Sense-Making 101 Knowledge Base

Engaging in Dialogue

At every level of system we look at – our families, communities, cities, nations, and political bodies, businesses  – effective action emerges best from collective agreement. When we can achieve clarity on our problems and develop deeper understanding of differing perspectives, we can more easily take action on the solutions that unlock hidden potential. Making sense of our environment supports coordinated action and helps nudge systems towards greater resilience and distributed intelligence.

Dialogue is how we unlock the collective will to take action. Dialogue comes from the words dia and logos meaning we come together in search of truth. It is the process of bouncing back and forth between our personal sensemaking (individuation) and collective sensemaking (collective participation).

The goal of a sense-making dialogue is not simply to to share information. Instead participants seek to build on one another’s varied perspectives contributions to arrive at a common understanding, a shared meaning of situations and ideas. Dialogue seeks to maximize virtue.

Engaging in dialogue is:

 “intentionally seeking to understand by listening deeply, inquiring and advocating in order to uncover meanings, reveal assumptions and walk in another person’s shoes. It is a process of seeking new ways to understand each other and create a shared sense of meaning through conversation.


It is distinct from debate which is by definition a “contention by words or arguments; a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides; the process of arguing opposite sides of a question; usually assumes a right or wrong answer.” Dialogue is about inquiry and learning, sharing our perspectives and beliefs, and broadening our understanding of the different perspectives and beliefs among us. The objective and result of dialogue is shared meaning, not influence to a certain outcome.”

How to Dialogue Well

One resource which covers dialogue in depth is Street Epistemology Guide (PDF download link). Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

Sensemaking is an epistemological process as it seeks to uncover the nature of thinking and build coherence around what is true. By engaging with others dialogue builds collaboration and distributes sensemaking. Through dialogue trust is built establishing sensemaking networks to which partial sensemaking can be outsourced.

Some simple ideas to dialogue well:

Types of Dialogue Technologies

Technologies? I thought technology was computers, cell phones, and the internet.  Yes. And…technology is also the skills, methods, and processes used to achieve goals. Before modernity, technology was the steam engine, the printing press, gun powder, agriculture, or the flint and spear. 

Culture is human technology. Religion is human technology. And dialogue is technology.

    Socratic Dialogue is a rhetorical tactic using the question-and-answer employed by Socrates in Plato’s Dialogues. The goal of Socratic dialogue is independent, reflective, and critical thinking which helps discern how accurate and useful certain thoughts and beliefs are. 

    This type of conversation seeks to deconstruct, clarify, and examine a thought and consider the source, potential implications, and alternative perspectives.

    Socratic Dialogue is “guided by four convictions. First, truth is. Second, truth is knowable. Third, truth can be discovered. And fourth, truth is ultimately one, in the sense that all things fit together into a harmonious symphony of being.” (Circe)

    Authentic Relating is “the practice of freely expressing your true experience in the company of others. Expressing in this way enables you to create connections in the world based on who you really are.

    Authentic Relating practices create a safe, intentional space – rooted in play and supported by clear boundaries – to create meaningful and enjoyable connections to self and other.

    By learning Authentic Relating skills, you can drop your conditioned relational habits, and learn to relate with yourself and others from a deeper more authentic expression of your truth. This allows us to be more human with one another, in ways that often fall by the wayside in today’s social norms.” Learn more about AR at Authentic Revolution

    Appreciative Inquiry “is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes. ” (Stravo et al)

    “Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method, a theory of action, a dialogue process, and a whole of system concept that brings together members of an organization to clarify, develop and integrate their visions about their joint endeavors. A central concept in Appreciative Inquiry is the 4-D cycle: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny:

    Discovery emphasises defining one or more topics and valuing, using positive language, ‘what is’ working (eg., when the organisation has been at its best and most effective). 

    Dream involves creatively drawing out ‘what might be’ (better or good), to envisage the organisation’s strategic future as referenced through past successes.

    Design focuses on dialogue and developing propositions on ‘what should be’, as based on what has been discovered and dreamt of in the two earlier phases.

    Destiny is the accumulation of the other three phases, developing a commitment to a collective ‘what will be’ and creating a set of shared values through which innovation, learning and change can be supported.” (Australian National University)

    Talking Circles “are a foundational approach to First Nations pedagogy-in-action since they provide a model for an educational activity that encourages dialogue, respect, the co-creation of learning content, and social discourse. The nuance of subtle energy created from using this respectful approach to talking with others provides a sense of communion and interconnectedness that is not often present in the common methods of communicating in the classroom. When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction.

    Talking Circles originated with First Nations leaders – the process was used to ensure that all leaders in the tribal council were heard, and that those who were speaking were not interrupted. Usually the Chief would initiate the conversation, with other members responding and sharing their perceptions and opinions of the topic under discussion. The process provides an excellent model for interaction within the learning environment as well. It is also very adaptive to any circle of people who need to discuss topics and make decisions together.” (First Nations Pedagodgy) 

    It is highly recommended to train with an indigenous wisdom keeper and to always mention the heritage of this technology when using it. 

    Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC) is a communication approach based on the assumption that all human beings have capacity for compassion and empathy and that people only resort to violence or behavior harmful to others when they do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs

    NVC theory supposes that all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs, and that these needs are never in conflict; rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people should identify shared needs, which are revealed by the thoughts and feelings surrounding these needs, and then they should collaborate to develop strategies and make requests of each other to meet each other’s needs. The goal is interpersonal harmony and learning for future cooperation.

    NVC aims to support change on three interconnected levels: within self, between others, and within groups and social systems. NVC is taught as a process of interpersonal communication designed to improve compassionate connection to others.” (Wikipedia)

    Other technologies to check out:

    • Restorative Dialogue
    • Transformational Chairwork


    William C. Fellowship of Human Relations: What is Dialogue (accessed February 2021)

    “The Complete Street Epistemology Guide: How to Talk About Beliefs”, The Street Epistemology Facebook Group, (accessed February 2021)

    Nancy Dixon Blog (accessed February 2021)

    William Issacs’ book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together

    Circe Institute: What is Socratic Dialogue (accessed February 2021)

    Stavros, Jacqueline, Godwin, Lindsey, & Cooperrider, David. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In Practicing Organization Development: A guide to leading change and transformation (4th Edition) 

    Australian National University

    First Nations Pedagogy

    Nonviolent Communication Wiki (accessed February 2021)

    Additional Reading:

    Dialogue: The Power of Collective Thinking