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There are different forms of discussion. The debate and dialogue are most popular ones. However there are different approaches and goals in these forms of discussion.


Dialogue is a special kind of discourse employing distinctive skills to achieve mutual understanding and mutual trust and respect. To explain dialogue we like to contrast it with debate, a more common form of discourse. The goal of debate is winning; the goal of dialogue is learning.

Dialogue is about learning: Debate is about winning:
Assuming that others have pieces of the answer Assuming that there is one right answer – and you have it
Collaborative: attempting to find common understanding Combative: attempting to prove the other side wrong
About finding common ground About winning
Listening to understand and find a basis for agreement Listening to find flaws and make counter-arguments
Bringing up your assumptions for inspection and discussion Defending your assumptions
Re-examining all points of view Criticizing the other side’s point of view
Admitting that others’ thinking can improve your own Defending your views against others
Searching for strengths and value in the other position Searching for weaknesses and flaws in the other position
Discovering new possibilities and opportunities Seeking an outcome that agrees with your position


The purpose of dialogue is to understand and learn from one another. (You cannot “win” a dialogue.)

  1. All dialogue participants speak for themselves, not as representatives of groups or special interests.
  2. Treat everyone in a dialogue as an equal: leave role, status and stereotypes at the door.
  3. Be open and listen to others even when you disagree, and suspend judgment. (Try not to rush to judgment).
  4. Search for assumptions (especially your own).
  5. Listen with empathy to the views of others: acknowledge you have heard the other especially when you disagree.
  6. Look for common ground.
  7. Express disagreement in terms of ideas, not personality or motives.
  8. Keep dialogue and decision-making as separate activities. (Dialogue should always come before decision-making.)
  9. All points of view deserve respect and all will be recorded (without attribution).

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