I began working with local NGOs in Chengdu, China since 2014 to promote the practices of “listening” and “suspending judgement” and the book “Power of Dialogue”. At the end of each session participants reflected on their learning; and most participants expressed that they wanted to develop the ability to “listen attentively without interruption”. However following the workshops, there was no follow-up activity to see the extent to which participants had applied these newly learned skills at work or in personal life.
In early 2016, the long-awaited simplified Chinese edition of “The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation” was published. I invited Professor Guo Hong, of the Chuandao Academy, Shangming Social Development Research Centre and an influential scholar in charity works in Chengdu and the greater Sichuan area, along with CP Yen Foundation and Tien Tse Foundation, to organise a four-week workshop on “Dialogue”. This request led to two classes of 12 participants consisting of organisational executives as well as middle and upper-level managers. Contrary to our tradition of free training programs for NPOs, this was a fee-based workshop.
Participants were asked to share their reflections on applying the skills they had learned in the workshops. Most participants reported a greater willingness to listen (without interrupting), so they heard more information; they became more efficient at work, and their relationships with their spouse and children improved because of their changes in listening. Other participants expressed an increase in actively asking open questions. They felt their questions encouraged their colleagues to be more assertive in their attitudes. Executives noted changes in their communication with staff. Instead of asking their Directors “what should we do?” staff began developing solutions autonomously. One of the responses most inspiring for me was a participant's comment that “dialogue means productivity” and that dialogue could be effective in lowering communication costs overall. I shared his insight at the following CP Yen Foundation board meeting in Taipei, and our chairman, George Yen, resonated with this view. In the corporate world which values productivity, dialogue with its power to inspire and enhance productivity becomes a valuable and essential skill.
As reflected in the book titled "The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation", conflict can be a factor in setting back productivity. Take for example a potential conflict within an organisation: when disagreement in values occurs between individuals or within an organisation or when job responsibilities and tasks are not clearly defined, confrontations or hidden resentment can occur. As a result, issues become hidden operational costs. Emotional reactions blur the truth or the real issues at hand. Passive resistance occurs when employees who have lost their passion begin to take more leaves or omit to report potential flaws. Employee turnover is another outcome and may be the most damaging cost to the organisation. The cost of hiring, training, and mentoring new employees, plus the loss of knowledge and experience, can really hurt an organisation.
If managers and supervisors within organisations are equipped with “dialogue” skills and are willing to empathise with others, suspend subjective judgements, and raise relevant inquiries, conflicts may be resolved quickly. When they allow others to voice their views they develop greater understanding of one another. Conflicts therefore have the potential to transform into constructive results, particularly when the disagreement relates to a previously overlooked issue.
Listening, asking questions, and delaying judgements are topics often discussed in management, communication, cross-cultural issues, and emotional management. When we look at the three requirements of dialogue: equality, empathic listening, surfacing assumptions, suspending judgements, inquiry, reflection, and advocacy, I feel dialogue is a critical soft power and productive skill which contemporary citizens must be equipped with for any situation!
The programs listed below were presented through PowerPoint presentations, images and videos of personal experiences, and materials developed by the CP Yen Foundation (CPYF).
“The Power of Dialogue” publication was the foundation for the foundation’s training sessions this year. Each 3 hour session focused on the processes of listening and suspending judgements.