Food for Thought, Thought for Action!

Dialogue Vs. Debate


There are different forms of discussion. The debate and dialogue are most popular ones. However there are different approaches and goals in these forms of discussion.


Dialogue is a special kind of discourse employing distinctive skills to achieve mutual understanding and mutual trust and respect.

To explain dialogue we like to contrast it with debate, a more common form of discourse. The goal of debate is winning; the goal of dialogue is learning.

Dialogue is about learning:

Debate is about winning:

Assuming that others have pieces of the answer

Assuming that there is one right answer – and you have it

Collaborative: attempting to find common understanding

Combative: attempting to prove the other side wrong

About finding common ground

About winning

Listening to understand and find a basis for agreement

Listening to find flaws and make counter-arguments

Bringing up your assumptions for inspection and discussion

Defending your assumptions

Re-examining all points of view

Criticizing the other side’s point of view

Admitting that others’ thinking can improve your own

Defending your views against others

Searching for strengths and value in the other position

Searching for weaknesses and flaws in the other position

Discovering new possibilities and opportunities

Seeking an outcome that agrees with your position


The purpose of dialogue is to understand and learn from one another. (You cannot “win” a dialogue.)

  1. All dialogue participants speak for themselves, not as representatives of groups or special interests.
  2. Treat everyone in a dialogue as an equal: leave role, status and stereotypes at the door.
  3. Be open and listen to others even when you disagree, and suspend judgment. (Try not to rush to judgment).
  4. Search for assumptions (especially your own).
  5. Listen with empathy to the views of others: acknowledge you have heard the other especially when you disagree.
  6. Look for common ground.
  7. Express disagreement in terms of ideas, not personality or motives.
  8. Keep dialogue and decision-making as separate activities. (Dialogue should always come before decision-making.)
  9. All points of view deserve respect and all will be recorded (without attribution).

6 thoughts on “Dialogue Vs. Debate

  1. Of course, the two [dialogue and debate] are dieffrent forms of discussion with distinctively different approaches but they are serving one purpose – is to solve and get things done.

  2. Nice clarification, Chanroeun. I wasn’t distinguishing them because Cambodia has none for the time being. And I agree with you that a dialogue is more appropriate for Cambodia right now especially at the broader social level. A dialogue is obviously a matter of pragmatism, but in the long-run, when it comes down to tough decision-making on specific issues, a debate will be inevitable. Both, in my view, are not mutually exclusive.

  3. Thanks Sophat for your comments. I myself have tried to promote dialogue among young Cambodians when I was teaching at the Cambodian Mekong University.

  4. Dear lecturer
    First, I would like to thank for your visiting our web side. I and my team always want to ask and want you to give more advice. From your web side my team can learn and create a lot. last, I want to know that do you have any plan to visit Cambodia?


  5. Dear Puthika,

    I am so delighted to hear from you. And it is wonderful to hear that you have found my blog useful.

    I hope you and your team enjoy your studies there.


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