Mediated Dialogue: Facilitating dialogue for exploring and addressing complex challenges

image of people

By: Charles J. Palus & John B. McGuire

Dialogue can be difficult to facilitate. It’s a common problem in leadership contexts: How can we get people talking with each other to explore and more effectively address the complex challenges that they share?

Here is an effective way to stimulate dialogue developed at The Center for Creative Leadership. It works by integrating language, visual imagery, and creative metaphors in service of mutual understanding and shared sensemaking. We call this process mediated dialogue. (For further information see our chapter in the Handbook of Action Research, and our Leadership Explorer blog.)

In mediated dialogue, pictures, photos, and other tangible objects are introduced into “the middle” of the conversation. These objects, with simple facilitation, enable a deeper and more creative conversation than might otherwise be expected. Mediated dialogue is also commonly referred to as “putting something in the middle.”

We have created a tool called Visual Explorer™ to engage people in mediated dialogue. Visual Explorer is a collection of 216 diverse and provocative images. Participants in the dialogue select images that have personal meaning in relation to a focal question. Participants bring their selected images into the dialogue, where their content and meaning is explored in relation to the question(s) at hand.

Detailed instructions are contained on our resource blog as well as in the Visual Explorer Facilitator’s Guide. Visual Explorer works well in contexts including organizational transformation, and action research.

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