Organizational Conversation

Discussion or Dialogue?

I received an interesting email from my friend David Gurteen recently mentioning ‘organizational conversation’ (extract and my use of italics)

Organizational conversation is about creating an environment where conversation replaces the pervasive traditional form of one way corporate communication – typified by death by PowerPoint presentations and “sage on the stage” lectures. It is about nurturing a culture where people talk with each other rather than at each other.

Phrased that way, it certainly rang a bell. My guess is that most business conversations are ‘at’ rather than ‘with’.

David referred to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on ‘organizational conversation‘ by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind. It referred to a (small) survey they’d carried out:

That survey result reinforces a finding that we’ve observed elsewhere in our research: in company after company, the patterns and processes by which people communicate with each other are unmistakably in flux. The old “corporate communication” is giving way to a model that we call “organizational conversation.” That shift is, for many people, a disorienting process. But it also offers a great leadership opportunity.

David has been promoting conversation (as a knowledge exchange tool) for a while now and his Knowledge Cafes (example here) are consistently popular.

Although powerful, this way of thinking seems to be taking a while to catch on. Out of interest I did a search and came across this table comparing dialogue with discussion and this was from 2003! There’s obviously been many developments since then.

Comparing Dialogue With Discussion

Whilst conversation is obviously prevalent in all organisations, it might be worth thinking about your own conversational styles and, depending on the circumstances, how you can develop dialogue as well as discussion.

If you’re curious and want to find out more, I’d recommend attending one of the (free) public Gurteen Knowledge Cafes that are held throughout the year. A list of the London-oriented ones is here (other locations are given on the website). They’re a great way to meet a wide spectrum of like-minded people and, as an added bonus, they’re held in interesting places!

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