Over a span of 25 years, David Bohm spent a considerable amount of time in conversation with the famous philosopher and teacher, Jiddu Krisnamurti. From Bohm's experience of these conversations, David Bohm proposed a powerful, free flowing way of dialoguing where people practice experiencing everyone's point of view fully, equally and non-judgmentally in order to reach common understanding.
Bohm felt that open dialogue could help us solve the many crises that face society and expand human consciousness. Indeed, in a world where polarized, fear and domination-based communication is the norm, Bohm dialogue gives us a simple structure to elevate the way we relate to ourselves, each other and the world, preparing the ground for deeper learning, connection and collaboration.
In Bohm Dialogue, there is often no set agenda or focused subject to talk about. Instead, the topic(s) or themes emerge out of the active listening and contributions of the participants present. There is no facilitator making anything happen, but rather a 'Host' that also participates, notices when the conversation slips out of dialogue, and invites people back into the practice. The group, through their contributions of suspending, respecting, voicing and listening, notice as themes, insights, learning and wisdom naturally emerge over the course of the conversation.
A Bohm Dialogue agenda tends to be very simple:
1. Welcome: The host welcomes participants, explains the practices of dialogue and invites participants into agreement. If there is a subject or theme for the dialogue, this is clarified.
2. Check-in: Each participant does a brief 'check-in,' introducing themselves and 'what is moving within them' at the moment.
3. Flow: An open dialogue continues, taking its lead from what emerged in the check-in, following the flow of what participants notice as they speak, listen, think and feel together.
4. Closing: A final round or 'check-out' is conducted where everyone gets an opportunity to briefly share their experience and what they are taking away from the experience.
Participants are invited to agree to 'practices' for the dialogue. It is a 'practice', because most of us are not skilled in dialogue and fall into old polarizing habits. Together, we will develop our capacity for open dialogue but at times we will get off track, notice this, and come back into the practice. For example, consider the practice of meditation, where your mind may spin off into thinking until you notice this and pull yourself back into watching your breath. Our four Bohm Dialogue practices are:
1. SUSPENDING: Letting go of assumptions, beliefs or certainty about things and opening up to other possibilities, viewpoints, experiences or ideas. This is not about convincing others of your views, but with curiosity, attempting to connect and understand them, and in the process, knowing yourself too.
2. RESPECTING: Seeing and respecting the humanity in others and relating with empathy and compassion to their life journey. By seeing them, you may see yourself more clearly too.
3. VOICING: Discovering your authentic voice and trusting it. This is not about saying something clever or wise. It is about noticing the call within you to speak, or to just respectfully listen and notice that others might be saying exactly what you wanted to say. Speak about only one important idea at a time, rather than talking about all the run-on thoughts arising in you. Less is more. If you or someone is dominating the conversation, notice this and find a way to come back into balanced dialogue.
4. LISTENING: Listen with all your senses and intuition, to the whole person behind the words. You will be listening far more than speaking. With curiosity, hear the tone, cadence, pitch, pauses, movements, meaning, energy, emotions, values and intentions of the speakers. Be present to the beauty and richness of the silent moments too.
The practice of suspending is critical to effective leadership and building collaborative, coherent, innovative team cultures.
Everyone holds assumptions, opinions, beliefs or judgments. This is a normal part of how human beings filter perception and make sense of the world. However, these often inhibit open communication, create distrust, cause conflict, stifle creativity, and block understanding.
In the practice of suspending, participants are invited to at least temporarily suspend or let go of assumptions, beliefs or certainty about things and open up to understanding other possibilities, viewpoints, experiences or ideas. Dialogue is not about convincing others of your views, but with curiosity, attempting to clarify, connect and understand others. In the practice of opening your mind, you may come to knowing yourself better too.
Some tips for suspending:
To respect means that you accept others for whom they really are, even when they are different from you, or you don't agree with them. In the practice of respecting:
In Dialogue, we practice noticing where our voice is coming from, and developing our capacity to more consistently use authentic voice. Voice is core to leadership. A good leader knows when and how to use their own voice, but more importantly opens the space of listening so that others find theirs.
The practice of finding authentic voice is an essential, but complex and nuanced journey. Because of past conditioning and habits of communication, people are often not aware of where their voice is coming from or the impact it has. It can show up in power-over or victim patterns. It can be suppressed, scattered, manipulative, or dominating. True power, connection and positive impact is found in finding and connecting to authentic voice and trusting it.
In Dialogue, practice noticing where your own voice is coming from and making choices to change its vibration for greater clarity and positive impact. For example: