One of the sea changes that can be detected in recent times is the growing interest in dialogue (and its perhaps more social counterpart, conversation) as part of the dispute resolution scene. This is perhaps not so new – but its links with dispute resolution might be.
Some years ago David Bohm and colleagues wrote an important piece on dialogue:
“Dialogue, as we are choosing to use the word, is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication between individuals, nations and even different parts of the same organization. In our modern culture men and women are able to interact with one another in many ways: they can sing dance or play together with little difficulty but their ability to talk together about subjects that matter deeply to them seems invariably to lead to dispute, division and often to violence. In our view this condition points to a deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought.”
D Bohm, D Factor, and P Garrett, (1991) ‘Dialogue – a proposal’, http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/bohm_dialogue.htm
Practical ways in which “conversation” – rather than the more familiar DR tools – is used can be seen in the well-established work of the Public Conversations Project – http://www.publicconversations.org/ – which for some years has used a facilitated and structured dialogue to promote understanding between contending groups. Or, in the international field, look at the work of Hal Saunders and his “sustained dialogue” process: http://www.sustaineddialogue.org/
The reasons this trend interests me – or at least provokes this comment are:
- the possibility that dialogue might be a more accessible and acceptable tool for many in this region, if “dispute resolution” carries too much freight by way of the emphasis on “disputes” and “conflicts”; and
- the observation by Kenneth Fox in his chapter “Negotiation as a Post-Modern Process” in Honeyman et al, Rethinking Negotiation Teaching, that the ‘second generation’ of negotiation practice and teaching might rest more on dialogic interaction than negotiation.
There’s an important reason for this second element: the more we find non-state, unofficial, track 2 people engaged in the important business of building peace, the more appropriate it is to think in terms of dialogue rather than negotiation, if only because ‘negotiation’ carries with it an assumption of capacity to determine or agree outcomes, which is not necessarily the case with these second tier processes. But what they can provide is the confidence building engagement that dialogue offers.
Again, this has a solid pedigree – see the work of Ronald J Fisher on Interactive Conflict Resolution [e.g. http://icar.gmu.edu/op_14_fisher.pdf] in which the context might be that of conflict resolution but the mode is that of engagement, dialogue, and confidence building.
And, of course, for a more widely aimed discussion, see Theodore Zeldin’s small but intriguing book, Conversation: How Talk can Change your Life, (Hidden Spring, 2000).
But blogs aren’t necessarily conversation . . . unless there’s a response or reaction. Though I hope it’s not true in all cases that, as one writer [Gregory Kalscheur SJ] suggests, blogs are the enemy of thought!
“Reasonable Minds might want to ponder the question posed by Alan Jacobs in an article posted on Christianity Today.com, here: are blogs the friend of information but the enemy of thought? Here is how Jacobs describes the problems afflicting “the intellectual and moral environments of the blogs. There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant, the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly, and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog … with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished institution of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.” http://reasonableminds.wordpress.com/2006/06/29/is-thoughtful-blog-conversation-possible/
However, what does link the idea of dialogue and conversation with dispute resolution is the common idea that, at the heart of it, people need to tell their stories. Indeed, I recall a workshop at Harvard a decade or more ago at which it was decided, after a few days’ deliberation, that – once we added ‘culture’ to the mix of our thinking about the model of negotiation, all that really was left was that one element: people need to tell their stories. As Anthony Appiah puts it: “the basic human capacity to grasp stories, even strange stories, is what also links us, powerfully, to others, even strange others.” The Ethics of Identity p257
Or Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, p2: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering the genesis of hope.”