One of the most important components of a relationship-building encounter is conversation, based on genuine dialogue. As Martin Buber wrote in his 1930 essay, Dialogue, what often passes for conversation is nothing more than “monologue disguised as dialogue.”
Conversation, and the difference between monologue and dialogue, has recently been a frequent topic of discussion with my clients and workshop participants. This opportunity to spend so much time conversing about conversation has clarified things for me, and here’s what I think:
In genuine dialogue, neither person is hiding an inner monologue. You are not talking to yourself in the background. You are talking with each other, and only with each other.
It’s not that you can’t be thinking while you are talking. Of course you are. But are your thoughts directed into the conversation, or are they part of a competing, plotting, inner monologue? Does the other person have a second voice in his head, hidden from you yet obscuring the true meaning of what you hear him say?
This is the intersection between being fully present and conversation. If you are talking to yourself, you can’t be in true dialogue with another person.