conversations and learning

Dave talks about Debate vs Dialogue

There is a strong psychological and emotional side to all this that defies rationalization. I think this is because our process for learning (internalizing knowledge), and the resultant process of forming beliefs, are complex. I’ve tried to illustrate this in the graphic above, which shows Jung’s four forms of learning and knowledge — sensual (through the senses), emotional (through the heart), intellectual (through the mind) and instinctual (through the body/genes). Conversations of all types (including debates and dialogues) are variously effective at helping us acquire these four types of knowledge:

  • Intellectual knowledge can be relatively easily imparted through articulate speech. 
  • Emotional knowledge can be imparted through our choice of language, our tone of voice, our body language, and the visual and other stimuli we may use to provoke it (consider the images of poverty and tragedy that charities use to ‘educate’ us as to the need for us to support them).
  • Sensual knowledge can be imparted directly through exposing us to sensory experiences (showing us something personally, using film or stories etc.) 
  • Instinctual knowledge cannot be imparted; it is hard-wired into us, inherited genetically at birth.
These four accumulations of knowledge make up what we understand, and that in turn drives what we believe, and makes up our worldview, the frame through which we filter (i.e. assess the credibility of) all arguments and information.


I also face problems when I am interacting with Dad and having a talk about Way of Living & Finances. Somehow, the way the conversation fizzles out and nothing materializes. Also the way I talk or converse is dependent on my moods and I have been continuously observing and analyzing. I very much agree to what Dave says on conversation.

There are several different types of conversation, each with a different effectiveness at imparting knowledge  and therefore influencing our beliefs. Otto Scharmer has argued that there are four types, which he rates judgementally in increasing order of value as follows (I’m paraphrasing):
  1. Polite conversation: Cautious discourse which does not attempt to impart information or influence beliefs.
  2. Debate: Espousing conflicting points of view, selectively presenting information and arguments favouring those points of view, with the objective of influencing the beliefs of others of opposing points of view, or previously uncommitted participants.
  3. Reflective dialogue: Empathic listening while suspending judgement (‘letting go’ of conceptions).
  4. Generative dialogue: Open, collaborative, creative conversation to allow emergent understanding (‘letting come’).

I’ve argued before that a good conversation is like a dance, and a dance is a cooperative performance, not an adversarial one.

What’s even more important is that we each achieve an understanding of our own worldview, our blind spots and our biases, and hone our listening, judgement-suspending, creative, imaginative and critical thinking skills. And of course, practice, attentively, our conversational skills. If we were all better at these things, it probably wouldn’t much matter which type of conversation we chose for any particular situation.


Published by: vinu

My life - BREESY! :-) :D Beautiful Random Enjoyable Eventful Simple Yellow Places I have lived (chronological): (country) (- state) (-- city) India - (Orissa) -- Cuttack (2yrs) -- Bhubaneshwar (3yrs) - (Maharastra) -- Bombay/Mumbai (8 + 1 yrs) - (TamilNadu) -- Madras/Chennai (6 yrs) - (Pondicherry) (1 yr) United States - (California) -- Berkeley (3 yrs) Education : IIT Madras 02, UC Berkeley 05 Work Experience: Mechanical Engineer at FORD Motor Company, India; Management Trainee at Datamatics Technologies Ltd.; Wireless Programmer at TeleCommunication Systems Inc. Passions (currently as of Dec 2005): Family, Media (visual / audio), Mobile Systems, Internet, Design Interests: Music, Movies, Photography, Enjoying nature, Playing Violin, Graphics, Business / Entrepreneurship / Managments, Spirituality, Design, Technology, Mobile / Wireless

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