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Dialogue vs Conversation

In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change. Thich Nhat Hanh

Drawing upon our experience of word maps, it would not be surprising to hear people describe dialogue as a conversation between two people.

Typical dictionary definitions are:

  • a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or film

  • the conversation between characters in a novel, drama, etc

  • a literary work in the form of a conversation

Not so widely known is the interpretation of dialogue as:

  • an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement

It is this latter definition which fits most comfortably behind The Blue Door, and which utilises many of the ideas and concepts explored in these articles. Fundamentally, it lies at the very heart of the RESOLVE model, where the intent is to achieve a shared understanding of an event or situation.

A more detailed examination of various words that are generally used within this topic helps shape our understanding.

Talk –

  • Speak in order to give information or express ideas or feelings; converse or communicate by spoken words.

  • To utter or pronounce words

  • To imitate the sounds of human speech

  • To express one’s thoughts or emotions by means of spoken language


  • Share or exchange information, news, or ideas

  • To give to another; impart; transmit

  • To impart knowledge of; make known

  • To give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.


  • a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged

  • talk between two or more people in which thoughts, feelings, and ideas are expressed, questions are asked and answered, or news and information is exchanged

  • oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas

  • The exchange of thoughts and feelings by means of speech or sign language

Two key areas of difference: the process includes more than one person; the emphasis is much more on an exchange of some description. The etymology suggests: living together, having dealings with others, with roots from Latin conversationem “act of living with,” noun of action from past participle stem of conversari “to live with, keep company with, and Latin com “with, together.


  • the action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas

  • a detailed treatment of a topic in speech or writing

  • the activity in which people talk about something and tell each other their ideas or opinions

  • the act of discussing or exchanging reasons; examination by argument; debate; disputation; agitation

Digging purposefully deeper into the word, with an intent to uncover a more defined outcome; the etymology suggests: investigation, judicial trial,” from Old French discussion and from Late Latin discutre which means to smash to pieces. In addition, it has similar roots to the word percussion, and concussion, suggesting a hitting back and forth, where the purpose is to win.


There are many different definitions of the dialogue, as listed above: in this particular genre, some of the most relevant are:

  • To discuss areas of disagreement frankly in order to resolve them

  • Dialogue is a special kind of discourse that enables people with different perspectives and worldviews to work together

  • A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem

David Bohm On Dialogue

David Joseph Bohm FRS, was an American scientist who has been described as one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century, and who contributed unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind.

He writes, “Dialogue” comes from the Greek word dialogos . Logos means ‘the word’, or in our case we would think of ‘the meaning of the word’. And dia means through’—it doesn’t mean ‘two’…. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through and between us.

This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.

The object of a dialogue is not to analyse things, or to win an argument, or to exchange opinions.

Rather, it is to suspend your opinions and to look at the opinions—to listen to everybody’s opinions, to suspend them, and to see what all that means…. We can just simply share the appreciation of the meanings, and out of this whole thing, truth emerges unannounced—not that we have chosen it.

Everything can move between us. Each person is participating, is partaking of the whole meaning of the group and also taking part in it. We can call that a true dialogue. Dialogue is the collective way of opening up judgments and assumptions.

The purpose of dialogue

A key issue with regards to understanding the process and outcome of dialogue is to appreciate the purpose that underlines why two or more people would engage in dialogue in the first place.

But the truth doesn’t exist…

Within the world of conflict management RESOLVE, mediation in particular, it is entirely possible that this statement is correct: however, this for many is a powerful paradigm, and one that may be stretching their cognitive and development capacity to the limit.

Two different people in a dispute often have absolute clarity and certainty about their version of events, where they can be so emotionally wrapped up in a situation that the truth in their eyes is clear cut and unambiguous. Both will be seeing the same coin from two entirely different sides, yet it is the same coin.

In these situations, the hammer and tongs arguments serve no purpose other than to entrench seemingly myopic views even further.

Yet, one of the main tenants of any peace and reconciliation talks, which often take place after difficult events, is to create a share understanding of why the coin has two sides and appreciation that both sides are both present and can co-exist. This then is the world of dialogue.

Dialogue’s fundamental premise is that human beings need to speak together about what is most important. Dialogue’s promise is to reveal; us to ourselves and the possibilities for living this life.

Dialogue then is a particular and skilful kind of ‘discourse’ that enables people with different perspectives, values and beliefs to work constructively together. As a skill it sits comfortably behind the Blue Door, since it is not a process that can be forced, nor is it guaranteed to take place: it involves a change of mindset; it requires individuals to change their paradigm as to the purpose of the exchange. It is the intent of all those associated with the RESOLVE model and process to do their part to foster the environment in which dialogue ‘might’ take place.

Two or more individuals might choose to use the process of dialogue to:

  • Break down areas of mistrust

  • Move individuals from a defensive strategy to one of empathy and a willingness to explore

  • Accept the principle to agree to disagree, but to explore the whys and wherefores of this situation

  • To build a productive relationship within someone with whom you profoundly disagree

  • Prepare the ground for a discussion around a difficult or contentious topic

  • Broaden the involvement of a wider circle of people, even though this will expand the range of views held

  • Move an issue from a position of winning to one of achieving shared understanding

Two or more individuals engaging in effective dialogue, will demonstrate specific skills and competencies, acquired through purposeful learning.

  • Show a willingness to explore and learn

  • Collaborate openly and honestly to achieve shared understanding

  • Listen impartially without judgement in order to find areas of common agreement

  • Demonstrate the ability to recognise, challenge and discuss any assumptions, including their own

  • Accept that the solution and understanding requires a contribution from all parties – e.g. I don’t have the whole answer, I need your input

  • Openly looking for new ways of thinking and unexplored possibilities

  • Commitment to shared mutually beneficial outcome

  • Clarify understanding, as opposed to trying to score points, or win

Consequently, there is no such thing as winning a dialogue, or doing better than the other person.

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