Conversations get hijacked quite often. In the middle of a conversation someone insists only one view can be correct—theirs. They might proactively try to convince you. They might state their view in a condescending way, implying everyone should already know it. They might scoff or roll their eyes at any opposing view.
To keep conversations on track and achieve the desired outcomes, understanding the differences between dialogues, discussions and debates helps.
Dialogue: Conversations That Exchange Ideas and Opinions
Dialogues simply allow people to exchange ideas and opinions. Sharing is the intent, not convincing. They present wonderful opportunities to learn and grow. Participants share their perspectives and can choose whether or not to change their opinions based on what they hear.
Discussion: Conversations That Also Exchange Ideas
Much the same as dialogues, discussions share ideas and opinions. Discussions focus on a detailed examination of the different points of view, often resulting in a higher level of intensity. Developing a deeper understanding of all the views helps lead to better decisions.
The terms dialogue and discussion are frequently used interchangeably.
Debate: Conversations That Argue Viewpoints
Debates rise to a more formal level than discussions or dialogues. Debates are arguments about opposing viewpoints. Debaters attempt to convince others to adopt their point of view.
These days many casual conversations descend to “right-fighting” when people insist on their view. These turn into informal debates and lead to broken relationships and polarization.
Which Style Works Best?
Your purpose will determine what style to use.
At a recent meeting the leader asked for ideas on how to do something. Georgia proposed an idea for tightening the structure to promote better results. Isabel interrupted saying that would never work for people like her. Since the purpose of the discussion was to gather ideas, Isabel’s interrupting to debate interrupted the flow of ideas and shut down further discussion.
Dialogues and discussions tend to bring about win-win conversations. People feel safe expressing opinions and points of view. All views add to the understanding.
Debates tend to bring about win-lose conversations. People may not feel safe expressing their views or opinions. Since the intent is to convince others to a certain way of thinking, manipulation may occur. It helps to follow a more formal protocol to maintain civility and order in a debate.
What Does All This Mean For Civility?
Maintaining civility should remain a priority. Conversations that demean individuals create more problems. Everyone forms opinions based on their life experiences and we generally cannot know all the influences. When you speak and listen in a manner that protects everyone’s dignity, you open the door to more meaningful conversations and strengthen relationships.