If your same old tactics for leading change are falling short, give “mediated dialogue” a shot.

The term “mediated dialogue” is probably not in your vocabulary – much less in your toolkit for leading change. But if the same old change tactics are falling short, read on.

Most ordinary conversations – and typical change management practices – are driven by explicit or implicit advocacy for a particular point of view, with very little questioning or reflection. Dialogue is a kind of conversation that shifts the balance to inquiry. Rather than driving an opinion, dialogue involves collaborative inquiry into opinions and underlying assumptions. In this way, the group gains deeper understanding, greater clarity, more options and multiple right answers.

CCL has been facilitating dialogue in various ways for several decades, refining our approach and creating new tools to make conversations – especially difficult ones – useful, authentic and, often, developmental. Mediated Dialogue is one unusual and effective approach we created.

Mediated dialogue uses interesting, tangible images or objects to spark reflective, insightful conversation. The use of images can enhance and focus (“mediate”) otherwise difficult conversations – and change the way we talk about change.

We often describe the process of mediated dialogue as “putting something in the middle.” Pictures, postcards, photos, even small mementos, become the focus and allow conversations to shift from familiar and predictable to revealing and powerful.

In terms of leading change, mediated dialogue allows people to ask and answer questions such as: What is the need for change? Will it be evolutionary or revolutionary in nature? What’s the scope? What‘s the urgency? What communities, stakeholder groups, and change agents need to be considered? Who’s  leading the change? What’s the change strategy? What’s the level of alignment and commitment? How do I deal with change? What is my role as a change leader?

Getting at these collective and individual questions isn’t easy or automatic for most people. Mediated dialogue promotes honest discussion and enables creative, productive conversations. The reason it works hinges on several factors, including:

 

  • Mediated dialogue reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Mediated dialogue can help lower personal defenses (such as avoiding embarrassment or fear of exposure). It also helps counter the organizational-level defenses (i.e., maintain the status quo, don’t question the hierarchy, etc.). By engaging a group with “something in the middle,” undiscussables can become more discussable.
  • Mediated dialogue overcomes the awkwardness of “empty space.” People are given a focal point and a process that jump-starts conversation. The typical approach to dialogue facilitation involves creating “empty space” for conversation. In practice, that can easily become intimidating. People struggle to come up with the “right” thing to say, or the most vocal or authoritative person fills the void and directs the discussion.
  • Mediated dialogue is user-friendly. Conducting a mediated dialogue session is fairly simple. For those participating in the conversation, the process is easy to grasp and going through the process comes naturally. Almost everyone becomes engaged when they realize the images are the means to an insightful conversation about a topic that matters to them.
  • Mediated dialogue initiates collaboration. Images in the middle help people connect across all kinds of boundaries including differences in spoken language and national culture. It helps people connect across organizations and societal stakeholders, hierarchies and functions, expertise and experience, silos and partnerships in order to initiate collaborative, interdependent work processes across the value chain.

Learn more about mediated dialogue in the new CCL white paper, Mediated Dialogue: See Your Way through Change or try CCL’s Leadership Explorer™ tools, including Visual Explorer – a set of more than 200 photographs and art prints, available in postcard, playing card and letter sizes.

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