The most important skill in a dialogue is knowing how to listen, a skill that will improve through practise.
Start by listening to yourself. Your own assumptions may make the task of leading a dialogue more difficult. To become a good leader of dialogues, you first have to become aware of your own assumptions and beliefs regarding the topic. Also, be aware that there will be issues of which you have no knowledge. We often draw instantaneous conclusions from what we experience and hear without stopping to reflect on our thoughts. At worst, leaping into conclusions may lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Improving your listening skills
- Imagine in your mind the events and situations that the others are talking about
- Try to perceive what the other person is saying as a story with a beginning, middle and end.
- Pay attention to the different dimensions in the experiences brought up by the others: observations, thoughts, memories, feelings and illusions.
- Listen to yourself! What happens in you when the others speak? What kind of feelings does it evoke in you? What do you find new and interesting? What do you find annoying? What is difficult for you to understand? What motivational appeals do you recognise in yourself?
- Wait for a while before rushing to say what you have to say. What if your compelling need to speak eases when you concentrate more on listening to the others?
Below, you will find Tapio Anttila’s list of 11 ways to destroy a dialogue. A reversed example sometimes helps to understand the characteristics of a good conversationalist.
What is good interaction? You understand it by observing bad interaction.
- Convert. Get the others on your side; force them to understand, at least nominally: “But surely you have to understand…”
- Interrupt. You know what the other one is going to say, anyway: “Sorry, but…”
- Win. Be witty, win the argument: “Do you seriously…”
- Retreat. Stay inside your box, do not tell others what you think.
- Stick to your opinion. If something does not fit in your frame of reference, forget it.
- Rush. Aim at decisions and action as rapidly as possible: “I think this was it.”
- Put yourself on a pedestal. Remember to tell the others about your superior education, diverse experience and comprehensive knowledge. Keep your solos long. “Without sufficient education it may be difficult to…”
- Authoritative arguments. fs facts are not enough as arguments, try authority. Drop enough names each time you speak: “When I was playing tennis with Henry in Vienna…”
- Be absent. Fiddle with your smart devices.
- Always oppose to everything. On principle, oppose to everything. Always play devil’s advocate.
- Patent solutions. Remind everyone about your patent solution, which would work in this case, too: “There’s no use inventing …”