What’s the Difference Between Dialogue and Discussion?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 11, 2013

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there are limits to how far team members can take their opinions.  All too often, they forget to encourage a healthy dialogue and turn the conversation into a debate of one idea versus another.  Taken to the extreme,  they can dominate the discussion, hoping to gain support from the majority.

shutterstock_277372325In his groundbreaking book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge makes a powerful distinction between dialogue and discussion: In a discussion, opposing views are presented and defended and the team searches for the best view to help make a team decision.  In a discussion, people want their own views to be accepted by the group.  The emphasis is on winning rather than on learning.

In dialogue, people freely and creatively explore issues, listen deeply to each other and suspend their own views in search of the truth.  People in dialogue have access to a larger pool of knowledge than any one person enjoys. The primary purpose is to enlarge ideas, not to diminish them.  It’s not about winning acceptance of a viewpoint, but exploring every option and agreeing to do what is right.

Dialogue helps teams to open closed subjects, remove blocks to communication and heal rifts.  To build a climate that supports dialogue, try:

  • Asking Questions.  Clarify what others are saying and ask others if they understand what you are saying.
  • Making Suggestions.  Build on your team mates’ ideas.  Acknowledge their contributions and integrate their ideas into your suggestions.
  • Encouraging Others.  Not only have the courage to express your ideas, but have the consideration to listen to others.  Make it a point to encourage others to contribute at least one new idea.
  • Asking for Feedback.  Ask others what they think of your ideas and give constructive feedback on other people’s ideas.
  • Looking for Common Ground.  As people share and build on their ideas, look beyond the positions to the deeper issues.  Identify areas of agreement or “common ground” to serve as a foundation for positive discussion.

Teams must balance dialogue with useful discussion. In dialogue, different views are explored.  In a healthy discussion that follows, they easily converge into a common decision about the right action to take.


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Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues. 

Recent Articles:

Creating Communications Connections

7 Steps to Having a Difficult Conversation

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