Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dialogue versus Discussion

Written by Linda Quinn (reprinted here with her permission)
Based on the work and ideas of many others

In our efforts to become more conscious about our communication, we sometimes draw a distinction between Dialogue and Discussion.

The word discussion comes from the same root as percussion and concussion. Thus, it implies some sort of impact, such as striking, hammering or shaking apart. While these are not necessarily actions which help create a climate for learning, they can, in a figurative sense, be valuable means for coming to a decision. According to this definition, Discussion is like Debate, which means literally “to kill all alternatives.” It is about narrowing options.

In a Discussion, participants tend to hold their ground and try to persuade others to join them. They listen to others in order to detect and counter any weakness in opposing ideas and to gauge support for their own. The most important thing for participants in a Discussion is defending and selling their ideas to others. In this sense, Discussion is about leading – leading others to a solution or answer.

The word dialogue is formed from the prefix dia, which means “two,” and logue, which means “to flow through.” The goal of a Dialogue is to put two or more heads together to consider multiple interpretations, construct new knowledge, and achieve deeper understandings. It is about enlarging options.

In a Dialogue, participants want to get lots of ideas on the table in order to build meaning together. They listen to others in order to understand their ideas and the new perspectives those ideas might bring to the issue at hand. They look for connections rather than counter arguments. The most important thing for participants in a Dialogue is achieving new insights and/or greater wisdom. In this sense, Dialogue is about learning.

An analogy can be drawn between this view of Dialogue and Discussion and the different stages of the writing process. Dialogue is like the generative stage of the writing process where the goal is to get ideas out, to examine, explore, analyze and connect them. Discussion is like the editing stage of the writing process where the goal is to narrow ideas, to revise, refine, hone and sharpen them.

Both Discussion and Dialogue can be valuable forms of group communication. Most groups, however, automatically tend toward the former. It takes willful desire to build a context for thinking and learning together. Despite the effort required, Dialogue is oftentimes the better vehicle when learning, not just deciding, is the goal.


Maybe it's just semantics...but I like that blogs & discussion boards promote dialogue...Thanks for sharing this perspective Linda! I think you should start a blog of your own!


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