printUse ctrl + p to print the page

4 Types of Conversations

Aim of the tool
To help participants to work towards a more generative dialogue

When to use it?
This tool can be used in different phases of an MSP, but particularly when stakeholders are in the phase of understanding each other's interests, norms, values, etc. and start looking for joint learning (co-creation)

To help participants to work towards a more generative dialogue, this tool can be used in different phases of an MSP, but particularly when stakeholders are in the phase of understanding each other’s interests, norms, values, etc. and start looking for joint learning (co-creation).

Adam Kahane and Otto Scharmer describe four types of conversations, explaining that people relate to each other at different levels of conversational complexity. This diagram shows how individuals and collectives move counter-clockwise along different kind of conversations; from polite discussion (i.e., talking nice) through the field of debate (i.e. talking tough) towards more open, reflective dialogue and finally forms of collective intelligence (i.e., generative dialogue).

The diagram describes each successive field as representing an increasingly complex pattern of conversation, i.e. it moves communication from more closed to more open modes, generating new understanding and knowledge(learning) rather than simply negotiating from current understandings and positions.

In the first quadrant, that of Talking Nice, people listen from within their own story, but without any self-reflection. They only hear that which confirms our own story and therefore there is only reproduced what is already known. It is about being polite and people not saying what they think.

When moving to the second quadrant, that of Talking Tough or Debating, people start listening to each other and to ideas (including our own ideas) objectively, from the outside. But people say what they think and focus on the differences, which often results in a conflict or a clash.

Arriving in the third quadrant, that of Reflexive Dialogue, people listen to themselves reflexively and listen to others empathetically-listening from the inside, subjectively. They start surfacing their own paradigms and assumptions and focus on unity. 

When finally moving to the fourth quadrant, that of Generative Dialogue, people listen not only from within themselves or from within others, but from the whole system.