Debate vs. dialogue: How to understand the difference

Life is forever changing. 

New situations await just around the corner; new ways of working, new hours, new patterns. Yet, all this change creates more uncertainty. And uncertainty can create conflict.

As these changes come to pass, many employees will find themselves engaged in difficult or sensitive conversations.

It can be easy, when having these conversations, to get into a debate with other colleagues in order to create decisions, plans or just get moving forwards. Some of us have become highly skilled at debate and use it as a default approach. But beware the debater!

Debating regularly results in whoever argues best, wins. This can create tension and damage relationships very quickly, as in debate someone wins and the other loses. We all know the feeling of being on the losing side from time to time.

In today’s world of greater tolerance and understanding, with many of us seeking to show more kindness and compassion during this intense time of change, having these conversations becomes about carefully choosing dialogue over debate.

Whats the difference between a debate and a dialogue?

Well, as described by Daniel Yankelovich in his book ‘The magic of dialogue‘, debate and dialogue can be categorised by the following statements.

Assumes there is a right answer – and I have it.Assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together, they can craft a solution.
Is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side wrong.Is collaborative – participants work together toward common understanding.
Is about winning.Is about exploring common good.
Entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.Entails listening to understand and find meaning and agreement.

I defend my assumptions as truth.

I reveal my assumptions for re-evaluation.
I critique the other side’s position.I re-examine all positions.

I defend my own views against those of others.

I admit that others’ thinking can improve my own.

I search for weaknesses in others’ positions.

I search for strength and value in other’s positions.

I seek a conclusion or vote that endorses my position.I discover new options.

Final thoughts

Shouldn’t we all be working harder at dialoguing?

When you truly connect and dialogue with someone, you will find that it can enrich your relationship, encouraging that person to open up to you and really share their ideas and thoughts. This in turn can strengthen your relationship. It takes work and it can be hard to do at first, but once you get that dialogue going, you will find both of you are better communicators for it.

So, as we push forward into these uncertain times of change and upheaval, let’s all try to be aware of whether we are dialoguing with our colleagues or debating.

Are you a great dialoguer already or could you improve your game?

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