On Deep Dialog
(Reprinted in part from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/results.cfm)
By: Howard Perlmutter (07/20/1999)
Research Center: Management Department

As we catalogue the key trends along the rocky roads of our emerging global civilization, a world marked by increasing globalization and technological change, we see on the one hand increasing openness, interdependence, multilaterality and some shared values, and on the other hand old and new collisions and conflicts. It should not be surprising that the increase in concepts implying connectedness and communication potential becomes a central feature of life. Witness the growing vocabulary of interactional behavior: wiring, network, transactions, virtual organizations, connexity, the death of distance with links across time, space, and culture.

These concepts, to be sure, refer to potential rather than the actual outcomes. Communication may be one-way, e.g., a monologue, and two-way communication may be devoid of important content. Transactions may be short-term and superficial. Connections may increase the opportunity for violence. Relationships with persons require a higher-quality communication process, more flexible and responsive, more related to persons as persons -- interactions where the idea of dialogue becomes central. We find in our research with persons from different countries around the world universal agreement as to the properties of deep dialogue, as opposed to superficial conversations. The meaning of dialogue does differ, however, in different parts of the world. Westerners may first use cognitive expressions such as "exchange of meaning" or "two-way communication," and Asians are more likely to emphasize "warm feelings" or "conversation of the heart." But both can agree on the essential features of communication with deepening trust, which involves both informational exchange and feelings and attitudes.

Most of the persons we meet are engaged in meeting some societal challenge and seeing some kind of joint outcome. They can understand the distinction between a "constructive" dialogue -- one with a purpose -- and dialogue for dialogue's sake. Both are valued, but the former is social architectural in that it deals with creating structures which embody human values, such as justice, peace, human rights. We found that persons can identify 1) a pattern of constructive dialogue that includes seven essential processes defined as Deep Dialog; 2) an absence of these processes, which we called Deep Dialog deficits; 3) different levels of depth in Dialog. As one person put it, Deep Dialog is nutrition for the soul. A life without Deep Dialog with some other person is experienced as barren and lacking in richness and meaning.