The Dialogic Method relies on three key principles to facilitate problem solving in conflicts – value creation, a non-binary approach, and self-determination. But how does one do these things practically?
To practice the Dialogic Method, there is a framework – you begin by first articulating and defining the problem, then understanding the roots of the problem, and finally solving it with inputs from all stakeholders.
In the three steps of this framework, three necessities stand out as especially important pillars of the Dialogic Method. These are: (1) aggregating multiple perspectives, (2) generating solutions with an attitude of abundance, and (3) co-creating solutions. These necessities are different from the other pillars because we seldom apply them instinctively.
Let’s take an example of the parable of the five blind men and the elephant to illustrate the importance of perspectives. In this story, five blind men come across an animal that they have never encountered or even heard of before – an elephant sleeping soundly in the forest that they are traveling through. When confronted with this mystery beast, they decide to touch the animal to find out what it could be. The first man touches the elephant’s trunk and likens it to a big, thick snake. The second touches the legs, and describes them as large pillars. The third encounters the elephant’s side and says that he feels a tall wall. The fourth grasps the elephant’s tail and thinks he’s holding a tough stiff rope. The fifth blind man runs his hand over the tusks and declares that he has found spears. When each man declares what he thinks the animal is, they begin fighting because they’re only focusing on what he himself has experienced; this makes them unwilling to believe another’s experience. Finally, when the elephant’s mahout arrives and describes the whole elephant, the blind men realise that they each are partially right and partially wrong.
This parable is a very evocative way to explain how multiple perspectives work. Each stakeholder in a conflict views the conflict through a certain set of lenses which only allow them to see a partial picture. Unless each stakeholder is able to accept the others’ perspectives, it would be nearly impossible to get a complete picture of the conflict. Unless all perspectives are acknowledged and fed into a common pool of knowledge, a deep understanding of the conflict cannot be achieved, and if this is not done, a lasting solution cannot be produced.
A practical example of such multiple perspectives in a conflict situation would be when a tenant and landlord are arguing over an increase in rent. The landlord needs to increase rent as the prices of all commodities are rising and the rent is his sole source of income. For a tenant, the problem is the same – that the prices of all commodities, including rent are rising – but the reason for resisting paying more rent is that the owner has done nothing to improve the property, and so a higher rent is not justified. The lived realities of these two people are very different, but both their perspectives are equally valid.
An attitude of abundance
The attitude of abundance is used in the third step of the Dialogic Method framework, when one tries to come up with as many solutions as one can for resolving the conflict. Typically, when one is looking to generate solutions, one is taught to self-eliminate solutions because in our minds, they’re just ‘not viable’. A deeper look at why we do this usually boils down to cases where the self-eliminated solution was likely not ‘practical’ for ourselves, or that it did not deliver a good enough ‘win’ for us, or perhaps we could not imagine implementing it by ourselves. However, such solutions may actually be good ones if we assume that these imagined hurdles didn’t exist.
But while exercising this attitude of abundance, there are some rules that must be followed – one, that the solution must not be self-serving, it must put as many people’s interests at the forefront as possible. Other rules could be based on relational aspects – for example, solutions that strengthen relationships may be more appropriate than those that weaken them. Still others may be temporal – does a problem require an immediate solution or one that can be delayed?
Once these criteria are set, generating solutions with an attitude of abundance allows for unique, out-of-the-box thinking approaches so that we don’t think first of what can be done. Instead, we focus on first thinking of what needs to be done.
When one combines the power of multiple perspectives with an attitude of abundance while generating solutions, a third aspect of the Dialogic Method becomes possible – the co-creation of solutions.
The best solutions to most conflicts are ones that have been drafted with inputs from all stakeholders, and embody the concept of Winfinity – a solution that is long-lasting and widely applicable, and where everyone wins.
The co-creation of solutions is an essential part of the Dialogic Method as such solutions are likely to be the most accepted – this is because the solution is not just yours or mine or his/hers/theirs. The solution is ours, and every stakeholder that contributed to that solution will be heavily invested in wanting to make it work.
Bringing them together
Accepting multiple perspectives, generating solutions with an attitude of abundance, and co-creating solutions are not intuitive ways of solving conflicts. They are constructs of the Dialogic Method that must be practiced until they become second nature to us, because they are important driving forces for the success of the Dialogic Method.