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  • Writer's pictureBennett Bratt

Dialogic vs. Diagnostic Coaching - Unlocking Insights Through Authentic Exchange

Want to understand your team? Put away the white lab coat. There’s nothing here to be diagnosed, labeled, or judged. Your entire world awaits exploration and understanding.

Some of my client teams I would describe as “technically oriented.” They’d describe themselves that way, too. They’re engineers and scientists who now find themselves in Leadership Teams. They eat and breathe models, categories, data, and logic flows. Intuitively, they create value by developing a clear sense of things and then pushing forward into new ideas, products, or services. Watching them parse, discern, plan, evaluate, test, and improve is a wonder.

As surely as there are cultures and languages in our world, this is one.

Many Worlds

But there are other worlds, too. Marketing, Sales, and back office functions like Finance, HR, Manufacturing, or Legal. These also come with their own logic and language, their ready explanations for “why things are” or ideas of the “way things should be.”

In fact, no matter who we are or where we come from, we all have our own way of seeing the world.

In organizations, we underestimate what this collective set of stories might mean within a single team, this swirling confluence of assumptions and symbols, perceived sinful and heroic behavior, and ready explanations and “shoulds.”

The Temptation of ‘Diagnosis’

Other coaches who engage in similar work are often seduced into diagnosing a team. Clients ask us to don the white laboratory jacket, take their vitals, and, with significant precision, assess their malady. I understand the comfort this gives the team. ‘Finally, someone who can tell us what’s wrong with us…and fix us.’

Were this possible, we’d have no dysfunctional teams in the world. There’d be a single model of team effectiveness, an assessment would be completed, and the prescriptive remedy would be applied. So neat. So simple.

But none of that is true.

Dialogue Over Diagnosis

In teams, we each bring our narrative about what “good” looks like. Our experiences - and the filters we use to interpret them - are necessarily unique. Each of us brings a single voice to the table amidst this complex cacophony. Our diverse frames of reference often collide. This is not bad – it’s just a part of being human.

In the process, the limits of diagnostic data are laid bare.

Unlocking team effectiveness means getting everyone’s narratives - their stories of what’s true - in the mix and then finding the team’s truth in the process.

Without a doubt, the best way to get this done is through dialogue.

What We Mean When We Say Dialogue

By dialogue, we mean the “seeking shared meaning through authentic, curious conversation, particularly listening.”

By indexing first into dialogue, we honor our unique experience among everyone’s team experiences. We make room for others’ experiences. We begin to find the precious constellations of strengths we bring and become aware of our individual and shared weaknesses and blind spots.

Yes, there’s room for a model and data (see this). They’re effective springboards that help us gain insights as we hear each other’s stories. They create clarity and make our conversations more efficient and effective. But any team model and the data that goes along with it are woefully incomplete without rich dialogue and meaning-making.


Those who own their story can own their future. Skip the fantasy of diagnosing your team. Rather, ask the most generous questions you can imagine. These will unlock the conversations that create real value. Own your story and put it in the middle of the table. Listen more. Luxuriate in a dialogue that stirs your soul.

And then turn that newfound insight into pragmatic action that drives what you most deeply need in your team.

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