Understanding Diversity Dialogues: A Q&A on the benefits of dialogue

By Simma Lieberman and Kate Berardo.

What does dialogue do?

Dialogue brings people together who would not naturally sit down together and talk about important issues. It is a process to successfully relate to people who are different from you. Their differences can include gender, religion, work departments, cultures, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or age.

Does dialogue solve problems?

Dialoging isn¹t a problem-solving process directly. It is instead a process that builds bridges of understanding between groups that naturally helps to reduce misunderstandings, conflict, and tension and therefore to dissolve problems.

What are the signals that a dialogue process is needed?

Whenever differences are the root cause of problems in an organization or on a college campus, dialogue may be a helpful process. These problems can be interpersonal, such as misunderstandings, tension, or increased polarization and division or organizational, such as low levels of productivity, high levels of stress, and high rates of turnover.

How can you spot opportunities for dialoging before problems arise?

Whenever you have the opportunity for people of different backgrounds to interact, dialogue can be a useful tool to help build a foundation of understanding and set guidelines for effective ongoing interaction. Work Groups with different functions and priorities who must work together but know little about the day-to-day activities of the other departments would benefit from the dialoguing process, as would college campuses that have some diversity, but generally little interaction between individuals of different backgrounds.

What can you expect from a dialoging process?

Dialogue promotes better understanding and more creative cooperation between different people and groups. The process will help to reduce misunderstandings and tensions and help ensure more successful interaction in the future.

What are the basic requirements for a dialogue?

Both parties must be willing to engage in the dialogue, trust the process, and agree on a set of guidelines for the process. Because the stakes are high and emotions are often involved, only a skilled and experienced facilitator should be used for the dialogue process.

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