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Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together [Hardcover]

William Isaacs
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 14 1999
Provides practical guidelines for one of the essential elements of true partnership--learning how to talk together in honest and effective ways. Reveals how problems between managers and employees, and between companies or divisions within a larger corporation, stem from an inability to conduct a successful dialogue. DLC: Communication in management.

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Modern conversation is a lot like nuclear physics, argues William Isaacs. Lots of atoms zoom around, many of which just rush past each other. But others collide, creating friction. Even if our atomic conversations don't turn contentious, they often just serve to establish each participant's place in the cosmos. One guy shares a statistic he's privy to, another shares another fact, and on and on. Each person fires off a tidbit, pauses to reload while someone else talks, then fires off another. In Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Isaacs explains how we can do better than that.

Isaacs, who is Director of the Dialogue Project at MIT and a consultant to major corporations, including AT&T and Intel, believes that corporate, political, and personal communication can be a process of thinking together--as opposed to thinking alone, and then trying to convince others of our positions by refusing to consider other opinions, withholding information, and ultimately getting angry and defensive. This is not pie-in-the-sky, let's-all-hold-hands-and-sing stuff. He offers concrete ideas for both listening and speaking; for avoiding the forces that undermine meaningful conversation; for changing the physical setting of the dialogue to change its quality. The outcome, he says, can be quite different from the traditional winner-loser structure of arguments and debates. Businesses can make more reasoned decisions, and thus earn more money. Governments can create peaceful resolutions to seemingly intractable problems. (For example, Isaacs cites secret conversations between Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, which occurred over a number of years, while Mandela was still under arrest and led to a new framework for their country.) And, although this is a book primarily geared toward managers, even married couples can learn a few new ways to communicate. --Lou Schuler

From Booklist

Isaacs is a colleague of organizational learning guru Peter Senge and one of the founders of MIT's Organizational Learning Center. He also directs MIT's Dialogue Project, on which this book is based. Isaacs argues that organizational learning cannot take place without successful dialogue. Dialogue is conversation that encourages collective observation and thought, enabling groups to think beyond their members' individual limitations. Isaacs posits an "ecology of thought," which is typically constrained by habits that are known and felt but never discussed. Those habits can be revealed only through dialogue that permits inquiry, confrontation, and clarification. Only then can habits be changed and new possibilities explored. Isaacs examines the processes that constitute dialogue and shows what encourages and what discourages dialogue, what happens when dialogue is introduced into difficult settings, and how to manage the changes within oneself that are necessary to become an effective participant in dialogue. David Rouse

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dialogical Dissection June 5 2003
Isaacs´¿ book is at once highly readable, pleasant, challenging, thorough, and dense. The author brings together theoretical works from physics, linguistics and psychology to assess modern communication problems and how, through dialogue, those problems can be overcome. He also uses many of his own experiences and case studies to show how dialogic approaches have helped resolve serious differences between groups in the private and public sectors. This book not only offers us the opportunity to reflect on our own mindsets and practices, it also provides useful frameworks and strategies for those compelled to help groups resolve differences. As someone seeking leadership positions in education, this book will always be kept close at hand.
Isaacs´¿ describes the four ´¿pathologies´¿ of thought as abstraction, idolatry, certainty, and violence. When we engage in abstraction we separate the parts from the whole and treat them as if they are separate when, in fact, wholeness (interconnectivity and interrelatedness) is a condition of the parts. Idolatry is a problem ´¿of memory´¿. It is the acceptance of ´¿the false gods or images that we unquestionable accept to guide us in the way we operate, and which blind us to other possibilities´¿. (p.59) Our certainties limit our capacity to think and reflect. We can´¿t learn when we are certain. Violence refers to our tendency to assert and defend our certainties, our views of the world, at the expense of the thoughts of others. ´¿Thought that imposes or defends is violent. It applies forces to try to make someone different.´¿ (p.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad take on an interesting subject July 9 2001
I gave up on this book about 50 pages from the end. It seemed like the more I read, the more tedious it became until it felt like masochism to continue. I think a previous reviewer made a definite understatement by saying that this book needs an editor. Quite honestly, I have rarely encountered a book so disorganized as this one. It seems like the author has a hard time telling apart the essential from the superfluous, and so he indulges in endless anectdotes that contain little more than truisms, presents complex concepts with long, drawn-out prose when they could have been more efficiently communicated with tables and graphs, and repeats the same ideas again and again using slightly different wording. I wonder if this book was meant as advertising for the author's services, because otherwise it would have been about a fifth as long and would have suggested procedures and excercises allowing the reader to learn and apply dialogue from his own experience, not the author's. I hope there will be other, more successful attempts to apply David Bohm's and Peter Senge's theories to the field of organizational dialogue.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! Oct. 11 2001
Sometimes the corporate environment is not tranquil. Managers hate workers, workers hate managers and nobody seems to understand or talk to anybody else. Author William Isaacs believes that's because people don't communicate very well. Companies that succeed have made effective, positive communication part of their culture. Dialogue is a two-way street and negative, ineffective dialogue can kill a company's prospects. Isaacs, a corporate consultant with a doctorate in philosophy, uses a very un-businesslike style to convey his ideas. The book is full of parables and company stories, and the whole mood feels more like a literary narrative, instead of a to-the-point business book. ...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Communications is so much more than words... June 22 2001
Dialogue; traced to its Greek roots is a flow of meaning, an ability to take many different issues and opinions to a table and create something completely new out of the process. Communication is the center of our culture as human beings, yet we rarely make time for true communication in our society today. As a person that feels as if there is something missing in the conversations I hold in my life and in my career I found this book to be very insightful. I gained an understanding of my frustrations, some skills to apply, and a look at the direction in which I want to go in the future. As it is a complex book that applies to every part of my life (and yours!) I have chosen to simply include a few of my favorite quotes.
"Respect also means honoring people's boundries to the point of protecting them. If you respect someone, you do not intrude. At the same time, if you respect someone, you do not withhold yourself or distance yourself from them. I have heard many people claim they were respecting someone by leaving them alone, when in fact they were simpley distancing themselves from something they did not want to deal with. When we respect someone, we accept that they have thinks to teach us."..."Treat the person next to you as a teacher. What is it that they have to teach you that you do not now know? Listening to them in this way, you discover things that might surprise you."..."Respect is, in this sense, looking for what is highest and best in a person and treating them as a mystery that you can never fully comprehend. They are a part of the whole, and, in a very particular sense, a part of us." - PP 114-117
"Every conversation has its own acoustics.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Dialogue vs. Discussion. Two-way vs. One-way.
A great read to help you understand what Socrates did on a continuous basis-true communication leading to indepth understanding. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2001 by "frankkr"
5.0 out of 5 stars Discover the Art of Thinking Together
This is the most powerful book that I've read in years. The depth of understanding on how to create powerful, meaningful conversations at work, home and in all relationships is... Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2000 by J. Groen
5.0 out of 5 stars Interactive Humanity
According to the subtitle, Isaacs provides "a pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life." This he does with insight and eloquence. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2000 by Robert Morris
3.0 out of 5 stars So, he had a spell checker, now to get an editor!!
A wonderful, challenging read -- made especially challenging for the lack of editing.
The man can think, knows his stuff, and presents important ideas. Read more
Published on Oct. 27 1999 by Dan Threatt
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a thorough read. Prepare to slow down and reflect.
When this book arrived on my doorstep, I tore into it as I usually do with nonfiction books of great interest: I read the first and last chapters, dove by intuition into various... Read more
Published on Oct. 21 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars It is pie-in-the-sky
As long as organizations are primarily run by cold-war management style with modernized command and control via antiquated measurement systems faking empowerment, the entire... Read more
Published on Oct. 8 1999 by Zenplexity
5.0 out of 5 stars "Must reading" for fast paced business leaders!
Communication, or the lack of it, seems to be the biggest challenge of the 21st Century. Meetings are often a waste of time, because people are not thinking together. Read more
Published on Sept. 28 1999 by Jim Danielson
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