I remember when we used to be able to disagree with each other.

We could have a debate, and go home friends. We could work alongside others, and even build a community with folks with whom we shared differing views.

Things weren’t perfect, for sure; but it wasn’t unheard of for diverse groups to manage to identify common ground, and get things done.

I remember when collaboration and consensus were positives.

Those were the days.

Or maybe it was all smoke and mirrors…or a product of good-old-days syndrome.

Today is certainly seems like dialogue is dead. Compromise is a dirty word. Peacemakers are more likely to be seen as soft, than as leaders or facilitators of progress.

Hyperbole and name-calling pass for telling it like it is. Give-and-take is wasted breath. Cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit masquerade as discourse.

When was the last time you heard (or participated in) a calm and reasoned debate around deeply held perspectives. How did it end?

The Sounds of Dialogue

If you’re lucky, you’ve been around someone who modeled the adventure of dialogue.  It might have been a parent, teacher or mentor. For these accomplished few, canned positions rarely suffice. Their conversations are interesting — even compelling. They are likely characterized by listening, and real give-and-take.

In real dialogue there isn’t a winner. There are explorers. Students. Bridge-builders.

If it isn’t dead, the art is fading fast.

These days it’s about nailing the soundbite; sticking to the talking points no matter what the question might be; tearing down in favor of building; being audacious in 140 characters; or going viral.

It’s about the highlight reel and a WOW moment. It is antagonism posing for discourse. It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.

It is about making my point and winning the moment. Without respect to implications on the next opportunity, it is about laying claim, and staking territory.

And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without engaging in a single real piece of dialogue.

Little by little, have we forgotten what it sounds like?

It isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff. It is more than comparing vacation itineraries or updating Facebook or Insta status.

Dialogue requires empathy. It should be an adventure.

If we care about more than attention…if our quest is about more than self-promotion..if the goal is meaningful movement…we must find a way to rescue dialogue from the brink of extinction.

Where and how to begin? Step away from the podium. Spend some time listening — not for ways to shoot holes in what you hear; but in a search for common ground…for shared aspirations. This is where dialogue begins.

Unless we rediscover the art, very little of real consequence will change — whether the venue is personal, professional, social or political.

Will we disagree. Certainly. But we might discover that those faint memories of when we could disagree and debate and walk away with self respect and friendship in tact are not a figment of our imagination at all. Those were the good ole days.

Eric Fletcher

With more than twenty-five years of experience, spanning broadcasting, advertising, marketing and professional services business development, Eric Fletcher is a seasoned connector — of ideas, people and strategic growth-oriented solutions. For the past fifteen years he has managed and directed teams focused on targeted business development and client service in the legal industry. Today he heads the marketing and business development efforts for Liskow & Lewis, and resides in New Orleans. Opinions expressed in Marketing Bran Fodder are his own.