp. 7.
Gerard, G. & Teurfs, L. 1995, Dialogue and Organizational Transformation, 1st edn, Sterling & Stone, Inc., San Francisco.
Isaacs, W. 1999, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Live, Currency, New York.
Querubin, C. 2011, ‘The effect on the organization’, Dialogue: Creating Shared Meaning and Other Benefits for Business, pp. 19,
Raelin, J. 2012, ‘Dialogue and deliberation as expressions of democratic leadership in participatory organizational change’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 25.
Schein , E. H. 1993, On dialogue, culture, and organizational learning . Organizational Dynamics, pp 391-392.
Senge, P. M. 1995, The spirit of personal mastery, MN: Charthouse International Learning Corporation, Burnsville.
Sergiovanni, T. 1984, ‘Leadership and excellence in schooling’, Educational Leadership Journal, vol. 4.
Spindler, G. 1993, The American Cultural Dialogue and Its Transmission, Psychology Press,
The British Psychological Society 2012, Dialogue: How to create change in organizations through conversation, viewed 14 May 2012, http://www.bps.org.uk/events/dialogue-how-create-change-organisations-through-conversation-1
Thornhill, A., Lewis, M. & Saunders, M. 2000, Managing Change: A Human Resource Strategy Approach, Prentice Hall, London.
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