How Dialogues Get Us To Where We Need to Go, Together

When talking with others, we naturally engage in many different kinds of conversations.  The tactics, tones, and non-verbals we employ in a debate where we’re trying to persuade others will be very different than how we’d go about delivering an info share to others.  Discerning which type is the most effective for what you’re trying to communicate, and knowing how to speak in each type is a skill every leader can grow.  The dialogue, a conversation model that helps participants share perspective and create cooperatively, is a supertool, and one we use often in our day-to-day at Vestalia.  Sometimes it feels like there is nothing it can’t do! There are a lot of applications for them and plenty of nuances to being in them.  Read on to learn more about the magic of dialogue.

How Dialogues Get Us To Where We Need to Go, Together

by Becky Lemon, 3/20/19

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

Everyday, at least once, you are asked to solve a situation that you don’t have the answer to.  Something has to be figured out, clarified, or created to fulfill a need that is not being met or to restore well-being where there has been unease.  It can be big, it can be small, and you usually have the choice to work it out by yourself or enlist help from others.

In the restaurant biz, most people would expect a leader in this type of situation to take charge, make decisions, and tell everyone what to do.  While that is sometimes the best course of action, working together to get to where you need to go might get better results. If you’ve got an “I’ll fix it” instinct and want to increase your collaborative skills, getting familiar with being in dialogue conversations is one way to do it.  David W. Angel, whose theory about the four types of conversation we explored in a previous post, defines dialogue as two-way and cooperative. Let’s dig into some examples of dialogues, what’s really going on in them, and what dialogues do for us at Vestalia.

Dialogue Conversations In Real Life

If you’re in a dialogue, you are really just following a natural pattern of conversation that happens when two or more people get together to talk with one another to figure something out.  You are in them all the time and may not even notice it.  Before we break down the DNA of a dialogue conversation, let’s explore what it sounds like IRL:

Situation: Your friends want to go out to eat somewhere and you all want to decide on the restaurant together:

Step One: You start talking about what everyone wants and find out two people are hungry now, one is a vegetarian, one would rather go to a full-service restaurant than get fast food.  You know two people have cars and are willing to drive.

Step Two: Knowing all of that, you all start throwing around names of places that are open and relatively close, have a diverse menu, and have table service (and you add in a few places that have been on everyone’s wish list to visit that don’t necessarily fit your criteria, but, come on, it’d be fun to go there)

Step Three: You narrow down and choose the restaurant that everyone feels satisfied with and is committed to going to

Step Four: You figure out the details to make it happen – when are we going?  Who is driving whom?

Step Five: You carry out your plan

Step Six: After you’re done with dinner, you talk about why this was or wasn’t the right choice

Situation: Your friend is going through a tough time.  You want to understand how they are doing and know how to best support and communicate with them in a way that feels good to you both (and you’re not sure how to do that)

Step One: You hear from them about their experience so far, you learn what’s going well for them, what’s missing that is making it feel hard. You share how it feels to be in it with them from your point of view.  You both discuss how communication and support between the two of you has been so far, what’s felt good? What could be better?

Step Two: From that understanding, you both share ideas about how it could feel good between you moving forward.  They’d love to hear from you once a week, you’d like to meet face to face rather than text/email/call, they don’t really want advice, they need you more to listen and be present, the list goes on.

Step Three: After discussing all possibilities, you land on a plan that you both feel good about and you’re both excited to jump into

Step Four: You figure out the day of the week you’ll meet, how you’ll decide the destination each time, who is calling who, etc.

Step Five: You follow your plan for a while

Step Six: After a few months, you talk about how communication and support is feeling now.   

If those are examples of what dialogue conversation can sound like, let’s check out what’s actually going on in each step…

Recipe for a Dialogue

Step One: Paint a comprehensive picture of where you’re at

This is where everyone in the conversation shares their perspectives and what they know about the situation, and listens to one another to create that larger picture (because the piece you see is only part of the whole).  Answer the questions: what do we have right now that contributes to our well-being?  What feels missing, what do we need that if we had it we’d feel more well-being?  Once you’ve got that greater understanding, make sure everyone steps back and agrees they now see the same thing. Getting on the same page from the start is a crucial step in any dialogue.

Step Two: Paint a comprehensive picture of where you could be

This is where the dreaming happens.  Brainstorm all of the possibilities of what the situation could look like if it were satisfying and effective.  It’s important here to leave nothing unsaid – great innovation and creativity happens when we push ourselves as outside-of-the-box as we can.  Also, if you don’t share an idea you think might really work, it may diminish your ability to really feel good about the direction you all end up going in (i.e., yeah, this is cool, but my idea would have been awesome…)

Step Three: Pick a picture and commit to it

Of all the possibilities you dreamed up, which one clicks for everyone?  It’s got to have the right balance of giving you what you need (which you’ve identified in step one), you believing that resources and energy are available to make it happen, and you’re having that gut feeling that tells you it’s the right way to go and you want to go there (even if it wasn’t your possibility people are going with).

Step Four: Figure out a plan

Now you know where you’re going.  How are you going to get there? What tasks need to be done, by whom, and when?  What behaviors do we need to stop, start, or continue doing to reach our desired destination?

Step Five: Make it happen

Make sure everyone knows what they’re doing, when, and why; check in on one another to offer support and feedback as you roll out your plan.  Once the plan is completed, give it a little time, live in it for a bit.

Step Six: Get back together after a while and see where you are now

How close did you get to that picture you had committed to?  If you’re spot on, is it everything you hoped it would be, or is there still something missing?  If you’re not close, why? What happened? Did we all do what we said we were going to? Whether we did or didn’t, does it still feel like the right direction?  Now that we’re here, did we learn something new that changes things? If you find that your “where we are now” is not “where we need to be,” don’t panic. You’re already starting over again at step one; following the same route with new information and perspectives will ultimately lead to different results, maybe the one you’re all looking for!  

Bringing it Into Our Day-to-Day

There are a ton of restaurant scenarios that lend themselves well to dialogues, play these out in your head using the conversation steps.  For fun and contrast: Play out these scenarios with the MOD making the decision on their own and telling the person or group what to do – what feels different?  Then, imagine you only have 3 minutes to make a decision in each of these situations, as the leader would you stick with dialogue or change who’s in the conversation with you?  Why?

  • A server reports to the MOD that their guest is unhappy; the two start a dialogue to figure out how to best respond
  • New menu items are starting today which requires the line to be set up differently than usual; a chef and the line cooks are in dialogue to figure what that is going to look like to make service smooth
  • A team member or leader notices that someone who is usually upbeat and energetic has been showing up to work a little down; they start a dialogue with them to see what’s going on and if there is anything they can do to help.
  • Late nights are starting to get rowdy as part of the team finishes and starts gathering at the bar/counter to chat and relax, during service.  They’re not breaking any policies or guidelines, still, it’s affecting guests; the leadership team starts a dialogue with a few members of the FOH and BOH (both hourly and leadership) to figure out what to do about it.  
  • Servers can’t seem to agree on how to complete opening sidework, even though there are detailed checklists; leadership gathers a few servers to be in dialogue with the leadership team to understand what’s really going on to cause this misalignment and determine what to do to get everyone back on track.  

Why Dialogue Gets the Star Treatment at Vestalia

Here’s the deal: all of this just scrapes the surface of what dialogues are all about and what they can do (we’re not even going to get into how they can get us out of conflict).  At Vestalia, we have a preference for being in conversation this way because dialogues help us achieve our goals of sharing power and decision making, building trust, relationships, and engagement, and staying innovative.  Not sure if it’s the right choice for your situation? Maybe try it if any of these sound relevant in the moment:

  • We would benefit from having multiple points of view in the process because having the most information, perspectives, and possibilities to work with will increase our understanding of what’s really going on and get us the best results
  • We’ll need people to commit to what we’ve created or decided (and people are more likely to commit to things that they had a part in creating)
  • Involving others in the conversation will build connections between people and contribute directly to their development and engagement
  • We’ve got enough time to go this route (dialogues can happen in two minutes, two hours, two weeks, two months: it depends on the size of the issue or project).
  • Our curiosity is driving us to dig deeper into the issue at hand; we want to investigate, learn and challenge ourselves to come up with really creative answers to our questions

So, next time you’re faced with a “question mark” situation and you decide you want to be in it with people (two way and cooperative), try out a dialogue conversation.  See how it goes, share what you learn!

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