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Deepening the Dialogue: Appreciating
Collective Resonance

by John Renesch


When I began The Presidio Dialogues in October 2000, I knew that if people didn’t start talking about the really important matters the future of the world was looking pretty bleak. I knew that the work experience had become pretty well sanitized of any meaningful conversation beyond what served to improve the short-term corporate bottom line. I had no idea that my colleagues and I would become expert in hosting conversations that could get so deep, so quickly, especially when the people in the dialogue are strangers to one another.

So many facilitated dialogues which I have experienced could be better described as “managed conversations.” Someone trained in some facilitation technique runs the meeting, interrupting the flow from time to time to insert some instruction or request. People in these conversations are used to a variety of ways of being together, including brainstorming sessions, support groups, networking meetings or ordinary social conversation. Sometimes people engage one another in several of these modes at once.

Over the past few years I have learned so much about dialogue. First of all, it is natural to being human. With our “industrialized” society, it seems we've lost our facility to engage in dialogue naturally. Instead, we have been conditioned to engage one another in so many other ways that we’ve lost touch with what once came naturally.

What passes for conversation these days is point-making (or impressing others with our accomplishments or credentials), downloading of information (lectures, panels, Q&A), convincing of some sort (selling something, including our point-of-view), or talking about some third thing (triangulating some other person, movie, issue or object). Very rarely in these types of conversations do people really get to know each other. Very rarely are these conversations generative, where new thinking is evoked. People may get convinced, informed, or noticed but it is rare for people to come away from these conversations having felt touched or truly inspired.

The human spirit knows what it needs when given rein to seek it out. There is a whole movement now among inquiring souls in achieving meaningful connections so essential to the human spirit. Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, Conversation Cafe's, Bohmian dialogue groups, Thought Leader Gatherings, salons of various sorts, even Internet chat rooms give evidence for the human need for genuine dialogue other than the results-based, outcome-oriented conversations so prevalent in our modern world.

An important but largely unappreciated quality in true dialogue is the energy level of the group as a whole. I like to call this “resonance.” When a group is truly open and engaged in the thread of group inquiry there is equal value in both the listening as well as the speaking. When new ideas are being born and the speaking is spontaneous, the energy is usually high and the resonance is quite palpable for someone skilled in sensing it. When a person enters the conversation to promote, or grandstand, or tell a story, you can feel the group resonance drop. As host for most of The Presidio Dialogues, I can see people’s attention wander when this happens. The person speaking is oblivious to it since he or she is so ‘out-of-tune’ with the group resonance and unaware of the effect they are having. Then, as host, it is my job to intervene.

Recently, I learned of Renee Levi’s doctoral dissertation entitled “Group Magic: An Inquiry into Experiences of Collective Resonance.”

She has posted a summary of her larger 315-page dissertation, completed in December 2003, at . It was very exciting to learn that someone had studied this phenomenon and researched case histories about how it shows up.

Levi defines Collective Resonance as “a felt sense of energy, rhythm, or intuitive knowing that occurs in a group of human beings and positively affects the way they interact toward a common purpose.” She goes on to explain, “The word resonance means “re-sound,” which indicates a flow of vibration between two things, in this case two or more people. This study focuses on this aspect of group dynamics. Greater awareness and amplification of this level of connection between people and between groups and other, larger forces, may help us find our way back to the knowledge and experience of our fundamental connections to one another and our environment and make greater progress toward our common human goals than we have been able to do using idea exchange and analytic problem-solving alone.”

The idea isn’t exactly new. German philosopher Martin Buber wrote about “the between" energies in the early part of the 20th Century. In the 1930s, Alcoholic Anonymous discovered a magic that happened when complete strangers with similar motivations got together within a shared context.

I highly recommend reading the summary of Levi’s dissertation at the website linked above if you are interested in the new “High Tech” – a new frontier for human evolution as we learn to engage with one another in deep and meaningful ways and learn how to transform the systems that we created, to take back our power to choose a future consciously rather than sitting back resigned to accepting whatever future happens to fall out of the messes we’ve collectively created for ourselves. I particularly like Levi’s reference to a larger purpose for her dissertation:

“Our selves, our organizations, and our world, I believe, have gotten out of balance, out of harmony. One of the key elements of systems theory is balance: all parts are essential to optimal systemic functioning, and a state of harmony keeps it together. The key element in the Eastern philosophical traditions is harmony or balance. In my opinion, we have put too much emphasis on cognitive processes to make decisions and solve problems — the rational, linear part of our human systems, personal and organizational. We have ignored a vast resource, our physical selves, which continually access information from the environment surrounding us and inform our work together. To learn from this resource we need to begin to listen deeply to ourselves, to others, and to the universe around us.”

I am clear that our better future can only be created by radical transformation worldwide, not incremental changes. While I do not have the magic recipe for bringing about this transformation, I do know that being in authentic dialogue with one another is a key ingredient to bringing it about. Appreciating resonance and deepening the dialogue amongst human beings will make the difference.


The Author

John Renesch

John Renesch is a businessman-turned-futurist and international keynote speaker. A veteran of over 30 years as a businessman, he has since published a dozen books challenging the way we think about work, leadership and the future. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. He offers a free monthly newsletter, FutureShapersMonthly. For additional information about John and the services he offers, visit .

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Copyright 2004 by John Renesch. All rights reserved.

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