Personal and Collective Work

One of the benefits to being invited to participate in Al Etmanski's series "What Are You Skating Towards in 2012?" ( is reading the other submissions. Many of the contributors are leading positive social change at the community, national and global level.


These contributors have me thinking about my own history of collective work which goes back to the late eighties when I founded Extraordinary Conversations.


I recall being very excited about the possibility of people of goodwill coming together to look at the future from a perspective of creative possibility and mutuality. My work was focused primarily on organizational change. In addition, I offered workshops for those interested in collaboration practices that could benefit family, community and business.


What became evident early was the need for personal development work in support of group work.Too often dialogue became dysfunctional because of power dynamics and dysfunctional competition amongst those engaged in the conversation.


Creativity and mutuality were routinely sacrificed to the ego needs of individuals.


It became evident to me that having a strong opinion was not sufficient to reach mutual gain. Rather, it could eliminate the possibility of true progress towards a result that was in the best interest of the family, community, or business.


For true dialogue to thrive individual contributors needed to skill up– and in some cases, grow up– in order to ensure that dialogue does not decend into debate.


Those who have grown sick of "political discourse" take note. The ego need not interupt the discovery of something deeper and more meaningful than a need to be right. It requires each of us to develop personal leadership, character and the ability to listen.


Easy prescription.


With over twenty years in the trenches I can tell you that the quest for mutuality is not easily won.


The following comes from the insights of David Bohm, a noted quantum theorist and godfather of the dialogue movement. I think it distinguishes the opportunties and pitfalls of dialogue versus debate.


1. Dialogue is collaborative; debate is oppositional.


2. In dialogue, common ground is the goal. In debate, winning is the goal.


3. In dialogue, one listens to understand, to find meaning, and to find agreement. In debate, one listens to find flaws and to counter the views of others.


4. Dialogue enlarges one's point of view. Debate defends one's point of view.


5. Dialogue reveals assumptions for re-evaluation. Debate holds that one's assumptions are the truth.


6. Dialogue causes introspection of one's point of view. Debate causes critique of other people's point of view.


7. Dialogue supports open-mindedness...openness to being wrong and openness to change. Debate creates closed-mindedness, and a determination of being right.


8. Dialogue searches for common ground. Debate searches for disputes.


9. Dialogue involves concerns for one's impact on others and seeks not to alienate or offend. Debate involves challenging and countering without concern for other people's feelings.


10. Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution. Debate assumes that there is only one right answer and that somebody has it.


© Patrick O’Neill 2012. All rights reserved.

Posted on January 31, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.