Dialogue and The Art of Thinking Together by William Issacs

In Dialogue and the Art Of Thinking Together, William Isaacs explains how our talk is in fact, driving us apart!

As Aristotle put it long ago, human beings are distinguished from other species by our ability to use language. Yet too often, at our jobs and in our business, we don’t listen to one another. Invested in our views, we explain when we should inquire. Caught up in our own preconceptions, we disguise our feelings and fears, and hide our very meaning.


Modern conversation is a lot like nuclear physics, argues William Isaacs. Lots of atoms zoom around, many of which just rush past each other, but others collide, creating friction. Even if our atomic conversations don’t turn contentious, they often just serve to establish each participant’s place in the cosmos.

One guy shares a statistic he’s privy to, another shares another fact, and on and on. Each person fires off a tidbit, pauses to reload while someone else talks, then fires off another. In Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Isaacs explains how we can do better than that.

Based on over ten years of research with corporations, managers, business and community leaders, William Isaacs, the director of the Dialogue Project at MIT and a consultant to major corporations, including AT&T and Intel, shows how problems between managers and employees, or between companies or divisions within a larger corporation, stem from an inability to conduct a successful dialogue. Trying to convince others of our positions by refusing to consider other opinions, withholding information, and ultimately getting angry and defensive are common examples of this.

He demonstrates that dialogue is more than just the exchange of words, but rather, the embrace of different points of view — literally the art of thinking together.

This is not pie-in-the-sky, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing stuff. He offers concrete ideas for both listening and speaking; for avoiding the forces that undermine meaningful conversation; for changing the physical setting of the dialogue to change its quality.


The outcome, he says, can be quite different from the traditional winner-loser structure of arguments and debates. Businesses can make more reasoned decisions, and thus earn more money. Governments can create peaceful resolutions to seemingly intractable problems. (For example, Isaacs cites secret conversations between Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, which occurred over a number of years, while Mandela was still under arrest and led to a new framework for their country.)

Although this is a book primarily geared toward managers, even married couples can learn a few new ways to communicate.


Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Dimensions: 21.51 x 14.86 x 3.45 centimeters (0.57 kg)
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Other Information: illustrations
Published In: United States, 01 September 1999