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Typology of 12 complementary dialogue modes essential to sustainable dialogue

essential to sustainable dialogue

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Tentative adaptation and development from related tables on Typology of 12 complementary strategies essential to sustainable development, and on Characteristics of phases in 12-phase learning / action cycles -- both derived from Arthur Young's Geometry of Meaning (1978). See commentary on learning cycles in Cycles of dissonance and resonance and below. See also alternative table based on clustering strategies and values.

Dialogue modes

 .  "Positive" Identifying 
Symbol A B C D
1 A1
Making points 
Enunciating principles
Stating credo
Getting facts "straight" 
Establishing positions
Mutual information
Developing line of argument
Adaptive accomodation of other perspective
Selective exclusion of points
Initiating new line of argument
Opening new dialogue front
Controlled dialogue 
Self-reflexive dialogue 
Facilitated dialogue
Verification of condition of the other
Accepting uncertainty
("heart"; "how do you feel about that?")
2 A2
Making points to which affective meaning is attached
Points of significance
Mutual sensitizing
Speaking from the heart
Sticking points
[ML /T]
Expression of concern
Dialogue momentum
Adversarial discourse
Emotional identification with line of argument
Persuasive force of dialogue Framing collective action
Determining dialogue processes
Accepting authority
D2 [
Consolidating variety of tendencies
Patterning incompatibles
Holding together
Managing disagreement
("walking the talk"; "guts"; "being there")
3 A3
Affirmation of belief
Confirmation of worldview
Recognition of common ground
Demonstrating meaning thru practice 
Living principles
Celebrating differences
Mutual endorsement 
Collective resolution
New commitment
Deciding moment in dialogue
Moment of recognition of larger pattern
Readjusting beliefs in face of new understanding
Change of mind
Sustainable dialogue
Applied transformative insight
Self-organizing dialogue
 .   T0 T-1 T-2 T-3  Dim.
. "Negative" Denying 
 . Psychological functions Sensing 
(Sound; Rhythm)
(Smell; Taste)


Rows: These distinguish between the 12 dialogue types based on (1) knowledge of issues, (2) concern for issues, and (3) "being there" -- where the issues are hurting.

  • Row 1 dialogues are primarily intellectual and detached from reality "on the ground" or "in the field", even if they are obliged to take account of it. The stress is on making "points" and establishing "lines" of argument. A "concern" barrier must be passed to get into Row 2 dialogues.
  • Row 2 dialogues are concerned with, or involved with, grounded reality -- but without "being there". The emphasis is on affective significance, possibly irrelevant to any conceptual framework. A "grounding" barrier must be passed to get into Row 3 dialogues.
  • Row 3 dialogues are identified with grounded or lived reality in some way. The emphasis is on praxis. A "comprehension" barrier must be passed to get into Row 1 dialogues (repeating the learning cycle within a larger framework) .
Columns: These distinguish between the 12 dialogue types based on (A) acknowledging issues, (B) responding to issues, (C) acting on issues, and (D) sustaining action on issues.
  • Column A dialogues primarily identify and interrelate issues (sensing them); an "intention" barrier must be passed to get into Column B dialogues.
  • Column B dialogues develop intentions with respect to issues (notably concerning the dialogue itself). There is a dis-identification with the status quo perspectives reinforced by Column A. An "action" barrier must be passed to get into Column C dialogues.
  • Column C dialogues emphasize engagement in action (notably within the dialogue itself). There is now an active distancing from the status quo perspectives. A "continuity" barrier must be passed to get into Column D dialogues where the action can be rendered sustainable.
  • Column D dialogues ensure that action is controlled and maintained knowledgeably (notably with respect to the dialogue itself). The dialogue process is continually questioned. There is attentiveness to feedback loops and checks and balances amongst complementary styles to ensure dialogue integrity over time. A "contextual" barrier, recognizing new feedback loops, must be passed to get into Column A  dialogues (repeating the learning cycle within a larger framework).
Each of the 12 dialogue types has a vital function. The challenge is that their complementarity is not necessarily recognized. Certain dialogue types are easily neglected, notably those in Row 3 and those in Column D. Because of its lower "dimensionalty", it tends to be easier to engage in dialogue A1, for example -- which is coded with the lightest colour in the table. The current challenge is to give meaning and force to dialogues of type D3, that correspond to sustainable dialogue -- which is coded the darkest in the table.

The colour coded diagonals suggest a pattern of progressive engagement towards sustainable action "on the ground":

  • Diagonal A1: Fact-finding and point-making dialogue, frequently used as a preliminary to any other dialogue, whether relating to massacres or environmental disasters. Response to many issues is often limited to this, notably by the academic community.
  • Diagonal A2-B1: Dialogues involving acknowledgment of  issues and adaptive response to them (notably within the dialogue process itself). This has little effect "on the ground" but administrative and intellectual frameworks and procedures may be adjusted to take account of the issues. Such dialogues may be considered typical of what are characterized as the "chattering classes"
  • Diagonal A3-B2-C1: Dialogues provide space for: evoking empathy concering the issue, confirming the appropriateness of current value systems, official warnings and calls for action, and initiation of patterns of response. This is typical of responses by the international community / media / local activist complex. New issues, including potential genocides, notably evoke dialogues of type B2, namely expression of deep concern, by the international community -- possibly accompanied by efforts at initiating fresh dialogue (type C1), but without significant follow-up.
  • Diagonal B3-C2-D1: Concerns expressed in dialogues on the preceding diagonal may lead to dialogues of type B3, namely some form of collective resolution or decision -- as is typical of  bodies such as the UN Security Council. During dialogues of these types, typical of the diplomatic community or groups of concerned citizens at their best, decisions are taken, persuasive arguments are forcefully presented, and new dialogue structures are set up. This may be framed as effecting change, but this form of implementation typically lends itself to positive reporting on the meaningfulness or effectiveness of the dialogue, or on the action taken -- with little awareness of whether this is effective "on the ground" or in changing significantly the dialogue process itself..
  • Diagonal C3-D2: In these dialogues, enforcement becomes evident "on the ground" and in the dialogue process. Coordination is ensured with respect to the continuity of the implementation process and management of disagreement. Unfortunately the engagement is such that the "continuity" is essentially short-term and tends to be eroded and abandoned once attention passes to other issues. This is typical of many responses to issues that are momentarily in the public eye or in a dialogue process.
  • Diagonal D3: In this type of dialogue, action becomes sustainable through building in procedures that guarantee long-term continuity based on appropriate attention to feedback loops. However any such form of grounded, sustainable action is itself challenged by unforeseen issues and feedback loops that may call for new kinds of issue detection and monitoring (Diagonal A1).
Diagonal variants: There are various diagonals across the table:
  • The previous paragraph privileges the emergence of sustainable dialogue moving through the diagonals from A1 to D3. The builds from detached point-making in A1. It emphasizes the emergence of self-organization and highlights the challenges of Column D in giving space to disagreement seen as necessarily fundamental and vital.
  • It is important to recognize an alternative tendency favouring the shift from D1 across diagonals to A3. This approach is much more common. It privileges recognition of common ground. Here the approach is to start from some form of controlled dialogue in D1 -- as is characteristic of heavily facilitated processes. The emphasis is on agreement. Disagreement is seen as necessarily superficial or misguided.
  • Consideration could also be given to movement in the reverse directions in each of the above cases
Negative variants of each dialogue type necessarily also exist. These are suggested by column labels at the foot of the table.

Meeting participation: It is also fruitful to see each of the 12 dialogue types as reflecting the complementary views that need to be expressed at an archetypal strategic "roundtable" (Camelot style). The specific relationships between each such view have been tentatively explored in an earlier study on Toward a New Order of Meeting Participation (/contract_x_h_1) that charts the Shadowy Roundtable Hidden within every Meeting. This endeavours to show how the seemingly "external" issues tend to be reflected in the different behaviour styles of meeting participants -- and the need for a new kind of participant contract to move beyond such constraints.

Torus representation: As implied above, the Row 1 dialogues can also usefully be considered as bordering the Row 3 dalogues -- by rolling the table into a cylinder. Similarly the Column A dialogues can also be considered as bordering the Column D dialogues -- by connecting the ends of the cylinder to form a torus. It is on the surface of this torus that the connectivities between the dialogue types might be more appropriately comprehended. A possible representation of this structure, appropriately coloured, has been developed as a hypersphere to illustrate Arthur Young's insights (

Individual action: The relevance of the above typology can also be explored in relation to individual or community group dialogue. The status of a "New Year's Resolution" with respect to personal sustainable development is then clarified -- and demonstrates the nature of the challenge for international organizations inspired by its many Resolutions.

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