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Integrating Dialogue and Advocacy Published: Sunday, July 11, 1999 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Advocacy is natural to most of us. We are far more inclined to defend our points of view and debate for them than we are to reconcile with other meanings and perceptions and enhance them for some larger purpose. Some distinguished researchers believe that people are socialized according to a set of conventional social virtues including: Fight for your position in order to win; hold your own position in the face of the advocacy of others; feeling vulnerable or unsure about your position is a sign of weakness; stick to your own principles, values and beliefs; do not confront the reasoning and actions of others. This mindset of traditional social virtues, and even acceptable manners of interactions, are causes of defensive patterns of behavior which are the norm in some organizations and the basis of what Chris Argyris calls human action and control. While the supposed pervasiveness and consequences of these social and organizational manners are theoretical concepts, interactions between groups and people seem to be dominated by such values and ideological set as these.

Advocacy, as speaking and writing in support of something, is a common mode of interaction between groups and most of the people are comfortable with it and interpret such dynamic as very normal within a typical organizational culture. As easily as we are drawn to advocacy, however, the tendency to engage in it is not necessarily coupled with the skill to be good at it. Thus, the organizational point is that the quality of our arguments can be most improved by mastering the skill of dialogue (willingness to share meanings, contextual colleagueship, define terms and categories, examine and qualify statements, formulate inferences and proofs, reconcile dilemmas resulting from opposing points of view).

Life is not worth living without dialogue. In it, questions are asked, understanding is deepened, options are explored and solutions are collectively enriched. In advocacy choices are narrowed, alignment is achieved, decisions are made and courses of actions are charted. Dialogue is diverging and advocacy is converging. Advocacy is the necessary counterpart of dialogue, because organizational learning, in essence is concerned with creating usable knowledge that leads to relevant and intelligent action.

If a group is locked in dialogue, no action will result; if a group is locked in advocacy, thoughtless, inappropriate action and error prone behavior will be the result. Achieving an effective integration between these two mode of organizational interaction is a fundamental determinant of learning. Of course, this balance is very difficult to achieve, but we have helped design such a process. A key way of materializing such a condition is to keep the efforts of participating groups focused on outcomes or results related to a purpose that has meaning for all parties. We have been protagonists of this balance, at least, on three occasions during the past weeks.

 


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