At ELP we work with the Ten Commandments of Dialogue. The first is that we create a safe environment by doing three things: adhering to the Chatham House Rule, facilitating the Roundtable Dialogues and addressing each other on a first-name basis. Addressing people informally creates intimacy and familiarity, which lend depth to the dialogues. It lowers barriers and diminishes distances.
ELP adheres strictly to the Chatham House Rule: ‘When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.’ Participants can share the content of the conversation or their personal experiences with others, as long as they don’t reveal who said it. This principle allows participants to speak their minds without having to be afraid that things end up outside of the confines of the meeting. The Chatham House Rule can also be applied for in-company dialogues. When teams or groups of colleagues engage into a dialogue, the conversation becomes richer when every participant feels free to speak his or her mind without having to be afraid that anything will backfire. Colleagues need to trust each other that it is safe to become personal. It therefore helps to agree that everything that is said will remain within the confines of the meeting and won’t be repeated at the coffee machine. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It is even better to agree to ask permission if people want to come back to what their colleague said at the table. For example: ‘You said something about the leadership style of Henry at the table. May I ask you something about that?’
Moreover, ELP’s Roundtables stand out because they’re moderated. Each roundtable has an ELP Moderator to make life easier for participants. The realization that someone is taking care and responsibility for the process allows participants to relax and to focus on the content of the conversation as well as their internal process.
The ELP moderators’ most important contribution is to be there as they are. The art of moderating lies more in their being than in their doing. By being there and devoting all of their attention and awareness, they help to create a ‘safe container’ in which the dialogue can unfold. Creating that container, by the way, starts well before the meeting. ELP prepares these meetings meticulously.