About he Trialogue approach

From monologue and dialogue to trialogue.



Let us begin with the most simple; the monologue. The least complex form is receiving information from the other. If you do not ask question, it is like a written text, delivered as a spoken monologue. Even though it is not an advanced form of communication, it is an important way of sharing information, especially explicit knowledge.



Dialogue is a bit more advanced. In the dialogue you adjust form and content based upon a reciprocal and evolving understanding in between the communicators. You can ask questions, use paraphrasing, summarising and questioning as feedback in order to make sure that the information is correctly understood. Continuously eliciting and revising assumptions on both sides is a key part of the interaction. Perspectives shift. You learn more about yourself, the other and the topic you are talking about.



Trialogue – builds on the same good communicative practices we see in dialogues. But, there are three units involved in the interaction. In trialogue, the three participants can give each other different roles; sender- receiver – observer. Sender and receiver are always actors in the communication. As an actor you cannot see yourself from a neutral observer position. The observer can see things from outside. This is a unique addition compared to dialogue. We know that actors and observers see things quite differently. The other unique element in trialogue, compared to dialogue, is that the observer can see the interaction from outside, not only the senders and receivers. This distance allows the observer to observe the patterns of interaction and understand the underlying systemic dynamics  in a more complex way.  Our experience from teams reflecting on engaging in trialogues indicates that adding the observer feedback creates significant value and improves the possibility of real change.


Still, the main ambition with Trialogue is to increase learning by reflecting on practice.  Trialogues apply to individual training.  It can also can also be applied with three different groups playing three different positions.  Then there will be multiple voices inside each of the groups interacting in the trialogue.  This is what we see in the therapeutic practice called reflecting teams (Andersen, 1987).  The use of trialogue models in change management is best described in the innovation booklet for DI (Ekelund & Moe, 2017).


The three entities in communicative practice give opportunities of observing interaction, not only individuals. With three parties it is possible for a person to observe from an outside perspective, and we know that things look different through the eyes of an actor versus an observer. One can observe both persons and groups as well as the communicative interaction between two others/groups. This outsider perspective on the relationship seems to give opportunities for adding perspectives on the communicative processes, a perspective that can function as a “neutral/balanced” perspective towards each of the parts in the communication. The two others or groups who are actors in the communication can not take such an outside perspective. This form of commentary and sharing of observations from an outside perspective seems to lead to radical and partially unpredictable changes in the communication between the two parties involved. Such an observer position can add unique and different value in the description of the social processes. This trialogue is not set up to find the one hidden/tacit truth of the others in the interaction, but to share many stories and perspectives. This is in line with the post-colonial perspectives and constructivist perspectives on social systems.




  • Andersen, T. (1987). The Reflecting Team: Dialogue and Meta-Dialogue in Clinical Work. Family Processes, 26, 415-428.
  • Ekelund, B.Z. & Moe. T. 2016. Innovation Booklet. Oslo: Human Factors Publ.

In Diversity Icebreaker workshops

Application example

An example of using the Trialogue approach in the context of the Diversity Icebreaker workshop



During the introduction for working in groups:

In what way will the other colours create a challenge/problem for you?



When presenting between the groups:

Start with each of the groups presenting their own self-image, and then turn towards the challenges in interaction:


  1. Red presents toward Blue
  2. Blue presents toward Red
  3. The Red and Blue have a conversation between them about good ways of cooperating
  4. Green observes both presentations and the dialogue, but after 10 – 15 minutes of dialogue between Red and Blue, they ask for time to function as a “Reflecting Team with Multiple Voices”. Those in the Green group share ideas between themselves, while Red and Blue listen for questions that shed light upon the relationship development and understanding of their own contribution in this discussion. These questions that the Green might reflect over can resemble these examples:

- “How can they approach each other in a way that will increase openness and engagement?” (behaviourally and interaction-oriented)

- “What questions or topics seem to engage both groups?”

- “Which interactions seem to increase energy and openness?”

- “If the communication gridlocks, what could be done that opens it up again?”

- “What would be a Green idea for how they themselves could involve Red and Blue in a positive systemic perspective?”

  1. Then Red and Blue start the dialogue again – Green continues observing.
  2. Each of the colour groups are then separated to formulate learning points.
  3. Learning points are shared between groups, which can be done in plenary or in small three-person groupings of Red, Blue and Green, if the desire is that all present should be active.

This structure can then be repeated twice, where Blue observe Red-Green interaction and Red observes Green-Blue interaction. This process is relatively time consuming, but it has important qualities relevant for training: observation, dialogue with the other, focus on the relationship development, and ideas and actions that might facilitate the interaction. It also combines the possibility of self-awareness and self-understanding in relation to the other two colours – underlining the idea of relational self. It also creates a transparent learning process that can inspire and build confidence across colours.


The time spent can also be reduced by limiting the number of repetitions, and by waiving learning points in steps 6. and 7.



In communication training

Application example

In workshops it leads to a situation where you can utilise the observer position both as a tool for giving feedback but also to introduce change. In communication training you can, for example, see a Red person have a dialogue with a Green person, and have the Blue as an observer. The Blue person can ask questions based upon what they thought was a part of changing the quality of the communication, for example, by searching for the Red's action or exchange which made the Green become more open and enthusiastic.


The questions that observers often ask themselves are:

  • What lead to the a more open communicative relationship
  • what created energy or motivation
  • what reduced defensive behaviour
  • what can you continue with to build more trust


Such comments make the Red and Green person much more aware of how the language they use can open or close the communication – the most important indicator that the dialogue between the parties is fruitful.

To open up a locked situation between groups

Application example

A systematic form of Trialoguing, where the observer position is used explicitly to change the development of interaction and communication.


The concept of “reflective team” was coined in 1984 by Tom Andersen and his colleagues in North Norway. A “reflective team” is a group of persons that:


  • observes the interaction between two other groups/parties
  • expresses different ideas about the interaction in a non-systematic, non-planned way, as a form of sharing of diversified perspectives.
  • The two other groups/parties listen to the aforementioned ideas and how they are communicated in between participants. Each person in the interaction chooses ideas, which they themselves find relevant to easing the flow of the situation and moving on.

(Andersen, 1987)