Reading David Bohm’s book “On Dialogue,” which, not surprisingly, has a particularly helpful exposition of the difference between dialogue and discussion…
(David Bohm was a renowned physicist of the twentieth century who also made great contributions to wider philosophical questions.)
“Dialogue,” Bohm says, comes from the greek “dialogos.” Logos means “the word,” or in this case, “the meaning of the word,” and “dia” means “through – it doesn’t mean “two.” He goes on: “A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue with himself.” Bohm says dialogue “will make possible a flow of meaning…out of which may emerge some new understanding…which may not have been in the starting point at all.”
“Discussion,” Bohm says, has the same root as “percussion” and “concussion” and “really means to break things up.” Discussion, therefore, is a process of analysing and breaking up and “will not get us far beyond our various points of view.” Rather, “the object of the game is to win or gain points for yourself.”
Dialogue, of course, makes more demands of our ability to participate effectively in a game in which the aim is for everyone to win together. In particular, we must be prepared to question our assumptions and make them explicit, which takes effort when many of them, including the most powerful among them, are held unconsciously.
Being properly clear on the difference between dialogue and discussion is a good start.
Samantha Gluck says
I think the fact that people don’t really know how to discern the subtle (yet critical) differences between dialogue and discussion causes many of the profound communication problems in both business and personal life today.
I’ve had experiences where a great dialogue devolved into a discussion and a few (precious few) experiences where a discussion evolved into satisfying dialogue. But my most satisfying experiences involve two way, true communication between all parties involved. I guess it’s sort of like a holy grail of interaction and engagement.
I think dialogue requires a certain basic level of self awareness as well, which many people haven’t cultivated.