The following comparison of dialogue and debate seems to have first appeared in the Winter 1993 edition of Focus on Study Circles: The Newsletter of the Study Circles Resource Center (now Everyday Democracy). Thanks to the Wayback Machine’s vast internet archives, a snapshot from 2002 (?) is still available today:
Comparison of Dialogue and Debate
Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding.
Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong.
In dialogue, finding common ground is the goal.
In debate, winning is the goal.
In dialogue, one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and find agreement.
In debate, one listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments.
Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participant’s point of view.
Debate affirms a participant’s own point of view.
Dialogue reveals assumptions for reevaluation.
Debate defends assumptions as truth.
Dialogue causes introspection on one’s own position.
Debate causes critique of the other position.
Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions.
Debate defends one’s own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions.
Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
Debate creates a closed-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
In dialogue, one submits one’s best thinking, knowing that other peoples’ reflections will help improve it rather than destroy it.
In debate, one submit’s one’s best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one’s beliefs.
Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one’s beliefs.
In dialogue, one searches for basic agreements.
In debate, one searches for glaring differences.
In dialogue, one searches for strengths in the other positions.
In debate, one searches for flaws and weaknesses in the other position.
Dialogue involves a real concern for the other person and seeks to not alienate or offend.
Debate involves a countering of the other position without focusing on feelings or relationship and often belittles or deprecates the other person.
Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution.
Debate assumes that there is a right answer and that someone has it.
Dialogue remains open-ended.
Debate implies a conclusion.
According to the page, the list was “[a]dapted from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman”. However, doing a quick search I wasn’t able to identify and locate the original paper online. If it was ever published and if anyone still has it, please send it our way.
This list isn’t a new find at all. It has been widely quoted among proponents of dialogue. I probably ran into it several years ago, quite possibly on the website of Tom Atlee’s Co-Intelligence Institute.
Leaving aside for a moment the question whether debate has its value, too (I believe it does), or when and how it should best be applied (another topic entirely), what I like about this list is that it provides a short, easy to understand outline of the dialogue mindset. Oftentimes in public participation it’s this kind of mindset that’s needed more than anything, for example when the goal is to overcome division, resolve conflict and lay the groundwork for collaboration towards a broader consensus that integrates many different viewpoints.