Dialogue is a distinctive kind of communication that allows people to connect and build shared meaning. Done properly it facilitates understanding and mutual acknowledgement. In day-to-day routines it speeds up conversations, and in inflamed situations it is the route to conciliation and even peace.
‘Dialogue’ has entered the popular consciousness but it is often used inaccurately. Dialogue doesn’t mean ‘conversation’, nor ‘discussion’. It is not about reaching a settlement, persuasion, success or outcome. It is a process by which people can hear and understand each other. Dialogue builds a relationship, from which all the other stuff I just mentioned may eventually be reached.
When terms get conflated like this it tends to over simplification, and when they are made the currency of politicians they can become devalued through over-exposure and mis-use.
Governments and have a habit of taking up words carelessly in a bid to persuade us of their sincerity and innovation.Take for example what the White House said, in May 2009, of its Open Government Dialogue: “Here’s how the public engagement process will work. It will take place in thee phases: Brainstorming, Discussion, and Drafting.” Or the UK Government’s Competitive Dialogue Procedure, which says “Dialogue is allowed with selected suppliers to identify and define solutions to meet the needs and requirements of the contracting authority.”
In these examples ‘dialogue’ is first conflated with information gathering or discussion, then confused with negotiation. Rhetoric blends with political technique; the processes described do not become something new just because of a name change. Dialogue is diluted, and suspect, rather than the powerful process with a potential for relationship building that it is.
In resolving conflicts, from arguments to wars, dialogue is always part of the route to peace. When Dialogue is as a synonym for talking or negotiation it becomes devalued. Especially if discussion passed off as ‘dialogue’ in fails to achieve an intended outcome, and ‘dialogue’ (which may never have occurred), is therefore seen to fail.
Download my free Handout – Dialogue vs Debate.