Sally Huang Nissen, a consultant and trainer specializing in diversity issues has provided us with what we need to know about a well-honed tool for bonding across cultures, races and genders. Modestly minimizing her own contribution, she begins by telling us of the rich history that Dialog Groups have had in the diversity movement, and of the benefits they have brought to those participating in them. She outlines the philosophy and psychology that create the principles of dialogue. She clearly distinguishes dialogue in terms of its attitudes and behaviors from other forms of discourse such as discussion and debate.
Following this solid introduction, she helps us understand the power and dynamics of the group engaged in dialogue and its stages of development. She tells us how to tap into the particular potential for synergy that people bring with them to group work.
From this point on, Dialog Groups becomes even more of a hands-on manual for the creation and direction of the groups themselves. It addresses how to form them and create the norms and ingredients for success.
The heart of the book lies in its ability to educate us in what it means to be an effective leader of such a group. Nissen does this first by examining the qualities of and formation of effective group leadership and then giving us a step-by-step agenda for initiating, managing, maintaining and bringing dialogue groups to a successful conclusion. The book is experience-based and continually harkens back to the hands-on learnings that Nissen and fellow practitioners have brought to the process of building multicultural community through dialogue groups.
The book contains several useful appendices: a profile form for enrolling participants and a self-observation form for monitoring the group's own effectiveness. There is a leader survey, which is more of a feedback form on the effectiveness of the dialog process itself, and an impact survey that enables the user to articulate how the dialogue group has affected him or her.
Throughout the book we feel the value-added of diversity as Nissen draws on her own Chinese-American heritage as well as occasionally from the work of her brother Chung Liang Huang (familiarly, Al Huang), well known in the history of the human potential movement and among Gestalt Practitioners.
At a time when e-Learning takes all the headlines, this is an important book because it is about those qualities of training, leadership and group process that will abide in face-to-face encounters and are both essential and irreplaceable to human progress in both the workplace and the larger society.