Dialogue and Outcomes

By Beth Macy April 8, 2014

What would it be like to have a meeting without specified outcomes to be achieved? Why would we meet if there weren’t something specific to be accomplished. How would we operate with no agenda to follow?

In contrast to our Western ideas about how to “meet,” David Bohm was quite specific in his intention for the “free space” of Dialogue:

“…In dialogue, insofar as we have no purpose and no agenda and we don’t have to do anything, we don’t really need to have an authority or a hierarchy. Rather, we need a place where there is no authority, no hierarchy, where there is no special purpose—sort of an empty place, where we can let anything be talked about.” (1)

Rather than serving a function in relation to the goals of an organization, Bohm intended Dialogue to be an examination of the hidden assumptions blocking our awareness of active information transmitted through the holomovement. Those hidden assumptions show up in our day-to-day world as the beliefs and cultural patterns so deeply embedded within our psyches that we don’t realize they are there. Yet, they drive our behavior in ways that cause broken relationships, societal fragmentation and incoherence.

Those usual ingredients of business meetings—agendas, specific outcomes, rules of order, etc.—shield meeting participants from the uncomfortable truth of hidden assumptions. They protect the power structure and reinforce its fragmenting beliefs and assumptions.

Through Dialogue and through becoming aware of those assumptions, we then can change them. And through awareness of the assumptions’ driving force, we might also become receptive to “fresh perceptions” from the generative and other higher orders.

So the idea of having “outcomes” around which a Dialogue is organized is an oxymoron. Dialogue is free-association in a group setting oriented around the cultural assumptions driving the Dialogue group’s behavior. It isn’t a business improvement process.

Possibly, however, there is one outcome which does occur through Dialogue. That is our attunement to the intelligence of the universe so that that its information becomes active in our consciousness.

Bohm liked the metaphor of “figure-ground,” and this might be a good example of figure-ground. Dialogue isn’t a tool for us to use in order to improve the bottom line of our company’s profits. Rather, it is a process which makes us available to the holomovement so that we are more prone to enact the patterns that are coherent with it. We are serving the holomovement; the holomovement is not to be harnessed so that it serves us.

(1) David Bohm, Lee Nichol, ed., On Dialogue, Routledge, London and New York, 2004, p. 49