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What's the difference between Dialog and Discussion?

They are not the same thing.

In brief, “the difference between dialogue and discussion is that dialogue is a conversation or other form of discourse between two or more individuals while discussion is conversation or debate concerning a particular topic.”

One site gives a more detailed explanation and proposes a process:

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.

A Dialogue Circle

Following material is copyright ©2019, Judy Otto,

What is Dialogue?

Dialogue is a way of sharing and hearing information, thoughts, and feelings without necessarily having to make a decision. It may be used as a way to collect such data, and often the appropriate decision emerges through the dialogue.

Dialogue is outside of our familiar forms of conversation, discussion, and debate.

“Speakers can speak from a deep place without concern that they will be interrupted, criticized or judged. Thus they can be more truthful, creative, and less self-conscious. Listeners may listen free from the need to construct responses, be intelligent, witty, or critical. They are able to take information in and not respond, thus relaxing and opening to the full and true content of the speaker’s message.” (Schecter and Faithorn 1986)

How to set up a Dialogue Circle

The group sits in a circle. The facilitator introduces the Dialogue process (sometimes called Council process), proposes and/or helps the group generate guidelines (see next page), and introduces the topic for Dialogue, i.e. the issue or question for which the group has been convened.

After the facilitator opens the dialogue, the person to her/his left speaks, and then the next person to the left, and so on. Anyone may “pass”, i.e. not speak when it’s her/his turn. Until the current speaker is finished, no one else may speak, interrupt, or question that speaker.

A time frame should be set, and as many “rounds” as necessary completed within that time frame. A new round should not be begun if there isn’t sufficient time left for everyone in the circle to speak. If some time is left, continue the Dialogue in a less structured manner, i.e. people speaking when moved to do so vs. going around the circle. Be careful, though, to observe the same guidelines.

How to be in a Dialogue group

While waiting for your turn, try not to rehearse what you will say. If you do rehearse, you will not be able to listen to those speaking before you. Also, someone else may have Spoken about what you wanted to bring up, or you may have changed your mind by the time it’s your turn, or you may have resolved your reaction within yourself.

When it is your turn, reflect for a moment to see what, if anything, you want to say. Allow yourself the luxury of that time to see what seems important to say. Allow those immediate thoughts and feelings to emerge spontaneously, Trust yourself that you will say what is important to say when your time comes, without first rehearsing your words.

Experiment with allowing your mind to be changed and being satisfied with someone else bringing up your ideas. After all, Dialogue is not like discussion as we know it. We’re used to debating, rebutting, disagreeing, and agreeing. Dialogue is none of those. It’s an opportunity for you to speak from your heart, for yourself, when it’s your turn. But more than that, it’s a discipline in listening to others and noticing your own reactions to them, your assumptions, and your conclusions. To do this, you will have to “suspend” your reactions, feelings, judgments, and impulses, and notice yourself doing that. Notice how often you are tempted to respond, judge, agree or disagree.

In Dialogue you also need to be responsible in what you say and how you say it: speak concisely, knowing that you are one of several who want to speak, and speak clearly, and knowing that no one may interrupt to question you for clarity. Help others keep their minds open by avoiding words and phrases that are likely to cause negative reactions in others.


  1. Enter the dialogue with an attitude of learning (not inquisition, not challenge, etc.)
  2. Act as colleagues; i.e. suspend history, functional role and status.
  3. Speak to everyone, i.e. avoid cross talk (side talk or issues that are of interest to only a few people in the group).
  4. Balance inquiry and advocacy, i.e. both openness to having your mind changed by someone else’s opinion and stating your own position.
  5. Listen and speak without judgment.
  6. Say as much as you need to and no more.
  7. Invite others into the conversation.
  8. Focus on the larger, shared context and meaning, i.e. what we do have in common, what we want in common.
  9. Decide whether confidentiality is an issue. If so, address that before beginning the Dialogue.


is_it_dialogue_or_is_it_discussion.txt · Last modified: 2021.12.22 13:51 by