Christiane C.Rohn and Ulrike Sutrich


This chapter seeks to establish and explain the links between dialogue, dialectic knowledge and decision-making processes in management and organizations. Modern business is frequently characterized by the fast speed of projects and large numbers of stakeholders from different cultures and environments. Since this results in increasingly complex decision making-processes, contemporary business practice needs effective ways of dealing with increasingly contradictory realities (Heintel & Krainer, 2010). How can a company reconcile, for example, its goal of short term revenues with a sustainable strategy for the future? A dialogue-based approach which allows the parties involved to listen to each other and gives transparency to their arguments can be helpful and can be boosted by linking dialogue to dialectic knowledge. Dialectics implies a way of dealing with different views, contradictions and conflicts (Pietschmann, 2002). Dialectic should not be seen as a method, but as a way of thinking that does not know where it will end up, but is open to the possible results.

Dialogue and dialectic knowledge are important elements in organizational communication and learning. Indeed, dialogue is part of the core discipline of "team learning" in Peter Senge's (1990) seminal learning organization framework and features strongly in Edgar Schein's (1993) work on culture and organizational learning as well as in Kurt Lewin's (1939) insights into social space. Dialogue opens a social space—in itself an important phase in decision processes. It is also an enabler in organizational transformations working on the dialectic between the now and the then, that is, the current situation in an organization and its future development. Thus decision makers are introduced to new perspectives on how to balance the inherent contradictions in their organizations (Timel, 2009).


The more complex the organizational world becomes, the more people in all parts of organizations have to remain in permanent touch with the essence of their professional work: the decision-making process. "Judgment is the core, the nucleus, of leadership. With good judgment, little else matters. Without it, nothing else matters" (Tichy & Bennis, 2007, p. 5) Yet judgment is also "the proverbial elephant on the dining room table that no one dares to speak about" (p. 5).

When we look at decision making in organizations, we have to look at the interplay of people in their professional roles, at teams and networks, and at the complete organizational system in its social and environmental context (Sutrich, 2006).

What Is the Problem With Decision Making in Organizations?

In general, the propensity of organizations to learn from their past decisions and decision-making processes is very poor (Ackoff, 2007). Nobody in the organizational world would seriously deny that a joint, focused awareness on better decision processes has the potential to generate aligned energy, increase the number of win-win situations and produce better results. There is clearly a growing need for organizations to opt more frequently for real decision making instead of just drifting, that is, carrying on with business as usual.

An erratic higher risk level in a global context urgently deserves a new and more profound approach to how we look at, sense and frame decision making, and how we go about investing in and closing the gap between the paramount importance and limited conscious awareness of personal and organizational learning.

Why Is It So Important to Focus on the Decision-Making Process in Its Entirety?

People who establish and focus on the complete decision process quite simply make better decisions. People who see decision making as a multistep process no longer find themselves staring spellbound—either as culprits or victims—as they wait for an apparently magical hammer to fall. They know that the decision process has to run through several phases and that decisions cannot be made in isolation, but are part of a complete process that must be followed from beginning to end. The best decisions are those that can be turned into focused action. They are best made in a dynamic process that balances the need for speed, sustainability, simplicity and variety. Only then can decision makers maintain their ability to act in the best possible way and achieve the best results.

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