The next sentence may require heavy lifting, so give it a tug.

“Dialogue accesses knowledge that is otherwise inaccessible to individuals inquiring alone.”

Whoa! Does that mean that when two or more people talk things over they learn stuff you can’t find out all by yourself?

Yep, podnuh, that’s it.

But what about the great American folk hero? The self-reliant pioneer? John Wayne?

Yep, so long, loner. It’s team time.

Highly successful companies have learned that their most valuable assets don’t appear on the books. These hidden assets are: very important conversations between creative people. Their dialogue accesses very valuable company knowledge.

There may be there huge undisclosed liabilities also. Important conversations that should take place, but don’t? Valuable knowledge isn’t accessed if people aren’t talking.

Conversation assets and hushed liabilities exist in most relationships -- in multi-national corporations, in business families, between spouses, between partners, between parents and children, between friends. Chances are that if we haven’t talked, we haven’t learned what we badly need to know.

Part of my job is to help people resolve differences that get out of hand. How often do I hear, “But we have an understanding!” only to discover that there is no such understanding. There’s a misunderstanding because they haven’t talked.

How often do I hear, “I teach by example”, but without words the teacher takes a huge risk of being misunderstood. Silence is so terribly ambiguous — and threatening. Silence can mean anything. When another is silent we assume the worst.

Words can be ambiguous too, but at least words invite questions and questions invite clarification. The strong but silent type, alas John Wayne, risks being misunderstood. Deeds alone don’t explain, can’t explain.

American individualism may have won the West, but twenty first century Americans live most of our lives in relationships — in those passageways that connect us with other people. Our productive lives play out in those passageways.

Communication connects us. Misunderstanding divides us. Loners can’t know what they could discover by dialogue. Here’s that heavy lifting again: dialogue accesses knowledge otherwise inaccessible to those inquiring alone.

“But I’m not a good talker!” I know. We all struggle to find the right words to communicate really important things. That’s why we need to explore, experiment, try, fail, then try again. Dialogue.

A heads up: Stephen Covey is right on the mark when he advises, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The more important part of dialogue is listening — the laying on of ears.

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