Four principles for powerful Dialogue experiences

Opdateret: 22. aug. 2019

During the last two years where I worked intensely with Dialogue together with collaboratio helvetica, we came to define four key principles as the major imperatives for creating deep and powerful dialogue. These spaces that we create and hold need to be safe, open, personal and participatory. Those principles express a certain philosophy of dialogue, and serve to inspire people's attitudes as well as help facilitators to address the particular “culture” he/she/they wish to establish before a dialogue process begins. In the next couple of days i will share about all 4 principles step by step.  


Feeling safe to engage in a group setting does not happen automatically. Especially when we address something difficult or a hot topic. Safe space is about building trust in a group before doing anything else. When there is an atmosphere of trust it fosters a deeper level of connection, truthfulness and courage between participants. Those 3 components are highly needed in the dialogue space, where we want to hear all voices, include different viewpoints and move out of our comfort zones. A safe space helps participants find the willingness to open up and take risks to share even their more “unpopular” opinions, and that is so important if we want participants to show who they really are, and what they really feel and think without getting excluded or reproached. 

How is it built?

Safe space is not given to the group by the facilitator. It is something everyone has to be part of and everyone has to work for. Safe space is something we build together step by step, and it starts with focusing on trusting oneself. Every time an individual stretched herself to open up and everytime she trusts herself to step out of her comfort zone, she helps other individuals to do the same, which stretches the comfort zone of the whole group and grows the collective safe space even more. 

As a facilitator you are a role model for others. You dare to share your own insecurities, your challenges and the things you don't know. As a facilitator you should never feel fully responsible for the participants feeling of safe space, but you should always try to enable the conditions for it, mainly by being a role model and by giving participants the feeling that you are holding space for them. The participants’ safespace will appear when they themselves dare to speak their own insecurities and share their real needs. Building a safe space shares characteristics of a family. Doing a Dialogue as a family means that we go into this together, even if we did not choose each other we are now here together, and no matter what happens we do not stop caring about each other, no matter what is shared and said that we do not agree with, we do not leave and say “whatever, I am gone”. Because even though we are honest and brutal and conflictual within our families, we do not abandon each other. We are together, and we stick with the things, also the annoying and uncomfortable parts, because we care. 

Key words: Trust in self and the group. Connection and truthfulness. Risk and courage. Willingness to share. Ambiguity and unknown. Out of comfort zone. Something we build together step by step. Confidentiality. Family.


Open space is the second principle, and it means that the space we host as dialogue needs to be free of fixed agendas and expectations about a specific desired outcome. The goal is to experience the process itself, not to have a specific result in the end. This means that no one person knows fully what the conversation should be about, where it should go and how fast. The conversation develops and unfolds in real time, and arises out of the individual participant’s personal skills or attitudes. Embracing the open and uncertain means leaning together into something that is unknown. At times this might feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar and strange, because when leaning into the unknown we have to let go of the habit of being in control of things. 

How to do that?

When we are in an “open” dialogue space, we need to rely on our ability to just be present. Present with what is showing up in conversation in each moment, present with the atmosphere, and with our own body sensations. This challenges us to let go of the mind’s habit of  making strategies and analyses about the past or the future. 

Being in an “open” space also requires that we slow everything down. One of the problems with traditional “discussion”, is that the setting gives us little time to observe, to feel, to think and to reflect. When time is slowed down and the group even embraces silent moments and deeper listening, (e.g. with the use of a talking piece), it creates  time to oversee and observe what is really going on. Both on the word level and beyond the word level. We all know that listening is important, but the conditions for real listening needs to be there too. 

“Dialogue should not be confused with discussion or debate, both of which, says Bohm, suggest working towards a goal or reaching a decision, rather than simply exploring and learning. Meeting without an agenda or fixed objective is done to create a "free space" for something new to happen. - David Bohm” 

Key words: Silence, Slowing down, present with what is, attention, body work, space, circles of talking.


Personal space is the third principle which says that Dialog works best when the conversation is based on real personal experiences and authentic sharing. Furthermore the principle also reminds us that the inner dialogue (inner phycology) and outer dialogue in our society (outer phyocology) is connected and mirrors eachother. This means that Incoherence on the personal level(inner dialogue) can be an aperture to understand the incoherences on the collective level as well. 

Staying personal has the biggest impact in dialogue, both for ourselves and for others, because, when we experience a felt heart connection to the topic, through another person’s story, we are ourselves touched. When we allow ourselves to be touched on a deeper level, and we touch others with our own stories, things change. We become somehow different. Therefore the best material for Dialogue is authentic human stories and experiences, rather than  experts, authorities and knowledge sharing. 

How does that work?

The individuals who come to a dialogue space are asked to stay personal, particular and concrete in their sharings. When we speak from the “I perspective” we remember to claim the things we say as OUR perception, not as the truth about the world. When we fall into what we call “the professor mode” it is like we raise ourselves above the struggle or problem we are talking about. Instead of including ourselves in the problem we then speak “about” the other(s) as if we ourselves were not part of it. But none of the things we seek to change will ever do so as long as we consider ourselves separate from it. Therefore we use the “I-speaking”, because it can help us to not separate ourselves from the problem we speak about. “Speaking from the I”  is also an invitation to speak from the very present moment, and letting the words unfold by themselves as we speak, instead of planning them. This is a more improvisational speaking from the heart. 

“Language has become a separate human realm and/or a map of reality and there is a destructive and manipulative potential to it – words can deny, words can control. Most of all, the essence of the experience and the inherent relationships in it are lost. Labels and concepts blind us, distorting our perception of reality and the way we interact with it. We sacrifice immediacy, intimacy and vulnerability. Speaking ‘about it’ removes us from the experience itself. Speaking ‘words that come through’ is more energetic and vibrational; it leaves us with a primary experience rather than taking us off into the realms of abstract cognition and intellect. - Ria Rabeck” 

Key words: inner and outer symbiosis. personal experience. “I speaking”. everyday life. claim our perceptions. change through heart connection. Present moment.


This principle demonstrates a genuine understanding that we are a whole together, and everything is part of everyone. Every voice, opinion, (or lack of voice and opinion) are to some extent just the individual contributions, and to another extent also something that belongs to everyone else in the circle. Each individual holds more than their individual part. All the people who shapes us as an individual, all the people of our culture before us - our ancestors, are to some extent present in us in every moment. In this sense, dialogue is a place where we can train our collective awareness ability. Where we acknowledge the diversity in the world, which is reflected in endless and unique life stories of people, and where we are reminded that we to some degree are part of and can connect to each others stories and experiences. 

When we hold the approach that each person is participating in the whole meaning of the group, it is not necessarily always easy or pleasant. The system almost inevitably contains great pain (that we don't want to be part of) as well as great beauty (that we are attracted to), deep anger as well as unconditional love. If we separate ourselves from whatever is within the whole, we cannot take part in it - and we return to abstracting, judging and defending: “I am not like that person,” or “he is bad and I am good,” or “she does not see what is happening and I do.” 

How does that show up? 

The principle reminds and invites participants to show up with their full participation (mental, emotional, physical presence), and offer this presence in service of the group. Meaning--share what you are experiencing even if you sometimes don't understand why or what it means. Maybe someone else does. That which we for different reasons do not share, show, or do is ALSO part of the process. The people, roles, voices that are not present are still participating in the process. It teaches us, that we do not have to fix or change anyone. Instead we might ask “What is the underlying wholeness that we can find here, without changing anyone or anything?”

Because the partaking principle asks us to listen for an already existing wholeness, it also invites participants to not just show up to learn something for oneself and then leave again, instead participants come with an attitude of giving. 

“Inquiring deep enough to reach the original impulse will always reveal wholeness. - David Bohm” 

Key words: Wholeness. Big We over small I. Everything is in everyone. full presence. inner and outer awareness. The whole world is part of us.


With these four principles we open the space for Dialogue. We use these principles because it helps groups to enter a deeper (and to many a more unfamiliar) level of conversation. Where we can go into the unknown together, where we might be unsure about the direction, and where some things feels ambiguous and even uncomfortable to be with.

The four principles help us as a group to be together with such experiences, to stay in Dialogue, and hinder us from fighting, pretending, separating or withdrawing. We may be out of practice with this art, but our memory and bodies know exactly what it is and how to do it. Some of us long for this space and practice because we see that it creates a fertile ground to bring meaningful inclusive change to the world.

If you want to get a taste of Dialogue join the next Learning day on the 8th of September.

If you are convinced that Dialogue is something you want to deepen, then check out the Dialogue Facilitation Training for Education 2019. German. English.

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