Dialogue and two-way symmetrical communication in Public Relations theory and practice
Theunissen, P; Rahman, KA
Dialogue is often equated to two-way symmetrical communication, and over the years the concept has been subsumed into the systems theory. Textbook authors make cursory references to “dialogue” and “conversation” while focusing mainly on achieving “symmetry” in the organisation-public relationship, suggesting that symmetry is the ideal state of public relations and that dialogue contributes to achieving this state. As a result they inadvertently perpetuate the myth that dialogue is not only the preferred mode of public relations practice but that it also leads to “agreement”. Ironically, none—if any—provide practical guidelines as to how dialogue can be achieved. Scholars of dialogue often point out that dialogue requires not only a willingness to participate but also the suspension of control and focus on predetermined outcomes. In real terms this appears an unrealistic goal to strive towards in the practice of public relations. As part of an ongoing study into dialogue in public relations theory and practice, this paper explores concepts and expectations in the dialogic process, lamenting the lack of clear definitions and principles communicated in popular Public Relations textbooks. It also reports on an exploratory survey among public relations practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region to identify prevailing views of the use of dialogue and two-way communication and guide further qualitative investigation.