One of the principles of dialogue is coming to the table as equals, no matter if you're a member of a powerful or marginalized community. Facilitators treat everyone the same and are encouraged not to show preferences or give certain privileges.
While this is a noble ideal, it's implementation is impacted by the fact that power structures do exist beyond the dialogue table and can have a major influence on a given seminar or process.
For some, the act of dialogue can appear to favour those who are in a position of power, often at the expense of weaker, marginalized groups. This can happen when a victimized group (or a group that sees itself
as victimized) perceives the 'equality' of the dialogue table as a kind of lie that doesn't match up to reality.
There are also certain groups that use dialogue as a way of legitimizing themselves and delegitimizing another group's desire to keep their distance. It can be a way of creating an impression that 'everything is all right' and 'all we need to do is talk,' when the weaker group may desire action, justice, revenge or protection.
For some, there is also the issue of gaslighting
to be dealt with. Gaslighting is a kind of psychological manipulation in which one side attempts to make the other side doubt their perceptions, feelings, memory or sanity. The legitimate act of challenging someone's narratives makes someone vulnerable in a similar way, and it may be difficult for marginalized groups (or anyone who sees themselves as under threat) to distinguish narrative work from gaslighting.
Dialogue processes are a form of positive peace
, an approach to conflict resolution that requires active engagement with the sources of a conflict. Success is defined when those underlying factors are resolved and the resulting conflict is no longer necessary.
The opposite approach, negative peace
, responds to conflict by seeking to identify and neutralize a threat, often as soon as possible. It is usually chosen by groups/people who actively see themselves as under threat. Dialogue facilitators or recruiters, as advocates of an approach that favours engagement over protection, can be seen as part of that threat.
Dialogue is not impossible in these kinds of situations, and having an awareness of who feels under threat, and what the nature of that threat is, can help with the creation of a safe space that's relevant to the needs in play.