TECH TALK: Good Books: On Dialogue

I was recommended a book On Dialogue on David Bohm by a colleague. It was in the context of a session we had organised for senior management of various companies to talk about some of the challenges they faced. While I have not yet got a copy of the book (it is on backorder at Amazon), I started reading about David Bohm and some of his work online.

David Bohm was a quantum physicist. But he also made contributions to a number of other fields. He developed a technique called Bohm Dialogue. According to Wikipedia:

Bohm Dialogue or Bohmian Dialogue is a form of free association conducted in groups, with no predefined purpose in mind besides mutual understanding and exploration of human thought. It aims to allow participants to examine their preconceptions, prejudices and patterns of thought. Bohm dialogue was developed by David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett starting in 1983. Bohm published his views on dialogue in a series of papers between 1985 and 1991.

Bohm Dialogue (often referred to simply as Dialogue by its proponents) is conducted in groups of 20 to 40 people, who sit in a single circle. Participants “suspend” their thoughts, impulses and judgements instead of speaking from their usual point of view, they carefully analyse their thoughts. According to the proposal, Dialogue should not be confused with discussion or debate, which, says Bohm, suggests working towards a goal rather than simply exploring and learning.

David Bohm wrote:

in a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. everybody wins if anybody wins. there is a different sort of spirit to it. in a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. its a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose – if i win, you lose. but a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but WITH each other. in dialogue, everybody wins
dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively.

in the dialogue group we are not going to decide what to do about anything. this is crucial. otherwise we are not free. we must have an empty space where we are not obliged to do anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. its open and free. its an empty space. the word ‘leisure’ has that meaning of a kind of empty space. ‘occupied’ is the opposite of leisure; its full. so we have here a kind of empty space were anything may come in – and after we finish, we just empty it. we are not trying to accumulate anything. thats one of the points about a dialogue. as Krishnamurti used to say:”the cup has to be empty to hold something”

In today’s instant world where one’s attention span for a single activity is quite limited due to the barrage of interruptions, Bohm’s ideas on thought and dialogue are quite inspirational and worth looking at more closely, especially in the workplace.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.