Dialogic Listening (Stewart & Thomas)
In this article you will find a practical explanation of Dialogic Listening. After reading, you will understand this powerful tool of communication skills.
What is Dialogic Listening?
Dialogic Listening was developed by John Stewart and Milt Thomas as an alternative to Active Listening. It is also known as relational listening, as it helps with the exchange of ideas as one person listens to the other and builds rapport in the process.
To go deeper into the characteristics of Dialogic Listening, one must understand the meaning of dialogue. Dialogue comes from the Greek words “dia”, which means through and “logos” which means words. Dialogue therefore means learning through conversation. Dialogue is of great importance in communication, which usually is a two-way process where the people involved seek to understand the message being shared.
Dialogic listening is a component of conversation and is highlighted as a shared activity between two people. Rather than focusing on the points of view that each participant has, its main focus is on the “our” points of view and the central theme of the dialogue that sustains the conversation.
Also, the creative and open attitude in the conversation stimulates curiosity as one of the main axes of this type of listening. The result of this curiosity is a shared conversation and a playful process between both participants. This avoids closing a conversation abruptly, as curiosity provides a starting point for opinions, comments and complements ideas about what the other person is saying, without losing interest in what the other person is expressing at the moment.
Characteristics of Dialogic Listening
The dialogic listening approach has 4 characteristics:
1. “Our” points of view
Rather than opting for an individualistic approach to what a person says, the person takes care to collect both their own and the other’s point of view in order to complement, nurture and understand the other individual’s opinion and expressions.
2. Calm style of conversation
In Dialogic Listening, a calmer style is found in the conversations that individuals start where soft characteristics give to make the conversation enjoyable rather than rigid or hard.
The characteristics are: modesty, humility, trust and acknowledgement of the other in expressing their thoughts.
3. Co-creation process
Focus on what is going on between both parties, establish a connection between both parties, then becoming a “we” in the conversation.
This type of listening is located in the time line of the present. In order to have Dialogic Listening, it is important to be in the now. The attitude of being present helps each person to bring their actions, intentions and desires to the communication table.
Tips for Dialogic Listening
Attitude in listening is a key element in order to be successful in a conversation. But to be even more specific, to be successful in Dialogic Listening, it is necessary to have several attitudes to extract the positive benefits of this type of listening.
- Saying more
- Using metaphors
- Paraphrasing (paraphrasing comments)
- Exploring the context of what is being said
Saying more encourages the other participant in the conversation to elaborate on or add more information about the topic being discussed. “Saying more” can be deepened with the method of strategic questioning to probe the topic, thus showing interest towards the interlocutor.
Using metaphors enriches calm language and nurtures the conversation as it is a plus point in the way the person is expressing themselves in relation to what they are sharing with the other individual.
Paraphrasing means paraphrasing the comments that the other speaker make. This is not just repeating like a robot, but using paraphrasing as a way of interpreting what the speaker is saying and wanting to focus on the topic in response to the interlocutor.
Exploring the context of what is being said means inquiring about what the other is feeling, such as their desires, ideas, feelings and opinions, nurtures shared understanding of the conversation and extends mutual interest.
Advantages and disadvantages of Dialogic Listening
Advantages of Dialogic Listening
- A creative attitude and an open mind can lead to a calm and above all positive conversation of elements that nourish your knowledge.
- Positive relationship with the other will achieve a construction of meanings in the conversation that will nurture both people in rethinking the shared knowledge.
Disadvantages of Dialogic Listening
- If you do not have time to go deeper into a topic with another person, this type of listening is not the right one because it requires time, patience and concentration. Being in a hurry is not good for Dialogic Listening to be successful.
- Dialogic Listening needs concentration, if you do not have the will and the disposition to concentrate, you will not be able to co-create together with the other person and be able to reach a “we” as mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Difference between Dialogic Listening and Active Listening
Active Listening focuses on being in the shoes of the speaker. It also brings past circumstances into the present conversation. This method is commonly used in job interviews. In contrast, Dialogic Listening focuses on the different voices in the conversation.
John Stewart and Milt Thomas identified three types of problems with Active Listening. These are: it is not possible to enter into the mind of another human being and fully understand what he or she really means, as one cannot put aside one’s own convictions and the thinking that is formed when engaging in a conversation.
Also, one should not be one-sided as it detracts from the importance of the conversation and the joint work that is done while having the dialogue is lost.
Dialogic Listening focuses on the here and now of what is happening between people, not what is going on in the other person’s mind in order to understand it.
Example of a Dialogic Listening conversation
Below you can read a conversation using the Dialogic Listening method:
Paul: Hi Louise, I want to talk to you about an idea I have for a brand boosting strategy for the coffee exporting company that wants to start sharing its information on social media.
Louise: Hi Paul, sure, tell me the idea so we can get to work.
Paul: As we both know you are very good at content creation and I am very good at marketing strategies. So I would like to start with a branding strategy on Instagram and Facebook for the target audience. We need digital pieces promoting interest in this coffee exporter by giving answers to questions such as: Who are we? How do we do it? Among others.
Louise: I love the idea of working with you on this project. I think a branding strategy is essential if you want to capture interest on social media. Of course I will do the digital pieces and the content creation. Show me the company identity.
Paul: Yes, I’ll send it to you in a moment so you can study it. We’ll be a good team!
Louise: I’d like to know what you want to focus on to shape the information. Also take the opportunity to teach me about digital strategies. I’d like to learn!
Paul: Good to know Louise that you are interested, of course you are. First let’s start by understanding what branding is and why it is essential for a company ….
The conversation between Paul and Louise continues, the central theme is branding.
This short example opens the conversation on a specific topic, which is the collaboration of two co-workers on a project, the aim of which is to use social media as a tool to promote the coffee exporting company.
This conversation does not end with Paul expressing his willingness to work with Louis, but rather they connect in a dialogue to achieve a common goal. With the knowledge they each have, they can have “our knowledge”, “our work”, “our objective”, “our goal”.
It should also be noted that Louise’s implementation of a question, which in this case focuses on curiosity and learning, will result in an extension and support of shared interest in the conversation they have.
Dialogic Listening summary
This tool can be used in companies or schools to boost the communication skills and competences of the people who make up the organisation. Since day and age, verbal forms of communication are of great importance to promote important messages, to educate and to make changes. This tool is also used in the professional field. Taking into account that this will foster relationships in a positive way in the workplace if this is the case.
This is how Dialogic Listening becomes an essential factor of a shared activity. These shared activities can include the daily work collaborations that take place in an organisation, for example. Individualism takes second place and the focus is on the “ours” in the conversation that two individuals have. They listen to each other, complement each other and give their opinions.
Dialogic Listening seeks to express, listen and empathise without being defensive. Having a calm and peaceful conversation results in a union of interests with the same goals.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you think Dialogic Listening is a valuable communication tool? Have you implemented Dialogic Listening in your work? Has Dialogic Listening worked for the success of organisational goals? Do you think Dialogic Listening stands out from other verbal communication tools? Do you have any suggestions or anything else to add?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
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- Cunliffe, A. L., Locke, K., & Helin, J. (2013). Dialogic listening: Toward an embodied understanding of how to “go on” during fieldwork. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal.
- Penman, R. (2014). Dialogic listening. Communication Theory, 20, 348-362.
- Floyd, J. (2010). Provocation: Dialogic listening as reachable goal. The Intl. Journal of Listening, 24(3), 170-173.
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