For a cognitive understanding of the word “dialogic”, the following article concisely outlines and contextualizes it in today’s world.
(a scholarly and highly readable article for the inquisitive reader and academic alike)
-reproduced by permission of T. Dean Thomlison

Monologic and Dialogic Communication

By T. Dean Thomlison

An essential component of an individual’s “humaneness” is communicative interaction with others.

Communicologists, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, theologians, sociologists, and a host of other contemporary thinkers have approached the topic of communication from varying perspectives. A fascinating area of inquiry about human communication derives its origins from these diverse fields of thought. Human communication as dialogue is called “the third revolution in communication” by Floyd Matson and Ashley Montagu in The Human Dialogue (1967).

The first revolution, in this frame of thought, was the scientific invention phase which produced mass communication. The second revolution was the scientific theory and human engineering phase which produced cybernetics and motivation research. According to Matson and Montagu, the third revolution places emphasis upon openness and mutual respect.

Numerous writers, thinkers, and theoreticians such as Buber (1958), Howe (1967), Matson and Montague (1967), Ruesch (1971), Jaspers (1964), Meerloo (1967), Rogers (1961, 1980), (Habermas (1984), Johannesen (1971, 1996) , Stewart (1978), Brown and Keller (1979), Arnett (1981) and Thomlison (1972, 1974, 1975, 1982) have explored dialogic communication in one form or another. Their approaches and emphases vary, but each deals with some of the prime aspects of dialogue.

Because of this diversity, this orientation toward communication has been characterized by several different names including: presence, encounter, genuine communication, therapeutic encounter, supportive climate, nondirective therapy, existential communication, facilitative communication, helping relationships, authentic exchange, conversation, I-Thou relationship, and dialogue.

Dialogic encounter assumes an essential faith in human interaction. It is not a method, but rather an attitude or orientation toward communication. In dialogic communication each participant possesses genuine concern for one’s partner instead of as a means to an end. This facilitative communication is opposed to coercing and exploiting, dishonest forms of interactions that are used to manipulate people in various degrees. Dialogue is characterized by trust, openness, spontaneity, caring, sensitivity, sincerity, and empathy. In a sense, it is the “stuff” of which ideal interpersonal relationships are made. As we move toward deeper, more honest forms of interpersonal interaction, we are also moving toward dialogue (Thomlison, 1982).

Martin Buber, the renowned philosopher, developed a profound interest in dialogue. His I-Thou and I-It concepts are one well-known way of viewing many different types of relationships. Three types of dialogue were recognized by Buber: (1) genuine dialogue, in which a mutual relationship grows, (2) technical dialogue, in which there is the goal of achieving objective understanding, and (3) monologue, in which one is more interested in self than in the relationship (Buber, 1967). I-Thou relationships are dialogic, while I-It relationships are monologic. It was acknowledged by Buber that communicators will tend to alternate between these types of interaction in everyday life (Friedman, 1956).

Johannesen (1971) states that an I-Thou relationship possesses the following six characteristics:

1. Mutual Openness : Behavior patterns and attitudes of those participating in dialogue possess the qualities of “mutuality, open-heartedness, directness, honesty, spontaneity, frankness, lack of pretense, nonmanipulative intent, communion, intensity, and love in the sense of responsibility of one human for another” (Johannesen,1971,p. 375).

2. Nonmanipulative : There is an absence of forcing one’s belief on another. Dialogue, in the I-Thou sense, can include influence and yet not include manipulative intent. Use of propaganda and “suggestion” are seen as manipulative approaches (Buber, 1966a, p. 112).

3. Recognition of Uniqueness : The unique individuality of the persons engaged in dialogue is acknowledged. This recognition of human uniqueness implies that each participant should be allowed equal rights and respect in the exchange (Buber, 1966a). One’s partner is not viewed as simply another similar member of a categorized group.

4. Mutual Confirmation : I-Thou encounters include mutual confirmation and awareness. “One becomes totally aware of the other rather than functioning as an observer or onlooker” (Johannesen, p. 375) Buber knew that people will not always agree but they can support and affirm each other. Awareness of one’s communication partner leads to confirmation and acceptance of “otherness”.

5. Turning Toward : There is a moving toward, turning toward, or reaching toward one’s partner in a symbolic sense. The meeting which results from this focus is the core of dialogic encounter. Buber summarized this “turning toward” as follows: “Where the dialogue is fulfilled in its being, between partners who have turned to one another in truth, who express themselves without reserve and are free of the desire for semblance, there is brought into being a memorable common fruitfulness which is to be found nowhere else” (Buber, 1966c).

6. Nonevaluativeness : In dialogue, there is an attempt to see the other’s point-of-view even if it is opposed to one’s own. “Each of the partners, even when he stands in opposition to the other, heeds, affirms, and confirms his opponent as an existing other” (Buber, 1966b)

Buber believed that true dialogic connection and I-Thou relationships could only be derived from the between –“the region of human existence that links self and others” (Anderson and Ross, 1994). This mutuality of communication resides not in either participant but in the relationship between the two (Figure 10). He believed that the essence of communication, language, and even one’s identity resides in the “between”. In communication terms, the meaning of messages is co-generated by the participants rather than being dictated by one. Thus, dialogue is directly related to the transactional model of communication discussed earlier in this chapter. The shared meaning and the relationship itself are the unique creations of both parties to the interaction.

(Figure 10: The Between)
In basic terms, monologic communication involves manipulation and control just as one would treat a physical object. It is the embodiment of an I-It relationship and obviously takes a one-way, transmission model approach to communication. Johannesen (1996) summarizes the characteristics of monologic communication in vivid terms:
A person employing monologue seeks to command, coerce, manipulate, conquer, dazzle, deceive, or exploit. Other persons are viewed as “things” to be exploited solely for the communicator’s self-serving purpose: they are not taken seriously as persons. Choices are narrowed and consequences are obscured. Focus is on the communicator’s message, not on the audience’s real needs. The core values, goals, and policies espoused by the communicator are impervious to influence exerted by receivers. Audience feedback is used only to further the communicator’s purpose. An honest response from a receiver is not wanted or is precluded. Monological communicators persistently strive to impose their truth or program on others; they have the superior attitude that they must coerce people to yield to what they believe others ought to know (p. 69).

The above description of monologue is reminiscent of the approach to communication traditionally used by public relations practitioners. Botan (1997) makes this very point in an excellent journal article advocating a more ethical, dialogic approach to public relations. He believes that the predominant model of public relations in use today is monological. He states that most strategic communication campaigns today “define their goals only from the perspective of the sponsor so they typically seek to reduce the receivers to a vehicle for achieving those needs” (p. 192). Monologic communication targets and treats others primarily to fulfill one’s own needs.

Broom and Smith (1979) observed that although there are numerous public relations paradigms and models, practitioners are basically either technicians or managers. The public relations technician is described by Botan (1997) as follows: A technician perspective on public relations (otherwise known as a ‘hired gun’) is by far the dominant model of public relations practice and teaching today…This view sees public relations not from an ethical perspective but as a set of technical journalism-based skills to be hired out. Most important among these is the ability to write press releases well, but organizing and hosting press conferences, laying out or editing publications, taking pictures, and handling media relations are also important skills. In effect, the practitioner becomes the client’s hired journalist-in-residence, or a mechanic for media relations. The most important attribute of this approach is that practitioners and their employers assume that the practitioner should be primarily a conduit for strategies, and sometimes even tactics, that have been decided elsewhere in the organization. In doing so this approach instrumentalizes publics, and to a lesser extent practitioners, and negates both the ethical role of the practitioner and the dialogic perspective . . . (p. 195).

Thus, although the technician generally does not actively plan to bypass rational decision making by being deceitful and manipulative, the inherent lack of emphasis on relationship building and dialogue in this predominantly transmission model of communication will naturally lead to monologue. As monological communicators, technicians view their communication partners and relationships simply as the means to an end rather than viewing the relationship as the end goal.

As emphasized early in this chapter. the relationship management perspective for public relations uses communication to develop, maintain, grow, and nurture mutually beneficial relationships. Pearson (1989) goes so far as to declare that “establishing and maintaining dialogical communication between a business organization and its publics is a precondition for ethical business practices” (p. 125) Both Pearson (1989) and Botan (1993) were among the early advocates for moving away from a transmission-oriented , monologic, technician model and toward a dialogic, relational manager model of public relations. Botan summarizes their view as follows: A dialogic view of public relations differs from a technician approach by being more humanistic, communication-centered, relationship-focused, and ethical. This perspective focuses on communicative relationships rather than on technical skills. Traditional approaches to public relations relegate publics to a secondary role, making them an instrument for meeting organizational policy or marketing needs; whereas, dialogue elevates publics to the status of communication equal with the organization (p. 196).

The new information technologies used for the “demassification” of messages have the potential to facilitate dialogue. The Internet is an example of one contemporary context for using new technology to “interpersonalize” the relationships between organization and their publics. Individualized marketing and target advertising combined with interactive capabilities generated by the Internet and the World Wide Web have created a communication environment in which organizations can literally interact with and provide selective information for customers via a mediated channel of communication. Even particular segments of the population are grouped into specialized areas of interest in a highly sophisticated manner based upon the user’s history of Internet selections or “hits”. For example, a new California-based site (http://www.thirdage.com) is now devoted to the special interests and needs of the first wave of “baby boomers” to be 50 years of age or older. The Third Agers, as they have been dubbed, are as net savvy as the younger Generation Xers, and they are the first of the onslaught of boomers to have reached a period of spendable cash and more free time in which to spend it. Many profit and non-profit organizations wanting to develop and maintain close ties with their publics have developed Web pages to both disseminate information and gather information on constituent needs. Similarly, other forms of electronic technology are being combined to relationalize or interpersonalize the cold, impersonal nature of technology. For instance, the banking industry has developed interactive banking centers or “virtual banks” which combine touch sensitive screens, electronic banking, two-way cameras and sound to allow interpersonal, “face-to-face” transactions between customers at remote locations and tellers at central banks.

A new wave in advertising has apparently also taken note of the paradigm shift toward an interpersonal perspective. A glance at television commercials quickly reveals a movement toward greater emphasis upon personalized relations with potential customers. For example, in 1996 the AT&T “reach out and touch someone” advertisements were so successful that many other companies have followed suit. In 1997, TCI published the following ad in newspapers throughout the United States next to a picture of an adult’s and a child’s footprints in the sand:

We know that each of our customers is an individual. And no two are alike. That’s why we make sure to never forget how mportant it is to personalize everything from the new products we offer to the services we provide. We’ve been doing it for quite some time and getting better at it every day. TCI, Now there’s a better way.

No matter how slick or interpersonal looking the ads for McDonalds, AT&T, MCI, or any other commercial enterprise, including the television infomercials which involve interviews or audience participation in introducing new products and services, the fact remains that these are monologic attempts at representing or simulating relationships rather than actually establishing on-going, dialogic relationships. These ads still follow the traditional image-creation paradigm, but they do at least show an awareness of the need for establishing closer relationships with their publics and an acknowledgment of their individuality.

Public relations and advertising specialists alike have attempted for years to make impersonal media appear as interpersonal as possible. Mass mediated messages can inform significant publics about the actions and efforts of organizations to be more responsive to them and to establish closer relational ties, but this method of communication is no substitute for the actual establishment and maintenance of relationships with individual significant publics.

These claims are only manicured images until they are backed up by actions. In Buber’s terms, they are monologue disguised as dialogue or, at the very least, technical dialogue leading to basic message understanding but not concerned with genuine dialogic relationships. In common parlance, it is easy to “talk the talk”, but the real test for public relations practitioners should be whether or not their organizations are “walking the walk”. Generation of images and “saying the right things” or “telling them what they want to hear” is not enough to establish stable, long-term relationships. Words and actions must be congruent if credibility and trust are to be built in a relationship possessing dialogue.

Monologue and dialogue take many forms in a relationship. As noted earlier in our examination of the transactional model of communication, withholding information can send a clear message. Even when attempting to not communicate by delaying a response, a profit or not-for-profit organization can be clearly communicating messages to its customers or clientele. Swift, straightforward action by the manufacturers of Tylenol immediately following a few cases of product tampering spoke volumes to a concerned public about the commitment of the company to its customers. There was no attempt at withholding or manipulating information to shirk responsibility or minimize costs associated with recalls, initiation of new safety measures, and manufacturing a more tamper-proof tablet and container.

Not all organizations are as forthright as the manufactures of Tylenol. On March 23, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez leaked 10.1 million gallons of oil into pristine Prince William Sound resulting in previously unimaginable environmental damage. The monologic attempts by Exxon to divert, distort, and delay information about the oil spill in Alaska were also heard loud and clear by the public. Furthermore, the oil company’s corporate relations department concentrated on “damage control” of the corporation’s image and placing blame rather than on making immediate efforts to save Alaskan wildlife. Liska and Cronkhite (1995) point out that corporate destroyers of the environment have used a multitude of monologic tactics to distort the reality of their actions or inactions to the point that a new term has been added to our contemporary vocabulary: “greenscam”.

One often ignored foundation stone for the public relations communication process is listening (Thomlison, 1990). Listening is a basic component of interpersonal communication and the heart of dialogue. Since a high portion of the commonly cited “public relations activities” include human interaction and response, it is inevitable that listening skills and awareness will be a vital component of “relationalizing” public relations. According to Wylie (1990), “public relations becomes involved in the whole organization, and its function of communication is no less from the public to the organization than from the organization to the public” (p. 59). Thus, public relations personnel engaged in relationship management will be heavily involved in listening to their various publics. As the Public Relations Society of America states, “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” (Wilcox, et. al., 1989, p. 5).

Case study books abound with examples of situations in which public relations practitioners did not listen to their publics or communication partners. Wylie (1990) observes that historically the shortsightedness of organizations and entire industries (health care, insurance) of not attending to the interests and needs of their publics has resulted in dire consequences. Examples of effective and sensitive, dialogic listening are less abundant but there are a growing number. For instance, listening to the need for parents of seriously ill children to have affordable housing near treatment centers led directly to the establishment of Ronald McDonald Houses. Surprisingly, even with the increasing awareness and general comments about understanding and relating more effectively to significant publics, very few specific references to listening are included in public relations texts and courses. A cursory examination of the subject index of even the most advanced public relations texts will reveal an absence of listening references. Listening texts are equally guilt of ignoring the significant impact of listening on public relations. However, there is great potential for numerous significant applications of listening theory, research, and models to public relations practice.

As advocates for public relations as relationship management continue to increase in number, dialogic communication theory will obviously play a key role in providing an interdisciplinary philosophic foundation.
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