Debate vs. Dialogue


  • Assuming that there is one right answer and that you have it
  • Combative: participants attempt to prove the other side wrong
  • About winning
  • Listening to find flaws and make counterarguments
  • Defending assumptions as truth
  • Critiquing the other side’s position
  • Defending one’s own views against those of others
  • Searching for flaws and weaknesses in other positions
  • Seeking a conclusion or vote that ratifies your position


  • Assuming that many people have pieces of the answer and that only together can they craft a solution
  • Collaborative: participants work together toward common understanding
  • About learning
  • Listening to understand and find meaning
  • Revealing assumptions for reevaluation
  • Reexamining all positions
  • Admitting that others’ thinking can improve one’s own
  • Searching for strengths and value in others’ positions
  • Discovering new opinions, not seeking closure


Adapted from “What makes dialogue unique” in The Magic of Dialogue by Daniel Yankelovich, pp. 39-40