Improving Communication Through Understanding the Difference Between Discussion and Dialogue

Understanding the difference between what is discussion and what is dialogue will improve your level of communication. Read on…

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

In today’s world, even more than ever, we need to start improving our level of communication. I say this, because what I have noticed over a long period of time, is an ever increasing level of uninformed discussion driving outcomes due to meaningful dialogue not occurring in the first place😱

What is the difference between Discussion and Dialogue?

Discussion is often confused with dialogue. They are quite different as we shall see:


Discussion between Elected Members and Senior Staff to develop a safe road solution. Photo by yours truly

Tom Barrett suggests discussion is analysing different points of view.

Discussion should be about the merits of a case, to pull it apart, to present an analysis of different points of view. For example: an agenda, a presentation, a report, a lecture.

Unfortunately, because discussion is one sided, it can be quite divisive. Social media is a case in point. So too, is a person in a position of authority that displays narcissistic behaviour.

However, discussion can also be consensus orientated. Team meetings, project groups, many board meetings and cabinet are more about consensus i.e. as James Madden points out, without going to a formal vote. Consensus avoids the sense of winners and losers. Will informed discussion in this situation, is key.


A Workshop By Yours Truly With the Boards of the Master Plumbers Group Board re Implementing Good Governance

Many of the models developed on the effective use of dialogue over the last 40 years are generally attributed to prominent philosopher Jürgen Haberman and his theory of communicative action.

As Camille Marquis points out: communicative action assumes the participants are equal in the dialogue and open to the other’s reasons. There is an exchange of reasons and counter-reasons, arguments and counter-arguments.

Or to put it more simply: dialogue is generally constructive. As Kevin Eikenberry suggests, dialogue is a process that allows us to think together.

The bottom line regarding dialogue: it is all about trust.

Dialogue is the language of the diplomat. Workshops also fall into this category as it is collaborative in nature. They are designed to inform (or they should be), promote better understanding and produce a list of potential solutions.

To conclude

Discussion, for all intents and purposes, is informal debate, or “this is my view on the matter” and is concerned with making a decision. Dialogue on the other hand, is a meeting of the minds to examine a concept or idea, to collaborate through the sharing of information, knowledge, wisdom and experience.

With the local governments I work with, I use dialogue and discussion techniques to help them make better decisions through using the following steps:

  1. Use dialogue first. Typically, this means exploring issues for consideration through a workshop.
  2. The outcomes from the workshop then go forward for presentation at a briefing session – this allows for further (or final) clarification.
  3. The final phase involves the outcomes going to a Council (board) meeting for decision based on formal discussion (debate) or preferably, by consensus.

Good communication allows us to be part of the solution, not part of the problem 😊

10 thoughts on “Improving Communication Through Understanding the Difference Between Discussion and Dialogue

  1. Thanx for a perceptive blog.
    If I can add to the “discussion” on this 😉, “social media” is a misnomer; it should be called “anti-social media” as it creates silo mentalities where all one “hears” are those who “Like” your view, simple hardening one’s viewpoint. In turn, when we read only those with whom we agree, we do the same thing, buttressing our orientation.
    Dialogue is essential to open one’s mind to opposing perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your wonderful insight and comments regarding the “discussion.” They are very welcome. What got me thinking about dialogue a long time ago was an interview with the former leader of the Federal opposition (and government minister) here. He was very well regarded by all sides of politics. When he finished his parliamentary career, he was appointed the Australian Ambassador to the US. Currently, he is the Governor of the State I live in. Actually, his father was a very good friend of my grandfather. He spoke about the ins and outs of dialogue and why it had been very successful for him over his life time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating! I had never given much thought to the difference between dialogue and discussion. Yet it just occurred to me that I often use “discussion” for a work that presents an individual perspective on a subject, such as an article. The same cannot be done with “dialogue,” which requires two or more perspectives to function.


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