Our guest speaker for the February CADS lunch was Marti Sijthoff from the European Leadership Platform. The platform offers leaders and leadership experts the opportunity to engage in Roundtable dialogues with their peers.

It was good to see Honorary Member and ex chairman Mike Carn return to steer the good ship CADS through this delicious discourse.

Much has been said about the difference between dialogue and debate. As we proved during in this lively…well, was it dialogue or debate?

There was a suggestion that the British prefer debate and the Dutch dialogue.  There was a hint in the air that dialogue was somehow superior. It was pointed out, however, that debate was the foundation of British democracy.

During political elections to win over voters it is interesting to note that debate is used with the opponents, but dialogue is used with voters.

The Origin of the Words:


Our modern civilizations have been built on thousands of years of cultures, wars, changes and innovations. Romans, who already elected senators, used debates in the senate. Debate comes from Latin “De” meaning down and “Battuere” meaning fight and they excelled at intrigues and debating opposed ideas and beliefs. They were conquerors and mistrust was current within these powerful people.


The Greeks invented philosophy and were far more advanced in innovating, literature, astrology and other human sciences. They used “Dialegein” which means discussing. Dialogue comes from Latin “Dialogus” which itself comes from Greek “Dia” meaning more and “Logos” meaning speech. Greeks had a culture of dialogues which pushed philosophers to talk among themselves and accept other points of view.

In dialogue, the goal is changed from conquering to growing; from silencing to knowing; from telling to asking.” Dr Keith Suter.

Today’s applications:

Both means of communication have advantages and problem characteristics depending on the situation in which they are used.

Debate tends to have two sides with strong convictions. Each side will try its best to convince the other side or third party by using arguments. They will never agree with each other and it is the strongest who wins people over to their cause.  This is used during political election to win over voters.However it is interesting to note that debate is used with the opponents, but dialogue is used with voters.

“True dialogue is not a life jacket when the boat is sinking. It is the boat itself and the very careful crafting required to hold it together when the storm of diversity inevitably crashes it about.” Carolyn Schrock-Shenk  

Dialogue is a discussion between people whose role is not to be right or to win over third party. Sharing, understanding, proposing and evaluating ideas and options are very common in dialogues and usually ends up with much more productive solutions for innovation. This means of communication should be used in businesses for which finding solutions and ideas are an absolute priority. Combining strength and brain power will always lead to improvement and usually much faster.


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.

Adapted from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman, which was based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR).

Prepared for the Local Libraries: Global Awareness Project, a
partnership of the American Library Association and Global Learning, Inc.,
with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development