Communication Professor Ron Gordon authors book with unique approach to group dialogue

In his new book, The Way of Dialogue: 1 + 1 = 3, Ron Gordon explores group communication that brings connection and healing.  

By Susan Enright
Close up of section of book cover, watercolored print of two silhouettes..

Ronald Gordon
Ronald Gordon

A professor of communication at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has authored a book introducing a unique perspective on productive interaction for groups, facilitators, and students of human dialogue.

In The Way of Dialogue: 1 + 1 = 3 (Wipf & Stock, 2020), Ronald Gordon presents a contrast to traditional win-lose debate and problem-solving group discussion, both of which he says narrow down a set of alternatives. Gordon posits that shared inquiry is at the heart of person-centered dialoguing, with the group inquiring together into a topic area, wondering about it out loud, without anyone trying to make anyone else wrong. In this type of dialogue, people set out to discover what it means to be truly thinking together and not in opposition to one another. This concept—that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts—sparked the 1 + 1 = 3 subtitle to the book: when generative dialogue has occurred, a dyad or group comes away having benefited from the interactive strength of the whole.

Drawing upon Einstein’s famous quote, “Imagination is more important than intelligence,” Gordon positions dialogue as a door to shared curiosity and imagination, and the keys to dialogue as being the behavioral practices of warmth, empathy, genuineness, vulnerability, imagination, improvisation, present-centeredness, equality of participation, and suspending, each receiving user-friendly attention. The contributions of eminent 20th century psychologist Carl Rogers, existential philosopher Martin Buber, and quantum physicist David Bohm are called upon to give direction to the framing of dialogue in Gordon’s primer.

“In dialogue, we’re partners on the same side, shoulder to shoulder looking out toward an unknown horizon,” says Gordon. “We connect interpersonally as we think, feel, dream, and create in a spirit of collaborative inquiry, wondering aloud with each other. We’re not out to make one another wrong or to one-up the other, but to roam terrain together, reaching out with fascination, seeing what emerges from within and between us, fusion energy, you and me joining as we. We yield to hunches, flashes, speculations, metaphors, the immediate.”

Cover of book: watercolor of two silhouettes. Ronald Gordon, The Way of Dialogue, 1+1=3He continues, “In everyday social discourse we often succumb to alternating monologues, each person delivering to the other symbols representing what they already hold to be true. But in dialogue we’re not advocating our own fixed positions, rather we’re playing as children in fields of mind. It’s not about positions, it’s about persons having fun seeing where they can get to as they spontaneously imagine their way past frozen labels, categories, and rigidities. We mind-play, we explore, we go on a hero’s adventure, we cross thresholds.”

Gordon has taught communication at UH Hilo for over 36 years. His favorite dialogue-related classroom technique is asking his students to spend a half hour as a group doing nothing but generating questions within a given topic area. The topic might be love, life, happiness, God, war and peace, death, or a multitude of other possibilities. The guideline is that no effort be made to answer any of the questions that emerge within the topic area, nor to justify or clarify or judge. The aim is simply to generate a large number of questions in this single topic area for 30 minutes. One person’s question will stimulate others, and it’s not uncommon for a group of a dozen people to raise more than a hundred questions in a half hour.

“By the end, the usual effect is that participants are no longer preoccupied with answer-getting, but instead have been overtaken by a mood of curiosity and wonderment, going not for the period but a question mark,” the communication expert explains. “The spirit of dialogue as shared inquiry is awakened, consciousness is widened, and a foundation for subsequent dialogues is laid.”

Other methods for catalyzing dialogue topics are also treated in The Way of Dialogue, as is the facilitation and processing of group dialogue.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.