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.