Welcome to the 24th post in our Journey in Dialog. In Post #12, I raised this same question: Why Dialog? In Post #22, I shared insights on dialog from Michele Maliese’s article when she was a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In this post, I will include another part of Dr. Maliese’s article on the benefits of dialog. In her work at the Conflict Research Consortium, Maliese focused on dialog in the public arena. Although some of the benefits that she highlighted related to conflict resolution in the public arena, others had broader application.

She noted that the use of dialog is commonly found in public policy, international, and ethnic conflicts as a way to build up mutual understanding and trust between members of opposing groups. This use of dialog can enhance public conversation as well as transform the way parties interact, says Maliese. She noted these benefits:

• Participants may question derogatory attributions made about their opponents and may work to combat stereotypes in their larger society.
• They may also be less likely to accept extremist leaders.
• Dialog can help parties to develop new understanding that leads to formal negotiations.
• Disputants learn to articulate their own voices clearly and to recognize each other’s viewpoints as valid.
• Disputants honestly express uncertainties about their own position and explore the complexities of the issues being discussed, which can help them to let go of stereotypes, distrust, and patterns of polarization.
• People begin to realize that they have important things in common, which allows for collective learning, creativity, and an increased sense of fellowship.
• Dialog can help to create a community-based culture of cooperation, collaboration, partnership, and inclusion.
• Because participants do not know beforehand what they will say, they must listen not only to one another, but also to themselves.
• Participants may bring back to their organizations, friends, families, or citizen groups their new ways of thinking and relating.

Maliese acknowledged that dialog in the public arena will not always be possible.
• There must be willingness to participate in the process.
• Dialog might not work when there are significant power differences.
• It is not likely to work when parties cling to their hatred and anger and refuse to listen.
• It is difficult to accomplish dialog between the oppressed and their oppressors.
• Cultural factors such as extreme individualism (“conversational narcissism”) impede constructive dialog.

What do you think it would take to increase the use of dialog in the public arena of the United States?

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