Dr Joan Walton
Bohm Dialogue was developed as a means of enabling a collaborative process of listening and sharing that allows new knowledge to emerge from the collective, which was not previously in existence. The method was created by David Bohm, and was explained in his book On Dialogue (1996). William Isaacs developed it further in Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (1999). These two books explain clearly and in detail the theory informing this approach to dialogue, including how it creates a method for evolving knowledge and wisdom, and reveals an effective way for ‘humanity to discover meaning and to achieve harmony’.
Bohm, using the ontological view of the world that he had gained through quantum physics, and with an awareness of the Greek origins of the term, devised dialogue as a means of ‘collective participation’ which allows for the ‘harmony of the individual and the collective, in which the whole constantly moves toward coherence’.
Dialogue as a method supports a more open culture, in which thoughts and experiences can be shared with mutual respect. Groups of people learn to think together; the outcome is that there is a generation of ideas and ways of perceiving reality that no one person would have had on their own.
Isaacs identifies four key dialogical skills:
The effectiveness of dialogue depends on the quality of the listening that takes place. There needs to be a commitment to subdue own thoughts, theories and feelings, and listen at a deep level to what others are saying. There is also the aim of listening to the whole – the practice of collective listening to that which lies beyond individual contribution makes it possible to access new levels of insight.
The need to value the right of another person to have their point of view, and to take it into consideration, even if it does not relate to one’s own way of seeing things. Difference in views will be inevitable, but the process of challenging a point of view, and giving an alternative, should be done without diminishing or critiquing the other person for holding that view.
A critical aspect of dialogue is about being prepared to become aware of, and suspend, deeply held assumptions, theories and certainties, in order to be able to go deeper into any area being spoken about. This is essential if the ‘wisdom in – and beyond – the room’ is to be accessed. If we can suspend our views, and truly listen to, and reflect on, what others are saying, then a deeper order can become visible that allows us to think in new and different ways. It creates space for the previously unseen.
Voicing is the ability to speak in response to what is engaging you in the present moment; involving you as a whole person, and not feeling that you have to censor your own truth. Rather than repeat well versed arguments and theories, there is a need to ‘tune it’ to what is going on in the groups, through the silences as well as the contributions, and to be able to express what is going on deeply within you, whatever that may be. We learn to improvise, and by this means, create something new in the group, thus experiencing the freedom of open communication in creative dialogue.
Bohm Dialogue is sometimes difficult to get into, as it is a very different mode of conversing. Particularly, group members often have difficulty allowing for silence, can often feel an urge to talk in order to break the silence. It is useful, then, to agree a set of Groundrules at the outset, in order for the ethos of dialogue to become embedded in the process. Everyone takes responsibility for maintaining the Groundrules, and suggestions for amendment can happen at any time. The following are proposed as a base-line, but can be added to or changed by any group. The main aim, though, is to establish a way of communicating that enables the essential principles of Dialogue to be integrated and enhanced throughout the conversational process. This allows for the full benefit of the ‘synergy’, learning and wisdom, which comes from accessing deeper aspects of ourselves in the company of others, to be realised to its fullest extent.1. Demonstrate respect and non-judgementality at all times.
What takes place in the silence is as important as the content of the speaking. Aim for a silence between each contribution (perhaps a minimum of 20 seconds?), to allow for true listening and reflection to take place.
 David Bohm On Dialogue, back cover.
 On Dialogue, p. 32.
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