Dialogue is very different than our usual ways of
communicating. The specifics of dialogue can be easily
forgotten, so it helps to review the principles.
Dialogue is collaborative: two or more
sides work together toward common understanding.
Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other
and attempt to prove each other wrong.
In dialogue, finding common ground is the
goal. In debate, winning is the goal.
In dialogue, one listens to the other side(s)
in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement.
In debate, one listens to the other side in order
to find flaws and to counter its arguments.
Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes
a participant's point of view. Debate affirms
a participant's own point of view.
Dialogue reveals assumptions for reevaluation.
Debate defends assumptions as truth.
Dialogue causes introspection on one's
own position. Debate causes critique of the
Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching
a better solution than any of the original solutions.
Debate defends one's own positions as the best solution
and excludes other solutions.
Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude:
an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
Debate creates a closed-minded attitude, a determination
to be right.
In dialogue, one submits one's best thinking,
knowing that other people's reflections will help
improve it rather than destroy it. In debate,
one submits one's best thinking and defends it against
challenge to show that it is right.
Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending
one's beliefs. Debate calls for investing
wholeheartedly in one's beliefs.
In dialogue, one searches for basic agreements.
In debate, one searches for glaring differences.
In dialogue, one searches for strengths
in the other positions. In debate, one searches
for flaws and weaknesses in the other positions.
Dialogue involves a real concern for the
other person and seeks to not alienate or offend.
Debate involves a countering of the other position
without focusing on feelings or relationship and often
belittles or deprecates the other person.
Dialogue assumes that many people have
pieces of the answer and that together they can put
them into a workable solution. Debate assumes
that there is a right answer and that someone has
Dialogue remains open-ended. Debate
implies a conclusion.
Some Guidelines for Dialogue
Listen with compassion and empathy from the heart.
Avoid quick judgment or blame. Control the urge to argue,
counter, dissuade, or fix.
Listen with equal respect to everyone, regardless of
status or roles.
Listen for each person's special contribution to deeper
Listen from a place of learning rather than confirmation
of current thinking.
Listen to the quality of your own listening.
Listen for common threads from the collective, from
the community, from the whole - the collective mind.
Listen actively. Try not to let your mind wander or
think about what you're going to say while others are
speaking. Avoid interrupting.
Speak from your heart, from your authentic life experience,
from the moment. When possible, use "I" statements,
instead of "we," "you," or "they."
Be willing to contribute even half-formed, unfinished
ideas or thoughts. They may be the seeds of new insights
and intelligence for the group.
Ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity, wondering,
or not knowing, rather than to make a point.
Speak when you are truly "moved" rather than
to fill a void. Allow for silence when appropriate.
Share air time. Try not to dominate the conversation.
Use considerate language. Avoid using labels whenever
Acknowledge your new insights gained from the group.
Speak into the circle, into the whole group, into the
stream of growing experience and shared meaning.
Avoid cross-talk, to avoid excluding others and turning
them into spectators of one-on-one interaction. When
you are silent, indicate your listening presence from
time to time in the group, verbally or by eye contact
Feel free to express your feelings when you have been
offended or hurt.
Focus on breakthrough-learning rather than being right.
Seek to invent a common future with shared meaning,
transcending old supposed limitations.
Move back from conclusions, toward observations and
discovery. Notice what you're noticing and what meaning
you're making of it.
Pay attention to your judgments, assumptions, and certainties.
Hold them lightly, explore and examine them, and consider
alternatives that may be just as useful.
Be present to what's happening inside you as well as
in the group.
Be involved while being detached -- open to outcomes
but not attached to specific outcomes.
Allow for pauses and silence -- reflection has its
Look for deeper levels of understanding. What is the
"meaning" of something to the other person?
When there is a disagreement, keep talking. Explore
the disagreement and search for areas of agreement --
Be open to changing your mind. This will help you really
listen to others' views.
Respect confidentiality. If you talk about your dialogue
experience to people outside of the group, refrain from
using people's names or sharing their personal experiences.
With thanks to Libby and Len Traubman and the Jewish-Palestinian
Living Room Dialogue Group. www.traubman.igc.org