The Magic of Dialogue
Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen firsthand how citizens have put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and tackled major problems impacting their schools and communities. How did it happen? In the words of Daniel Yankelovich, it was the magic of dialogue. An advisor to corporations, government, and professional organizations, Yankelovich has spent over half a century monitoring change in the American culture and is regarded as the dean of American public opinion research. To help explain how this magic works, he makes an important distinction between debate, which describes the tenor and focus of most political conversations, and dialogue.
When debating, the assumption is that there is a right answer, and we have it. When engaging in dialogue, the assumption is that many people have pieces of the answer and that together we can all craft a solution.
When debating, we are combative and attempt to prove the other side wrong. When engaging in dialogue, we are collaborative and work together toward common understanding.
When debating, it is about winning. When engaging in dialogue, it is about exploring common ground.
When debating, we listen to find flaws and make counterarguments. When engaging in dialogue, we listen to understand and find meaning and agreement.
When debating, assumptions are defended as truth. When engaging in dialogue, assumptions are revealed for reevaluation.
When debating, we critique the other side’s position. When engaging in dialogue, we reexamine all positions.
When debating, we defend our own views against the views of others. When engaging in dialogue, we admit that others’ thinking can improve on our own thinking.
When debating, we search for flaws and weaknesses in other positions. When engaging in dialogue, we search for strengths and value in others’ positions.
When debating, we seek a conclusion or vote that ratifies our position. When engaging in dialogue, instead of seeking closure, we discover new options.