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Is Dialogue Dead?

Our world seems to be comprised of extremes lately, our weather, our political discourse, our environmental viewpoints.  Debate is rampant, protesting is strong, and dialogue is diminishing.

Let’s take a quick look at the following dictionary definitions:

Debate – argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner

Dialogue – discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.

Those definitions are miles apart and stepping into these two modes of conversation can look and feel very different. Debate is about arguing your point and pressing to win. Dialogue is about stepping back and listening first.  It’s about acknowledging the other party and bringing them along in the conversation to build understanding.  That doesn’t seem to be happening as often in our world today, at least it’s not front and center in the headlines.

Fear creates strong reactions and emotions.  Our global environment is very uncertain right now increasing fear-based responses and making dialogue difficult. Our flight/fight/freeze mode or Amygdala Hijack is overtaking the logical thinking part of our brain. We may not be wired for dialogue when we are under stress.  Where might this leave us as a society?

Here is a comparison of Debate and Dialogue excerpted from Leading through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities. Copyright 2006 Mark Gerzon


Debate Dialogue
Assuming that there is a right answer, and that you have it Assuming that many people have pieces of the answer
Combative: participants attempt to prove the other side wrong Collaborative: participants work together toward common understanding
About winning About exploring common ground
Listening to find flaws and make counter-arguments Listening to understand, find meaning and agreement
Defending our own assumptions as truth Revealing our assumptions for re-evaluation
Seeing two sides of an issue Seeing all sides of an issue
Defending one’s own views against those of others Admitting that others’ thinking can improve one’s own.
Searching for flaws and weaknesses in others’ positions Searching for strengths and value in others’ positions
By creating a winner and a loser, discouraging further discussion Keeping the topic even after the discussion formally ends
Seeking a conclusion or vote that ratifies your position Discovering new options, not seeking closure


Some of our world leaders may not be a shining example of Leading through Conflict right now, but I’m hoping that organizational leaders and natural leaders in the workplace, regardless of their position can focus on creating strong dialogue to find solutions to the difficult issues that we are facing right now.  I’ve seen glimpses of it and will continue to support organizations to undertake these open conversations. The positive results of these dialogues continue to inspire and provide hope that dialogue is not dead, and we can turn our differences into opportunity.

Workplace Fairness can support your organization to undertake healthy dialogue and find resolution to difficult issues.

How we can Support – Lead Teams in Conflict

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