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When was the last time you received a compliment? Can you even remember? In “Managing” by the late Mary Kay Ash, she explains that by age six about 90 percent of what we have heard is negative. To counter the stinging culture of criticism that we so often encounter, Mary Kay Cosmetics goes out of its way to make employees feel special, loved, admired, and respected. Today, think about how to do this at work, with your own direct reports. In what ways can you “include them as partners rather than chastising them as critics?”

To honor an employee’s spirit is to frequently solicit his/her opinion. Dialogue then engages not in the bullying, conquest style of congruence reminiscent of groupthink, but in the agreement that results from a unity of presence and the coherence of common ground. Dialogue is a form of “infinite game,” in which players cease to block another’s moves in their attempts to win. They welcome instead the surprise of finding solutions which were unexpected (Peck, 1987).

Dialogue is about respect. My respect for your point of view and how you have arrived at it, my respect for your feelings, for your contribution. It may even be about reverence. My gratitude to you for seeing things differently than I do, my reverence for your different personality, your different history, your different experience, your ability to enrich me with them” (Zohar, 1997).

Empathic listening, or hearing without a preset agenda, allows speech “to continue as a way of listening” (Carse, 1987). Zohar describes the jousting of interjection as knowing, answers, winning or losing, unequal, power, proving a point, and defending a position.  Conversely, dialogue is finding out, questions, sharing, equal, respect, listening, and exploring new possibilities (Zohar, 1997). Dialogue promotes organizational diplomacy, or conflict resolution among a diversity of constituents (Gilbert & Ivancevich, 1999). 

Engaging in dialogue does not mean that a group will reach consensus. It does imply that employees will construct a platform upon which to base self-examination, and a safe space in which to deconstruct erroneous assumptions. Just as subatomic particles are known only in relation to each other, dialogue is quantum in that ideas by themselves represent only singular elements of a final solution. Only as they are examined from each facet, both internally (through self examination) and externally (through combination with others), can the appropriate synthesis of thoughts emerge. Senge (1990) proposes the notion of inquiry, which combines questioning of authority with cross examination of personal assumptions.

In transcendence aggressive communication tactics, e.g. (shouting) are not considered the better part of civility. If bosses present themselves as imperial magistrates or as constitutional monarchs, it is then fallacy to expect their workers to proffer honest feedback in exchange. Bullied subordinates may show sycophancy, pandering to obtain favor, compliance, and obedience, but they will never exhibit the admiration for one who listens with compassion. To be respected is to be acknowledged and supported, and not backhanded by the superficial monologue in which supervisors tend to sidestep employee concerns. True power, or “spiritual power” is not impenetrability created through armament, but rather, it is the exercise of legitimate power with emotional finesse.


Carse, J. (1987). Finite and infinite games : A vision of life as play and possibility. New York: Ballantine Press.

Gilbert, J. A., & Ivancevich, J. M. (1999). Organizational diplomacy: The bridge for managing diversity. Human Resource Planning Journal, 22, 29-39. 

Peck, M. S. (1987). The different drum: Community making and peace (p. 67). New York, NY: Touchstone.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization (p. 289). New York, NY: Doubleday/Currency.

Zohar, D. (1997). Rewiring the corporate brain: Using the new science to rethink how we structure and lead organiztions. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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