William Isaacs*, lecturer at MIT Sloan, starts with the same analysis as Phil Harkins: “one of the most fundamental struggles for any leader stems from the separation between who we are as people and what we do as professionals.” This separation is artificial. What we do in private affects how we do in public. How we think does affect how we talk. And vice versa.

Isaacs defines dialogue less instrumental. The characteristic of a dialogue is the open exchange of different perspectives leading to something new. In dialogue problems get dissolved. Meaning flows in the relational field. Dialogue is opposed to discussion. In discussion people think alone and use the conversation to push their agenda or conviction. At its best, a skilful discussion serves the solution of a problem and the rational based working together. At its worst, the discussion becomes a debate, a verbal competition in which the strongest survives.

Dialogues are not easy. Limiting thought habits stand in the way. We have our mental maps, dividing the world in separate realities, in good and bad, problem and solution, right or wrong. We need these maps not to get lost. Growing up is growing our mental maps. But somewhere down the line our mental maps aren’t challenged anymore. Or worse: we judge others and organize the world around us by our maps. That’s when creativity dries up and when the fit with our ever-changing environment is in danger.

Koen Marichal

ISAACS, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together. New York: Random House, 428 p.


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