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Dialogue strengthens trust and the sense of meaning

Dialogue is often referred to as meaningful dialogue, as it focuses on increasing an understanding of three things: 1) the topic to be discussed, 2) the perspective of others, and 3) your own perspective. The aim is not primarily to reach consensus or solutions, but to get the best possible understanding of different perspectives so that we can better understand each other.

Bringing out and examining different perspectives often reveals tensions. In dialogue, however, tensions are not seen as conflicts and are not swept under the carpet. All perspectives are considered to be equally appropriate, and we work together to clarify and explain them.

There may be some usual ways of working at a workplace meeting when tensions arise. If there is not enough mutual trust in the work community, different perspectives may not be said out loud, but only discussed after the meeting in informal situations. Others might feel the need to resolve the situation quickly. If someone has a strong personality, they may express their opinion so strongly that others seem to have no room to express their own point of view, or do not dare to discuss it further.

Deepening and clarifying different perspectives is done by speaking and exploring (listening and giving space) each employee’s experiences that have made them think or see things in a certain way. This requires speaking directly to others about their own experiences, genuinely and calmly listening to others and showing interest in others’ experiences, for example, by asking clarifying questions. Listening means letting what I hear influence my own experience in the here and now. When I join the conversation and talk myself, I don’t just talk about what I’ve always spoken about before, but I talk about how what I’ve heard affected my own perspective on the matter.

Freedom is also an important starting point in dialogue. In dialogue, it means the freedom to express your own experience. It also means that everyone can use their own skills for the benefit of the community and themselves in a collective effort, and, thus, know their role and their importance to others. In turn, the community itself supports the growth of each individual’s skills.

If the work community planning meeting is about developing new entities for the next period, someone may find it difficult to work if their own basic work is very different from that of others. They may find it difficult to join the discussion and link their own work to the ongoing development in the meeting. If the work community is dialogue-oriented, it is possible for the person to say that they feel like an outsider and don’t really understand what this is about, or that they don’t feel that they are part of the collective action.

A group that works in dialogue listens, takes the problem seriously and starts to think together about what might be causing it. This reflection can lead to realising something about working together that others hadn’t thought of. This way, doing things together creates a realisation that wouldn’t otherwise have emerged, and the employee also understands their own importance to the community.

At its best, a culture of dialogue creates and maintains well-being. I am free to express my experience and be heard. A strong sense of inclusion, i.e., an understanding of being part of the bigger picture, is created in a community that works in dialogue. I know where I belong and what is the meaning of my work, and I understand what it all comes down to.

Guiding actions in demanding discussions

What to do when the conversation ahead is expected to be tense and potentially arouse strong emotions? It is a good idea for the supervisor or other discussion leader to prepare themselves by beginning the discussion with a calm mind and an exploring attitude. Every stressful situation that is well managed provides an opportunity to learn new things and move forward. Here are some tips for you as a discussion leader.


Explain directly and concisely how the dialogue is to work:

Reserve the right to interrupt and steer the conversation. You could say, for example, “Can I have your permission to limit and interrupt the discussion, if necessary?”


Make sure that the participants establish a connection with each other and with you as the leader of the dialogue right from the start. It is important that everyone is noticed by greeting and introducing the parties present.

You can start the conversation by saying, for example, “Let’s start by listening to what expectations each person has in this situation”.


At first, different positions and points of view are heard calmly and without interruption.You can ask the participants to take turns speaking or interview each of them. You can start by asking, for example, “How do you feel about the situation? What is important to you?”

Asking questions

Ask the participants directly about their experiences, for example, “What do you think of this?”

Also speak to those who have the most neutral experiences, i.e., those who are not at the centre of potential tensions.

Joining in

Encourage participants to join each other’s talk and encourage a reflective style of speaking.

You can also open your own internal dialogue by reflecting back on what you have heard and noticed, for example: “I have noticed…”, “I have thought…” or “What do you think of these observations and reflections?”

Presenting matters in a concrete form

It’s a good idea to outline the most important things so that everyone can see them, for example, on a sheet of paper or a flipchart. You can write these points down and say, for example, “These things sound important. Is this correct?”

Monitoring content and process at the same time

Every now and then, summarise how the dialogue has progressed and what has occurred. You could ask, for example, “Are we talking about the right things?”, “Does everyone feel heard?”, “Has the conversation progressed according to the principles explained at the beginning?”

Dealing with difficult emotions

It’s good to give space to feelings, but, at the same time, set the limits for how feelings are expressed.

If necessary, you can say, for example, “I notice that this topic evokes strong emotions. It is good that they are brought up, because it helps us to understand this matter better. Let’s try to talk calmly to make sure there is room for all kinds of experiences.”

Separating reflection and decisions

Move the discussion forward so that different perspectives are heard and reflected on at the beginning, and only then make the decisions on how to act together.

If necessary, you can say, for example, “Let’s talk a little more before we make a decision.”

Concrete follow-up measures

Agree clearly who will do what and when the matter will be revisited.

Write down what you have agreed on.

Finally, it is good to evaluate the meeting together. For example, you could ask, “How was this meeting for you?”

Text: work supervisor Jarkko Soininen, Aretai Oy

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