Debate vs. Dialogue

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines Dialogue as “a conversation between two or more persons, an exchange of ideas and opinions.” When we are stuck in our own worldview during a conflict, we can slip into a debate rather than a dialogue. In a debate, rather than listening to understand the other person, we listen so that we can refute their ideas; our goal becomes winning – rather than transforming – the conflict.

The following graphic contrasting debate and dialogue comes from diversity coach Holiday Phillips. Dialogue is the goal!

debate vs dialogue, image description linked to in caption
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Debate vs. dialogue

debate dialogue
Assumes there is one right answer (and you have it) Assumes others have pieces of an answer and you can craft a solution together
Style is combative, attempting to prove the “other side” wrong Style is collaborative, seeks to find common understanding
Listens to find flaws and counter argue Listens to understand
Critiques only the other position Critiques all views, including your own
Defends your own views at all costs Allows others’ thinking to improve your own
Encourages search for differences Encourage search for basic agreement
Creates a winner/loser and discourages further conversation Creates an open end, leaving the topic open for further discussion
Involves no focus on feelings, often actively seeking to belittle or offend Involves a real concern for the other, doesn’t actively seek to alienate or offend

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Media Attribution

Debate vs. dialogue by Jeseye Tanner is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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