An experience of Dialogue

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to join an evening of Dialogue co-hosted by Johnnie Moore, Alok Singh and Mark Hodge.

I’ve played a little with dialogue a few years ago as part of a (now defunct) group that was looking at how a group of independent professionals could develop a self-sustaining, learning, network – we had a few good results but the group dissolved. So I was very pleased to get the invite to “Common Sense – an invite to join a group dialogue into the possibilities for deeper connections within a group”.

In this short account I’ll try to give a sense of how the evening went, at least from a personal perspective, with a few thoughts about the flow, how to increase the chances of it happening again and some questions.

The experience

Ten of us gathered at the venue – an alternative business space called The Hub in Islington. This was slightly out-of-comfort zone stuff for me, but it rapidly became apparent that no-one knew everyone – for all of us at least some of the group were strangers. After some initial ice-breaking we sat in a rough circle of chairs…. and began to talk. Inevitably a little bit about the possibilities for groups to connect deeply to make things happen, but soon the conversation began to have a life of its own.

At first I felt a little self-conscious (others reflected back that they had similar feelings), but (reflecting from afterwards) it was clear that within about 20-30 minutes I was beginning to lose awareness of myself and become absorbed into the talk. It was from about this time that the group began to have long silences in between conversational exchanges. During the silences (which felt quite comfortable to me) I began to be aware of some of the feelings that I associate with being in a state of light trance, i.e. a sense of relaxation, reduced pulse and breathing, a feeling of being happy to follow the group wherever it went, combined with a feeling that if I had wanted to act in some particular direction I could have done so. Unlike trance there was no feeling of drowsiness – rather at those moments the sensation was one of awareness and concentration without effort.

These moments were fleeting, and within a few minutes we would be back into a flow of conversation – and to me these conversational interludes immediately after the deep silences often felt very much “in the head” as opposed to the grounded bodily feeling of the silences. However as the conversation went on, the silences became deeper and, almost at the end, there was a sense, hardly more than a fleeting glance, of the trance-like feeling carrying over into the conversation and suddenly it was as if we were dancing a piece we all knew. The nearest sensation I can describe where I have felt this before was many (many!) years ago when I used to do a lot of cycling, when occasionally a small group out on a ride would fall into a pattern of “through and off” without any kind of instruction, and with concentration keep it going for several miles.

And then it was the end. And something left the room, some energy suddenly wasn’t there.

In our final conversation, as people made their individual exits, I noticed, and commented, that I felt energised and refreshed. Although nearly two-and-a-half hours of intense listening and concentration had passed since I’d arrived, slightly late, somewhat frazzled by a rush-hour journey across London at the end of a full working day, I felt more awake at the end of the session than at the beginning.

Pre-framing

Clearly there were a number of factors that contributed to the success of the evening. Not least of these, in my opinion, was that we were a self-selecting group who by the very fact of being there had an interest in experimentation, probable prior experience in working in ad-hoc groups and an interest in Dialogue. Secondly, the invitation had pointed us at three specific pieces of reading: the original David Bohm Proposal On Dialogue, Alok’s own paper on The Group Unconscious and The Conditions for Thriving Conversations by Kathia and Alexander Laszlo.

Some questions

I think many of us would want to repeat the experiment. Some of the questions that go through my mind in regards to this:

  • How quickly could we start creating the group trance / dance next time?
  • What difference would it make if the group membership were a little bit (or a lot) different?
  • What else could we do to encourage the rapid forming of group flow?
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Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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