A Dialogue is a conversation in which people with opposing views and beliefs seek to deepen their understanding of each other. Through Dialogue, people and groups whose opposing views have led to stereotyping, divisiveness and even antagonism, typically form more trusting relationships. They may still disagree, but they learn to do it respectfully. They see how improved relationships reduce the costs of conflict to individuals, organizations and society.
Dialogue is not debate. Participants in a Dialogue process agree to cease rhetoric and argument and instead strive to communicate respectfully, listen to each other and ask questions to improve their understanding. They talk about their experiences and values, the why behind what they believe.
The goal of Dialogue is not to solve problems or create agreements. In this way it is different from Conflict Resolution, Mediation and Consensus Building . Although Dialogue may lead to opportunities for collaborative action, the process aims to help people learn about each other and discover common concerns.
Dialogue is an important tool in civic life. It can be used to:
- Build bridges and reduce conflict between groups divided by class, caste, ethnicity, religion and other ideological differences.
- Promote constructive conversation and improved working relationships between opposing political groups.
- Foster healing in communities and organizations that are torn apart by past wounds and controversy.
An effective Dialogue requires the facilitation of a neutral “third party” whose role it is to:
- Plan and structure the process with an awareness of participants’ desires and concerns;
- Create a safe space for discussion by ensuring communication agreements;
- Design meetings so that participants are encouraged to reflect and ask questions; and
- Be aware of and respond to participants’ needs throughout the process.