Monologue vs. Dialogue

Which Style of Communication will Bring you Closer to Me?

Have you ever felt dissatisfied during a conversation where you listened to a friend talk endlessly about something? Perhaps they seemed to go on and on, leaving little space for you to actually participate? Or maybe you were able to take turns talking, but something felt empty about it: You never really felt seen, heard, or understood? You were both in your own private worlds, taking turns verbalizing the content of your mind? Perhaps the conversation left you feeling drained? Chances are high that this might have been a problem of monologue vs. dialogue. A dialogue involves two individuals who are engaged in mutual conversation: There is a collaborative exchange of thoughts and ideas going back and forth. This includes acknowledgement, validation, and responsive engagement in the shared content. A monologue involves a single speaker engaging in a one-way verbalized stream of the contents of one’s own mind. The focus is usually on the self’s own perspective and experience. It is like perpetually “thinking out loud” in a manner that forces other people to hear it, but without any collaborative two-way engagement.

To make this more complicated, consider that fact that many conversations between people may appear like dialogues, but they are actually alternating, competing monologues. In other words, two people are taking turns speaking at each other, but they are not necessarily listening to, or connecting with what the other person said. Individuals might even be taking turns talking about a similar theme or topic, yet there is no real listening or mutual interaction occurring. One-way conversational monologues run the risk of exhausting or boring our partner. If one person is not given sufficient opportunity to participate, they may feel excluded or like they have to battle to get a chance to speak. They may also end up feeling silently objectified. They disappear into invisibility as the other person endlessly verbalizes the contents of their own mind. If this goes on too long, the listener may end up tuning the speaker out, or even avoiding interactions with them in the future.

The Art of Interactive Dialogue

A two-way dialogue necessitates a deep, inherent valuing of the other person’s experience. This requires each person to listen and acknowledge what the other person says. It involves validating, and showing that you are attempting to understand their personal perspective. In a dialogue, both people are connected to what the other person is saying. There is a back-and-forth, flowing dynamic. Each person is given space to directly interact with, and respond to the content in a way that adds mutual value. This type of interactive connection is important for our happiness and well-being, so how do we begin to create it? To build an interactive dialogue, focus allowing space for each person to participate. Approach the conversation with a sense of curiosity and be open to learning from the other person. Show interest with your body language by keeping your attention on the speaker, not on other distractions in the room. Be mindful of whether or not one person is dominating the conversation. Ask thoughtful, relevant questions about what the person shared in order to further the dialogue in constructive ways. Show you are listening by verbally paraphrasing your understanding what the other person has said. You may not be 100% correct in your attempt to understand, but this gives your partner a chance to clarify their communication. It also helps them to feel heard. Avoid interrupting one another during conversation, and allow each person to complete their thoughts. Finally, pay attention to how others are responding to you. Invite feedback, questions, or reactions from your partner, as needed.

These are just a few tips to begin practicing interactive dialogues. Most people are in the habit of engaging in alternating monologues, so be patient with your conversational partners. Refrain from instructing, or telling them what you think they are doing it wrong. We will never bring anyone closer to us through criticism. Focus on modeling attentive, interactive listening skills. In the beginning, you will likely be listening and responding to others, more than being listened to. Later, you can fine-tune your approach by learning non-criticizing ways to ask others to be active listeners for you. Communication is a skill that requires trial and error, intention, and a lot of practice along the way. It is worth the effort because a genuine, two way dialogue can be greatly fulfilling. Authentic dialogues are also an important doorway to bring people closer together in connection. If you want to dive deeper into developing awesome listening skills check out this book resource: Listening Well


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