Changing debates into dialogues

Have you ever been in a conversation that ended-up being more of a confrontation?

Do you often feel misunderstood, or even angry that people just don’t seem to get you or your point of view?

Do you spend time thinking about what you wished you had said?

Do you find yourself thinking about what you are going to say next, rather than listening to what others are saying?

I know I have! Each of these situations may be related to our tendency to engage in “debates” more often than dialogues. In fact, our conversational style may actually be preventing communication rather than enhancing it.

If you are interested in exploring and/or improving your conversational style, here are some thoughts on the subject. This chart was posted in 2011 on the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation web site. I believe it was developed for group and organized discussions – but I  could be wrong 🙂  I do think it can be applied to any and all conversations – personal and otherwise, and may be a great way to start a dialogue about dialoguing. Let me know what you think!

As you read it, take a moment to think about how you and your spouse or significant other converse, and how you settle differences or share information, ideas and opinions with co-workers, family and friends. And, remember that the one of the fastest ways to change a situation, is to change our role in it! It’s all part of being the change we want to see . . .

Dialogue Debate

Collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding

Oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong
Finding common ground is the goal Winning is the goal
One listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement One listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments
Participants speak for themselves as individuals whose own experiences differ even from others on their “side.” Their behavior is likely to vary from stereotypic images others may hold of them. Participants tend to be leaders known for
advocating a carefully crafted position. Participants’ behavior tends to conform to   stereotypes.
Participant’s point of view is enlarged and possibly changed Participant’s point of view is affirmed
The atmosphere is one of safety; facilitators propose, get agreement on, and enforce clear ground rules to enhance safety and promote respectful exchange. The atmosphere is threatening; attacks and interruptions are expected by participants and are usually permitted by moderators.
Assumptions are revealed for re-evaluation Assumptions are defended as truth
Introspection of one’s own position occurs Critique of the other position occurs
There is the possibility of reaching a better solution than any existing solutions One’s own positions are defended as the best solution; other solutions are excluded   and new solutions are not considered
An open-minded attitude is created; participants express uncertainties as well as deeply held beliefs. A close-minded attitude is created; participants are determined to be right and express unswerving commitment to a point of view, approach, or idea.
Participants Search for basic agreements Participants search for glaring differences
Participants search for strengths in other positions Participants search for flaws and weaknesses in other positions
Holds that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution

Holds that there is a right answer and that someone has it

One comment

  1. Getting lots of positive feedback about debates vs dialogue post, here’s another thought I liked from a handout created by Barry Winbolt, 2010,

    Dialogue: Treats convenversation as a dialogue.

    Debate: Treats conversation as a transaction.


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