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The Magic of Dialogue

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Real dialogue is more than just talk— it’s work. But the payoffs are incredible. One of America’s best listeners shows how it’s done.

This article first appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Spirituality & Health. In philosopher Martin Buber’s classic work I and Thou, he suggests that in authentic dialogue something far deeper than ordinary conversation is going on. The I-Thou interaction implies a genuine openness of each individual to the concerns of the other. In such dialogue, “I” do not, while talking with you, selectively tune our views I disagree with, nor do I busy myself marshaling arguments to rebut you while only half attending to what you have to say. Nor do I seek to reinforce my own prejudices. Instead, I fully take in your viewpoint, engaging with it in the deepest sense of the term. You do likewise. Each of us internalizes the view of the other to enhance our mutual understanding. Buber voiced the stunning insight that, apart from its obvious practical value for problem-solving, dialogue express an essential aspect of the human spirit. He knew that dialogue is a way of being. In Buber’s philosophy, life itself is a form of meeting, and dialogue is the place where we meet. In dialogue, we penetrate behind the polite …

Daniel Yankelovich is the author of The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation (Simon & Schuster, August 1999). Daniel Yankelovich's previous books include Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World (Syracuse University Press) and New Rules: Self-fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down(Transaction Publishers).


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