The Dialogue Tree




Every situation has multiple facets. To explore these facets, the Dialogic Method uses a model known as a ‘Dialogue Tree’. The Dialogue Tree is an analogy which uses the various parts of a tree to represent the ‘whos’, ‘whats’, and ‘whys’ of a given situation. The canopy of the tree – its leaves – represents the web of relationships in a situation. The trunk and branches embody the ‘what’ of the situation, and the roots represent the ‘whys’. The ‘whos’ in the situation make up the ground – the soil and stones – in which the tree is rooted and from which it gains sustenance.

When there is a conflict or dissonance, the Dialogue Tree suffers. The first, most apparent indication of this usually comes from the leaf – when they begin to change color or wither – that’s an indication that relationships are beginning to suffer because of the dissonance. In most cases, when something like this happens, people will try to ‘fix the issue’ by focusing on trying to turn the leaves green again; they begin to look for ways to mend the relationships that are going awry.

When trying to do this, people typically try to create a ‘what’ statement to define the dissonance. But simply defining the ‘what’ is not enough to come up with solutions to the withering leaves of the relationship canopy. The ‘what’ of the problem must be traced from the branches and trunk to the ‘why’ in the roots. Since the ‘why’ or the root of the situation is hidden underground, it is often missed. However, an understanding of both, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of a dissonance is crucial for creating value. Building onto this, one will also need to know the ‘whos’ in the situation to create sustainable and practical solutions, because the ‘whos’ are the ground in which the Dialogue Tree is rooted.

Relationships, and the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ of a situation cannot arise without people. Therefore, the ‘whos’ or the stakeholders are the primary nourishment sources of the Dialogue Tree, and it is unlikely that any solution without their input will be successful.

The ‘whos’ that make up the soil which holds, supports, and nourishes the Dialogue Tree, have three layers – their emotions, their perspectives, and their information. One needs to be able to dig through emotions with empathy, account for different perspectives and stitch them together to gain a complete picture and gather information carefully through active listening.

It is important to understand that the withering of the leaves of the Dialogue Tree, which is akin to weakening relationship webs is only a symptom of something that is making the tree ill. The dissonance that is affecting the tree is usually caused by a much larger or broader issue that in most cases lies beneath the soil. It is imperative that one cuts through the surface of the soil, through every stakeholder’s emotions and perspectives, to finally unearth information on the true cause of the dissonance – the real problem that needs to be fixed.

Unfortunately, what regularly happens is when dissonance affects a Dialogue Tree or perhaps even one branch of a Tree, it is cut off or pruned as an immediate, short term solution. Instead of trying to address or cure a problem to make the Dialogue Tree stronger and healthier, this system of pruning removes a whole network of intricate relationships in a short-sighted, hurried approach to problem solving.

When a Dialogue Tree is created, it becomes an entire ecosystem that offers valuable services much like an actual tree that provides shade, fruit, and living space for other living beings. Furthermore, each tree is not only a microcosm of relationships in itself but is also a part of the larger ecosystem. Cutting a tree not only eliminates the networks within that tree, but also destabilizes the ecosystem that the tree is part of. 

The Dialogic Method is much like water to the Dialogue Tree – it, in itself, is not the cure for the tree’s ailment. But like water, the Dialogic Method can aid the Tree by serving as a delivery agent for solutions.