8 Keys to Improving Dialogue

Improving communications skills is a key focus area in executive coaching, as well as helping all employees reach their full potential. Managing dialogue effectively is essential; here are 8 keys:

1 Discuss & Dialogue.

Understand the differences between dialogue and discussion and use both as appropriate:

Dialogue is an opportunity to leverage divergent thinking – to explore, ask questions, understand, and discover. It is not about deciding and closing off possibilities.

Discussion requires convergent thinking to close in on a solution or decision. In discussion mode, people negotiate, talk about trade-offs, and analyze.

2 Focus on Each Role.

Contribute to both the dialogue and the discussion by following this pattern when listening: hear, understand, interpret, and then respond. Be careful not to short-change your listening by focusing instead on preparing your response.

3 Don’t Overdo It.

Consider situations where your communication skills may be overused: when you may be speaking instead of listening. Set goals for the amount of time you spend talking in a meeting, aim to listen 50%.

4 Be an Active Listener.

This serves two purposes: it allows you to get the information you need and helps the other person feel understood because you are engaged.

5 Engage Nonverbally.

Demonstrate engagement through your receptive nonverbal communications: smile, lean in, maintain eye contact and nod. Resist the urge to look at your phone, cross your arms, or otherwise fidget.

6 Ask Open-Ended Questions.

Gather input, feedback, information, thoughts, and feelings by beginning questions with: “Tell me about…,” “Describe…,” “Explain…,” etc.

7 Practice Clarifying.

Ask clarifying questions – not challenging ones – to help ensure you truly understand the person’s message. (Don’t assume!) Listen to idea or suggestion and pause briefly before adding anything; use this time to think. Then ask your clarifying questions.

8 Paraphrase & Reflect.

Paraphrasing focuses on the message’s content, while a reflection focuses on the feelings or emotions of the speaker.