The communication profession is rooted in rhetoric. Aristotle laid the foundation for the art of rhetoric with his seminal trinity of logos, pathos and ethos. This persuasive view on communication has brought the world lots of beauty. Waves of creativity have pushed up the art of orating, debating and advertising, sometimes to great heights. But this rhetorical communication paradigm has one major limitation. It is entirely devoted to our ego. The other must be convinced, seduced and, if necessary, intimidated into submission. My profit is your loss. The (rhetorical) question is what this approach will bring us at the end of the day.
A century or so before Aristotle a different perspective was offered by Plato: communication as dialogue. A perspective rooted in the insight that we do not need to see our relationships as a zero-sum game. And that we do not need to appeal to the lower abdomen to get people moving.
Giving room to other insights may sometimes be irritating but – and this may be the most persuasive argument from a rhetorical perspective – ultimately leads to better solutions and especially, better relationships. The science is clear.
In recent years dialogue has become increasingly popular, to the point of becoming a buzz word. Unfortunately dialogue often amounts to nothing more but poorly disguised window dressing and tactical manoeuvring. Rather cynically, these fake-dialogue aim to project an image of openness and susceptibility to new insights and to let off steam, rather than to promote the ‘flow of meaning’ as William Isaacs so eloquently described the process of real dialogue .
If we really want to create better conversations, better relationships and better solutions, our dialogues need to be rooted in an unwavering intention to gain new insights and to act on those insights.