• Trisha Lord

Dialogue as a Building Block of the Thinking Environment


One of the four building blocks of a Thinking Environment is Dialogue. Dialogue in a Thinking Environment is what happens when we are two people, thinking together about the same question. It's distinct from the other building block, which I've made a separate video about, which is Thinking Pairs.


In Thinking Pairs, as you will see from that video, each person is thinking about their own topic or their own question. They're each choosing their own distinct thing to think about and the other person who's listening to them, isn't replying. They're listening to ignite (more about listening to ignite in the little video on the two worlds of thinking, and in the other video on managing the three streams of attention).


Dialogue is what happens when we move back from the world of fully independent thinking that we create for each other in Thinking Pairs, and we move back into the more normal, more every day, more familiar world of what we call exchange thinking. And we are two people, and we are wanting to do the best possible job that we can of thinking together, and we're thinking together about the same topic, the same question.



Probably, if we're smart about it, what we will have done before we got started is use the Issues into Questions exercise. (You can watch the video on turning issues into questions here)


We would have thought about the issue that we're wanting to have a dialogue on, we will have thought about the outcome that we want to achieve by the time we're done with our dialogue, and we would have crafted a question to ignite our thinking and to get us started.


Then, how the Dialogue works is that one person that asks the other person the question that we've crafted, and as we know, from the Thinking Environment, questions get thinking. The minute somebody asks you a question, you start thinking about it. How are you? You start thinking about that.


So, you've crafted your question, one person asks the other person in the dialogue the question, and the person receiving the question will automatically start to think about it. The person that asked the question settles back; they settle back into being a Thinking Partner.


What that means is that they get interested in the thinking of the person that they're in the dialogue with, the thinking that they're listening to, and they get interested not just in what they're hearing that person say, but they're interested in the thinking that that person is doing and where that thinking is taking them.


This is an incredibly sophisticated skill, because when we're in Dialogue, and we're both thinking together about the same question, we have an investment, and we have a part of our mind that is going to be responding to what we're hearing from the other person. Do they think about this in the same way as we do? Do we like what they're saying? Do we agree with it? Does it fit with what we think? Do we understand it?


So there'll be a lot in us that is wanting to respond and reply to what we're hearing from the person that we're in the Dialogue with, but because we're wanting to create a Thinking Environment, we'll be doing a good job of managing that stream of attention which we call our response and we'll be replacing it with genuine interest in where this person's thinking is going, and we'll be at ease because we'll have made an agreement with the person that we're in the dialogue with, that at some point, they are going to remember to stop their turn because they are committed to the Component of Equality, and because they - even whilst they're thinking about what they think in response to the question - are still genuinely interested in our thinking, and they want to know what it is.


So, we can relax, we can settle back, we can get interested, knowing that at some point, they're going to stop their turn and hand it over to us with a simple question: "So what do you think?" And then it becomes our turn, and they do exactly the same for us that we have just done for them. They settle back. They get interested, not just in what they're hearing us say, but in where our thinking is going.


And at some point, we remember that this is a Dialogue and not a Thinking Pair. And so we choose to hand the turn over again and we hand it back to them again with that same simple question: "What do you think? What do you think now? Or what are your thoughts?" And they might say something that we don't agree with, and that's going to be an interesting challenge, which I'm going to talk about in another video on disagreement and the Component of Difference. (follow this link to watch this video)


But actually, if we genuinely are interested in each other's thinking, and there's no competition between us, and we want to know what each other thinks, and we have a turnover frequently, and we listen - safeguarding the promise of no interruption - probably what we're going to find is that the Dialogue itself becomes a third person in this relationship. It takes on a life of its own, and we find ourselves going into unexplored territory - both of us - that we didn't know this Dialogue was going to take us there, and we begin to co-create a way forward with whatever it is that we're thinking about.

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I want to share this marvelous little exercise that we do in the Thinking Environment, which is called turning issues into questions. It's one of my favorite things in the Thinking Environment actuall