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How to use Dialague rather than Debate in business

Updated on February 15, 2015

Dialogue versus Debate

When we are communicating in a business framework, it is very important to use the correct type of communication.

When confronted with a difficult business situation that clearly needs resolving many people rely on the debate style to problem solve when in fact they should be opening a dialogue with the other parties to try to reach a solution.

In a Debate we believe that the argument that we have is the correct one and we are trying to get make the other side change their opinion in order to agree with what we believe.

A Dialogue on the other hand, is a communication channel that is designed to come to an understanding about the situation, taking into account all viewpoints and as many facts as possible. A Dialogue brings together many sources of valid information, allows you to understand the position of others , explore many different options, and come to a consensus that all parties understand the situation.

When to Use Dialogue and Why

Every day we speak with people who speak a different professional language to ourselves and have a different set of assumptions about their organization and how it should operate internally and within the broader business world.

When the need arises to come to a decision with other professionals it is often because a common ground cannot be found and so Dialogue provides the best tool.

To make Dialogue woirk effectively though, six rules need to be followed.

1. Suspend Judgement

2 Suspend Decision Making

3. Suspend Status Differences

4. Listen For Understanding - Show You Care

5. Look for Common Ground

6. Uncover Hidden Assumptions.

Suspend Judgement

It is very easy to assume that we have all of the information that is required to make a decision. When you assume that you have all of the information you are in Debate Mode. In Dialogue Mode it is important to accept that you may not have all of the information that is needed to make a decision and so rather than making judgements on the information that is being offered to you, simply collate it and see of it creates a better picture of the situation.

Debate vs Dialogue

Do you naturally adopt a Debating style or a Dialogue style when decisions need to be made?

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Suspend Decision Making

Suspending the decision making is always going to risk making the process longer, but during Dialogue this is very important. When you enter Decision Mode then it means Dialogue is no longer valid.

At this stage all parties should still be exchanging ideas and information. This information should be providing what is needed to make a decision, but without having all of the information you have no way of properly carrying out a risk assessment of making the wrong decision and the effect on the bottom line of making the right one.

Suspend Status

When people occupy different places on an internal organizational hierarchy it can be very difficult for them to open up with their ideas. Suspending status allows everyone to feel that they can talk and offer up information. It is important that the meeting is chaired by someone other than the most important person in the room. And it is important that everyone feels that their input is seen as having value.

Listen for Understanding and Look for Common Ground

When you are listening for understanding you are looking for ways that the other parties are trying to convince you to change your position. Now is the time to take in these arguments and see if they are valid or contain important information that you didn't previously know.

Once you have all of the information out in the open it is time to look for common ground. An example may be where a department needs to cut their expenses and HR wants to cut staff, but the department head needs to keep all of their staff to continue working on projects and outcomes. The common ground here is the need to cut expenses as the company needs to save money. Now that both sides have articulated their positions and all of the information regarding them is out in the open,, common ground around the need to find other ways than staff cuts to reign in costs can be found.

At this point no Decision has been made. The Dialogue is still going.

Uncover Hidden Assumptions.

This last and very important rule can be often overlooked or gets discarded as parties feel that it is going to get personal.

From the example above, the HR department may feel that the projects being worked on are not of value to the organization. The project department head feels that the HR department always jumps straight to cutting payroll without taking the time to understand the longer term strategic ramifications that this can have.

Once these issues are out in the open they can be worked through so that each side understands fully the thinking and motivations of the other.


By following these simple rules it is very easy for businesses to have meaning Dialogue between professionals and as a result improve their decision making process.

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