Reflective decisions: the use of Socratic dialogue in managing organizational change



Publication Details

Skordoulis, R. & Dawson, P. M. (2007). Reflective decisions: the use of Socratic dialogue in managing organizational change. Journal of Management History, 45 (6), 991-1007.


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to show that too often decisions concerning change are made on the basis of partial understanding, limited data and unreflective assumptions about people and organizations. In the discussion of the Socratic dialogue the aim is to uncover a useful method for ensuring more reflective decision making that involves active participation of employees on the receiving end of change. Design/methodology/approach – Although dialogue is used in management processes today, it is contended that the Socratic dialogue is particularly useful in making sense of complex change processes. Data drawn from research conducted in two UK higher education institutions are used to illustrate how lack of knowledge and understanding often pervades and constrains change, and how techniques of Socratic dialogue can be used to secure higher levels of employee involvement and commitment to change. Findings – It is argued that Socratic dialogue can be used as a practical tool to facilitate “participative” change and contend that further research is required to develop the use of this method as a qualitative research instrument for uncovering data on processes of change in organizations. Originality/value – If practised consistently by organizational members, the Socratic techniques can lead to a more concrete understanding of the complexities of changing organizations. It is a collective process of change through critical questioning and, as such, it lends itself to further exploration on the part of both change managers and qualitative researchers for its uses as a diagnostic and research instrument.

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