"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

The Art and Skill of Engaging People


As more leaders recognize that working in silos does not achieve the extraordinary results that can come with cross-department, cross-discipline, cross-sectoral collaboration, the question then becomes: “How do we engage people?” 

Humanity now seems to be shifting beyond me to we, beyond sales to service and beyond ambition to inspiration. Many people seek meaningful contribution—more than just a job.  So the art and skill of engaging people becomes critical as people awaken to new opportunities to make a difference.




















 Consider these 15 tips to set the stage for effective engagement:

  1. Power.  Know that your power as a leader is in how you influence the network of conversations you are a part of.  Engagement is implicit in all you do.
  2. Positivity.  Deepen self-awareness by reflecting on how can you expand your influence effectiveness by becoming fluent in positive self-talk.
  3. Clarity.  Reflect on who you want to attract to your vision or project by clearly defining the ideal audience.  Who are the natural champions with a similar interest?
  4. Authenticity.  Rather than use the ‘sales’ paradigm in trying to get others to buy-in, speak authentically about what you care about.  Resist the urge to manipulate, convince or cajole.
  5. Non-Attachment.  Be prepared to let go of the outcome you want and instead co-create what is mutually desirable.  This way of co-constructing typically generates more ownership. 
  6. Connection.  Two universal human needs are connection and creative expression.  Frame your project as a way for others to get and receive support and a way to share their unique talents.
  7. Meaning.  Help people make meaning out of their situation by asking how they can be a part of creating something new.   Transform complaints by generating action with a powerful ask.
  8. Value.  A principle of engagement is that people will take action if there is perceived value.  So communicate from that place, meeting people where they are and speaking to what they desire.
  9. Trust.  People will take part in new ventures if they trust you.  So practice trust-building by saying what you mean, doing what you say, listening with empathy and following through on promises.
  10. Motivation.  Understand the pain/pleasure principle as it relates to motivation.  People will take action if there is sufficient angst and/or if there is an enticing vision.    
  11. Vision.  When speaking about your vision, paint a vivid, compelling picture using words, images and metaphors to help people understand the fullness of what you are offering.
  12. Listen.  Notice the field of listening of your audience.  Tune into the music between the notes or the message behind the words.  Get curious as to their background conversation and interest. 
  13. Possibility.  Do not be seduced with scarcity thinking in assuming that others will not be interested or be too busy. Explore what’s possible by uncovering creative strategies to collaborate.
  14. Requests.  Get clear on your request and make it positive and do-able.  Have a back-up request just in case you hear a decline.  Be sure to make a promise as a sign of your commitment.
  15. Commitment.  What precedes action is commitment.  If people have competing commitments, tease apart their needs hierarchy.  Get clear on expectations and celebrate success.

Elizabeth Soltis is the founder and director of Bridges Global, a community and organizational development company that specializes in empowerment, leadership and collaboration services. As a bridge-builder in all regions of the world, Elizabeth has a passion for connecting people to their sense of purpose, to others and to the earth.  She enjoys facilitating and coaching people as they expand their thinking, express their creativity and live their potential.  Engaging people in a transformational process that is meaningful, liberating and uplifting is how Elizabeth defines success.  Visit www.bridgesglobal.net for more resource offerings.



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Inclusion Means ALL


I have a raging new agenda: inclusion. I believe this agenda will be a great challenge to me and to all Dialogue Educators since we see the value in small groups working together to learn via learning tasks. In the words of Danah Zohar, we want to hear "a chorus of conversations" as learners engage with tough new content, unraveling it, making associations with their prior knowledge, adapting their learning to their unique contexts. Such vocal and immediate outward engagement comes naturally to extroverts like me! What about my sisters and brothers who are naturally introverts? How can we design to include ALL?

I trust you will join me in discovering and creating ways to include ALL in the dialogue. Susan Cain’s brilliant book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, offers sound and compelling research that tells what a loss we face when we exclude thoughtful, sensitive, quiet folks. And exclusion of any kind destroys dialogue.

Let me start our search with a wonderful suggestion from GLP Senior Partner Karen Ridout: When we set a learning task, let’s always include a quiet time before the conversations begin. So we say:

Learning Task # 1: The Best Learning Experience

In pairs, share the best learning experience in your life. Analyze that experience:  Decide and tell what made it so memorable.  Write those factors, one on each note card.  Post those cards on the chart, and we will share all.

Before you start sharing your stories in pairs, spend two minutes of quiet time…reflecting, thinking, and remembering.

When I design now, I build that two minute quiet time into every learning task. Thank you, Karen!

Another great idea for inclusion involves pacing.  When excited groups report on their learning, leave quiet time after you thank a speaker for what they offered. Count internally to 10 (one, one thousand, two one thousand…) before inviting the next comment. (That’s 10 seconds!)

I once said: “You cannot go too slowly, or teach too little”.  That was a long time ago, and I have not lived by that axiom which came from a deep intuition for inclusion. Let’s help one another curb our impatience and really learn to listen.

Join me in this raging new agenda. Share your ideas and practices with me at jane@globallearningpartners.com. Thank y’all!


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Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: Maximizing Generativity with DE and AI


Some things just naturally fit together well.  Consider the well-worn example of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for instance.  On their own, each ingredient brings something to the table.  Sliced bread.  That’s pretty cool!  A non-perishable paste packed with protein and loads of sugar?  Yes please!  And jelly…I mean, what’s not to love there?  And yet mix them all together and you have something truly transformational—a delightful little snack whose very mention elicits positive emotions and rumbly tummies in both the young and old alike.  (Unless you have a nut or gluten allergy.  Or are on a low-glycemic diet.  If so, just try and roll with the image as I’m getting to the point shortly.)  The earthy savoryness of the peanut butter highlights the sweet notes of the strawberries harvested at the height of their ripeness.  The soft chewiness of the bread soaks up the spirit of the jelly, and sets off the occasional crunch of the peanut butter.  (Yes, I am of the crunchy peanut butter ilk!)  In short, the sum is greater than the individual parts, and each ingredient actually serves to further bring out the best in the other.  And this is exactly how I see Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Dialogue Education (DE) these days!

My Learning Journey

One year ago I started Case Western Reserve’s Appreciative Inquiry Certificate in Positive Business and Society Change.  Through a mix of classroom instruction, field work, Business as an Agent of World Benefit interviews, and a written capstone paper, I found that my learning journey had a profound impact when I paused to reflect on how AI and DE bring out the best in one another.  (For those of you who are relative newcomers to AI such as myself, I invite you to check out this fantastic summary written by Jackie Kelm.  For those of you for who are unfamiliar with DE’s learning-centered approach to teaching, you can find out more here.)  Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Cleveland to complete my certificate and learn from the experiences of my global cohort members.  As with all deep learning, it was exhilarating and it was exhausting, and I am filled to the brim with both possibility and questions!  In short, this was my year in review:

Throughout this learning journey I saw many overlaps between DE’s core principles and practices and those of AI.  While I was able to directly explore some of these within the timeframe of this certificate program—such as applying an 8 Steps of Design process, and applying learning needs and resources assessments and achievement-based objectives to all AI work projects—I am looking forward to diving deeper moving forward.  I was intrigued by what AI outside of the context of a summit could look like…how it might be applied to all aspects of organizational life.  Little by little, I started experimenting with applying the principles in different contexts, inspired by—what else—questions!  For example:

  • What does an unconditionally positive question look like in a client meeting?
  • What can I do to help further develop an appreciative eye, personally, within GLP, and with the organizations we work with?
  • As questions themselves are interventions, what can I ask to incite positive change?
  • How might I create more opportunities for developing shared visions of the future?

Rather than seeking out opportunities for large-scale AI summits (which was how I entered into this journey), I looked to the daily tasks and interactions I already had such as meetings with potential partners, staff supervision, team meetings, annual reviews, client work, and community member gatherings.  One preconception that I had to overcome early on was my belief that there was a prescribed way that one must do AI.  In all honesty, I was doing my AI work in a bit of a closeted manner.  Though I was applying my learning directly to my work, I found myself doing it in a way that made the most sense and was most beneficial given my context.  I was reluctant to share or talk about what I was doing with other cohort members out of a misplaced fear that I was not doing so with fidelity to the “AI process”.  (My internal chatter often sounded a lot like this: Four Ds or five Ds?  Shoot, what if I only have time for one D?  What if it only makes sense to focus on two Ds right now?  What if I just want to employ appreciative questions to quickly identify life-giving forces to inform a totally different process all together? This is prime for an AI summit but I don’t have the time or resources!)

After several conversations with Dr. Lindsey Godwin, an AI expert based here in Vermont and, unbeknownst to her, my mentor throughout this process, my fears were assuaged and my focus redirected from process to principles.  “How about examining how you’ve honored the core principles of AI?” Lindsey suggested.  [Cue the “Hallelujah” music in my head.]  What a liberating feeling being able to serve as a co-creator of new methodologies of AI as applied to my work at GLP!  (As a side note, I often hear this same fidelity concern from practitioners of DE and would agree: it’s easy to get hung up on the process, but it’s really all about how you honor the principles and practices of DE!)

What I’ve Experienced

Through the integration of both AI and DE into my practice, I’ve experienced a deeper level of curiosity and have seen increased generativity in group settings.  I am mindful of the powerful ability we each possess to reframe a situation and appreciate it in a different light, one that enables us to see the possibilities before us.  (What if all teachers applied an appreciative lens as they supported students in their learning?  What if all learners and organizations were invited to discover their core values and work towards a shared vision?  How can we support one another to make this happen?)  My passion for this work has been reignited, my understanding of partnerships in a world of abundance has been reframed, and I am looking forward to exploring my many questions moving forward.

A few of my questions are listed below and I’m genuinely curious…

  • What would you add to the list?
  • What can you share with all of us all based on what you’ve seen and learned from your experiences?

Questions for You

  • How have you seen the core principles and practices of DE and AI support and transform one another?
  • How might we further integrate an AI approach in our practice as Dialogue Educators?
  • At their best, how do the DE principles of safety, transparency and mutual accountability show up within AI?‚Äč


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Dialogue Education in the University: Creating the Environment for Learning


This is just one resource in a series to support the application of Dialogue Education to higher education.  For more resources, we invite you to check out our full Dialogue Education in the University collection.  


By Jeanette Romkema and Dan Haase

NOTE: These tips were written with the undergraduate professor and students in face-to-face full-time learning environment in mind. However, they can be equally valuable in the post-graduate, virtual learning environment, distance learning, and part-time university program setting.

Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.

(Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.)

So much depends on the space (whether face-to-face or virtual) and how it enhances and/or limits learning and the learner.  Taking time to consider the place and space is vital to designing an effective university course.  Below are a few suggestions for creating the best environment for learning.

  1. Begin the course before the course begins.  Start the teaching and learning with a learning needs and resource assessment (LNRA).  This fosters respect and safety and can offer a great deal of important information about the students coming to your course and what you might need to consider in designing a meaningful and relevant learning environment.  Beginning a course before the course begins lends itself to an environment where students feel cared for and heard. 
  2. Clearly articulate your expectations in the course syllabus. The design bears the burden and the syllabus shows this design to the students before they start.  The syllabus clarifies expectations, demonstrates the care that has gone into making the course meaningful and relevant, and names ways students will be involved in their learning journey.  Offer students the syllabus prior to the first class meeting.  
  3. Arrange the space to maximize learning.  Sometimes sitting in a circle will encourage deeper sharing and more courageous questions. Other times sitting in small groups is what you want to stimulate creative thinking and deep engagement. Most often, sitting in rows will discourage dialogue and encourage passivity – and so should be avoided. We always want to ask ourselves: How should I set the room up to maximize learning? In the virtual learning context, we need to ask ourselves: How and when should I invite small group dialogue and investigation?  NOTE: If you don’t have assistants to help move the furniture around, just ask for some volunteers from the class to come early (to set up) or stay late (to return to how it was).
  4. Stand when presenting new content, sit when facilitating dialogue.  One should probably be sitting more than standing if this guideline is followed.  Sit down with your students when possible and become a learner among learners. Although with large groups this may not be possible (as you need to be able to see everyone), the desired shift in power can still be communicated by inviting learners to engage with the learning rather than only the professor, and encouraging dialogue with each other and themselves rather than only with you.
  5. Call students by name.  Learning your students’ names even before the first class communicates that you see them as unique individuals.  Many institutions provide class rosters with photos online that you can view before the class begins.  Provide nametags for students so they too can respond to their peers by name, and feel more connected as a group.
  6. Invite and include all voices.  Students need to feel their experience and comments are important, and that you want to hear them. Open questions and meaningful learning tasks help raise all voices.  Small group and pair work can also assist in maximizing engagement and learning.  Students need to feel you are genuinely interested in what they think and their need to authentically engage with the new content. Sometimes this can best be done in an online discussion which can “level the playing field” for even the quietest students who may be hesitant about speaking up in a face-to-face setting.
  7. Consider the aesthetics of your room.  Too often university classrooms are sterile environments, void of natural or man-made beauty.  Bringing in a rug, lamp, freshly cut flowers, or some plants can brighten a room and help learning.
  8. Find ways to include food.  Food and snacks bring students together and can foster community during break time or while you are teaching.  For some students crunching and chewing actually helps them concentrate and learn more easily.  If appropriate, invite students to rotate the task of bringing in snacks – many will rise to the challenge. In some cases, arranging a time to go out for a meal may be a helpful community-building event.
  9. Use the classroom to test, try, compare and analyze theory.  Since your time with students is limited, work to get students to study the necessary theory outside of class, so you can engage with the theory during class.  This means we treat students as adults: we need to assume reading is actually completed before arriving in class. When professors read homework/ readings to students during class (through a PowerPoint or handouts), we are encouraging passivity and discouraging ownership of one’s own learning.
  10. Invite students to personalize their learning plan.  Assuming professors actually want to offer ways for students to demonstrate real learning, offering choices on exam style (oral or written) and type/topic of the final assignment  (for example, a research project or scholarly paper) can provide more focused motivation for the students.   Since students have unique interests and motivations, we should reflect these in our learning programs. Consider what cumulative innovation, essay, article, action plan or analysis best captures and demonstrates that the learners have learned by doing.

Jeanette Romkema has taught courses at Dordt College, Tyndale University College and Seminary, Emmanuel College of Victoria University of The University of Toronto, and Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University, and will be teaching at Wycliffe College in 2015. She has also taught university professors how to strengthen their work with Dialogue Education in Africa, USA and Canada. 

Dan Haase is Internship Coordinator & Instructor at Wheaton College and works with his entire department to embrace Dialogue Education principles and practices in the university classroom.

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Beta, Baby!


By Marian Darlington-Hope and Karen Ridout

The Internet increasingly provides a multitude of tools that provide opportunities for learning. At the Building Learning Communities Conference a few years ago, the title of one presentation declared “It’s no more Best Practices, it’s Beta, Baby.” We are all in Beta mode as we discover and explore these tools to support our learning designs

As Dialogue Educators, you are already familiar with the value of learning tasks in small groups. Once the learning task is set and clear to all, we see the dynamics at work in a small group—where the learning happens! Online learning tools enable group learning tasks to draw on the strength of different learning styles present in the group just as dialogue education practices do in face-to-face groups. These web-based tools have made it possible for all of us to make the internet work for us as individuals, groups and organizations.

Blooms Taxonomy updated and adapted for the digital world is useful in structuring learning tasks. The attached diagrams show the possibility for a range of useful and wonderful web tools, but without an Achievement-Based Objective for using a particular tool or set of tools, you may miss enhancing the learning.

As we consider dialogue—dia-logos, the word between us—these tools enable us to integrate sight and sound honoring the different learning styles in our teaching by intentionally including them as an integrative whole. Tools vary, some of them are designed to assist you in presenting content in new ways while others assist you in the creation process and allow you to share your process more transparently.

Remember—the tools you choose must enhance the learning!

(Click on either of the pictures below to pull up interactive charts directly from the creators' websites.)

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