This article explains dialogue mapping, developed by Jeff Conklin, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful communication skills tool.
In some meetings the participants cannot seem to agree on anything and everyone will stick to their own views instead of arriving at common consent. Many people will recognize this situation. Dialogue mapping makes ‘collective thinking’ much easier.
Dialogue Mapping appears to be more complicated than it actually is but as a matter of fact it supports the human brain. In brief, this means that all the ideas of all the participants are recorded in a clear diagram. In addition to the ideas, the accompanying remarks can be recorded too. In this manner, the participants will have a sense of a common bond and this creates a basis for positive cooperation.
Dialogue Mapping is especially effective for very complex problems or different ideas about facts, preferences and other data. Because of a clear overview, the participants will discover where certain bottlenecks may be located and where additional attention is required. It helps when all the participants have a clear overview of all the ideas that have been properly recorded. Ultimately, Dialogue Mapping paves the way to make quick, sound and joint decisions.
As the human brain can only record a limited number of ideas and facts in one go, people are inclined to immediately select a preference and forget about the rest of the ideas. However, the ideas that are less appealing could be very useful too. By collecting all the ideas with their advantages and disadvantages and by recording them in the diagram, an objective overview is created that can lead to a broad range of solutions. All participants are now ‘forced’ to discuss and listen carefully to each other and come up with good solutions.
When discussions begin between the participants, the diagram will grow and expand. Each participant contributes to the discussion and everything is recorded in the Dialogue Mapping. The diagram therefore represents the group memory. Furthermore, the opinions of the dominant participants are held back. When their ideas have been incorporated into the diagram, there is no need for them to repeat their viewpoints.
People are naturally inclined to solve problems in a non-linear manner, just by talking about problems. Because of the ‘forced’ and structured manner of Dialogue Mapping, participants become also aware that other people’s ideas may be very useful. Dialogue Mapping has more advantages:
- the ideas of each participant are heard and recognized.
- each participant will note that their remarks make a positive contribution to the process.
- the participants have a common goal and as a group they are now able to take corrective action
- the group dynamics will increase as a result of which joint responsibility is taken.
Use of Dialogue Mapping
Dialogue Mapping can be used in two ways:
Visualization helps the participants understand what the different opinions are; this can be realized by using a whiteboard, flip chart or computer projection. The use of Power Point is strongly advised against.
Issue Based Information System (IBIS)
The strengths of IBIS are, that the emphasis is put on questions and the interaction that takes place during the discussion. In an IBIS diagram new questions, assumptions, arguments, etcetera are created. This may cause the context to shift and other (useful) ideas and solutions may surface as a result.
Dialogue Mapping encourages collective thinking and therefore synergy between the participants. Because of this added value, Dialogue Mapping differs from traditional facilitation during meetings. It promotes mutual understanding and respect for each other and each other’s opinions.
- Conklin, J. (2003). Dialogue Mapping: Defragmenting Projects through Shared Understanding. Cognexus Institute. White Paper. Napa, CA.
- Conklin, J. (2005). Dialogue mapping: Building shared understanding of wicked problems. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
- Roehl, H., Knuth, M., & Magner, C. (2008). Mapping dialogue: Essential tools for social change. Taos Institute Publications.
- Shum, S. B. (2008). Cohere: Towards web 2.0 argumentation. COMMA, 8, 97-108.
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