Sunday, June 19, 2016

BOOK BRIEF: "Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together" by William Isaacs

In Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, William Isaacs extends Dialogue theory to its practical applications. Identifying pathologies of thought (abstraction, idolatry, certainty, and violence), Isaacs unearths counterbalancing principles of Dialogue (participation, coherence, awareness, and unfolding,) and their corresponding practices (listening, respecting, suspending, and voicing). Like his mentor David Bohm, Isaacs carefully defines key terms and outdoes the master when reaching into his seemingly endless reserve of rich illustrations from history, popular culture, other cultures, literature, music, philosophy, management, and organized labor to sharpen his focus on the clear distinction between Dialogue and other forms of human communication.

Isaacs also freely draws parallels with other ideas, such as David Kantor’s four-player system (mover, follower, opposer, and bystander), to press a case for the value of each personality type in the communication continuum. His new capacities for behavior diagrams crystallize the roles of each player in Dialogue, and his prose elaborates on each player’s intents and potential communication shortcomings.

To Isaacs’s credit, he never shies from admitting that attempts at Dialogue can lead to painfully protracted and frustrating impasses. However, he depicts the rewards of communication breakthroughs as virtual miracles:

Hours go by and it seems only minutes have lapsed.  It is very difficult to interrupt dialogues that are in space when the pressure of kronos (real time) arises.

That kind of writing will sell readers on trying to experience Dialogue for themselves. Isaacs’s accessible style makes for the perfect companion piece to Bohm's On Dialogue. In fact, his exhaustive associations between theory and technique render Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together the ultimate handbook on the subject.