According to the latest research, there is a fundamental difference between a debate and a genuine dialogue. Daniel Yankelovich claims that the main distinction between the two notions is the frame of reference of the parties. In a debate people usually have similar beliefs and value systems. The use of a debate leads to a compromise, which does not always generate the most efficient solution. A dialogue, instead, assumes different frames of references of the participants. The divergence of opinions leads a more profound evaluation of the situation, and a genuine attempt to resolve a conflict without using forced compromises.
However, both communication methods have their positive and negative sides. A debate allows faster decision-making and an easier conveyance of ideas. It is most appropriate in low-conflict environments, where people have similar beliefs, assumptions and goals. The use of a debate serves for advocating an established argument, rather than as an inquiry and a creativity tool. In high-conflict situations, where there is a strong sense of trust among participants, but there is a divergence in basic assumptions and aims, the most appropriate method of communication is a dialogue.
The first step for a leader, who wants to take advantage of the communication based on a dialogue, is the analysis of the company situation. In case there is no divergence in the basic assumptions and the level of conflict is relatively low, it is more effective to use a debate rather than a dialogue. In order to initiate a dialogue-based communication in a company, it is important to convince all the employees to commit to the process. Unless people believe in the effectiveness of the dialogue and its superiority over a debate, it is hardly possible to mandate its use. Prior to initiating a dialogue, it is also crucial to build trust among the employees, since trust is a prerequisite for a fruitful exchange of opinions. Moreover, there is a strong need to make people appreciate and respect the ideas of the others.
Gerzon, M. (2006, May 22). Moving beyond debate: Start a dialogue. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=5351&t=leadership