Isaura Barrera and Lucinda Kramer, authors of Skilled Dialogue: Authentic Communication and Collaboration Across Diverse Perspectives, have taught at the university level for more than 20 years. They describe Skilled Dialogue as "a proactive tool for converting diversity from challenge to opportunity; i.e., for mining and minding its riches. It is a field-tested approach designed to tap into and leverage the power of paradox. ... Skilled Dialogue interactions with diverse others can be crafted in ways that allow differences to enrich rather than limit available options and opportunities." Their conversation plan (below) is a helpful guide for making the most of diversity in dialogue with others.

Skilled Dialogue is a circular and reiterative process not a linear one. Though Welcoming and Allowing are almost always first, the other four strategies need not be followed in strict sequence. When, for example, it seems difficult to Appreciate, it may be necessary to go back to gather more information (i.e., Sense-Making) or listen more carefully (i.e., Allowing). Similarly, at times it may be necessary to reinforce our disposition to Set the Stage through its strategies before we can authentically Choose Relationship and use its strategies (e.g., if we believe that another’s views contradict our own, it will be more difficult to make sense of them or to join with them).

Remember also that ... Skilled Dialogue is not the best or most appropriate approach to all interactions. The following 4-step “horizontal” sequence is one that has proven effective in first learning Skilled Dialogue:

Step 1: Setting the dispositions

Approach the interaction as a relational one rather than one in which you seek to influence or control another or get them to agree with you or help you out.


Am I disposed to prioritize my relationship with this person(s) more than my preset agenda (i.e., choose relationship over control)?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)


Am I open to outcomes other than those I am anticipating based on what I know now (i.e., disposed to Set the Stage for Miracles)?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)

Step 2: Honoring Identity

Welcoming: Communicate verbally and nonverbally that you welcome the interaction as an opportunity to get to know the other and learn from him or her.

Allowing: Allow the other to express their concern or viewpoint without interruption other than to ask for clarification if this is needed. Do not interject your own concerns or views. Simply listen with interest.


To what degree do I believe I welcomed the other as someone I could learn from?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)


To what degree did I allow the other to express him/herself without interrupting or explaining/defending my own views?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)

Step 3: Establishing Reciprocity

Sense-Making: Seek to understand how the other’s perspective or behavior makes sense. Do this until you can honestly say you understand how such a perspective or behavior makes sense (i.e., is valid) under certain circumstances and that you might do the same or similar under those circumstances.

Appreciating: Identify positive contributions that the other’s perspective or behavior might bring to your interaction with them.


To what degree was I able to make sense of the other’s views as valid and evidence-based?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)


To what degree was I able to appreciate the other’s views as something that could make a positive contribution to our interaction?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)

Step 4: Being Responsive

Joining: Find common ground by communicating your understanding of the other’s perspective.
Harmonizing: Craft a “third choice” that includes both your and the other’s perspectives.


To what degree was I able to express the other’s views in ways that the other felt were accurate and valid?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)


To what degree was I able to integrate the other’s views with my own so as to generate response options that were complementary and inclusive of both?

(low) 2 3 (some) 4 5 (high)

Isaura Barrera, Lucinda Kramer in Skilled Dialogue