Peace Scholar Post: Dialogue vs. Debate – what really is the difference?

This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by G.V Suos from Luther College.

During the Nobel Peace Price Forum this year, after His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivered his inspiring speech, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to ask him a question: “How would you describe the world today in just one word?” He replied with the priceless response: “It’s complicated”. 

Peace Scholar cohortLiving in this complicated world, people often have conflict with each other because of something as simple as misunderstanding, misinterpretation, lack of common interest and/or a lack of tolerance toward each other. At Nansen Academy in Lillehammer, other Peace Scholars from the U.S. and I have met and worked together with students from the Balkans to broaden our understanding about the conflict within this region (Ex-Yugoslavia) as well as the American influence on various conflicts around the world. We have learned and shared our knowledge based on a variety of group discussions, dialogue stimulation exercises and lectures by our facilitators, Steinar Bryn and Goran Lojancic.

We all often confuse dialogue process with debate and/or negotiation processes. Many other Peace Scholars and I have been taught how to debate at various stages in our education, but we had not been taught dialogue. Dialogue is, in fact, completely different from debate, as you can see in the chart here:




-          To understand

-          Active Listening

-          Tolerance

-          Self-discipline

-          Change positive

-          Cooperative

-          To convince

-          Arguing & defensing

-          Positioning

-          Moral judgment

-          Change negative

-          Confrontative

During his lecture about dialogue process, Steiner also added that the most powerful dialogue participant in the world is the child, who moves through the day asking many meaningful questions. A child going to bed at night is completely different from that same child who woke up some hours before.

Dialogue can also be described as having three other meanings: movement, visibility and relationship.

- Dialogue is movement because in conflict we don’t want to talk with each other and we often avoid each other. Because of this, we can’t get to know each other well and tend to develop fear of one another. In this way, the conflict will never be resolved. Q&A is one of the most essential components of dialogue – it is both an attitude and a way of communicating with each other.

- Dialogue is visibility because dialogue helps us understand other people and ourselves better. Dialogue is an interpretation of a monologue – it makes us visible to the world and the world visible to us.

- Dialogue is relationship because dialogue does not only provide a better understanding, but it also helps us to build trust and establish a safe place for us to broaden our knowledge. Dialogue causes us to ask questions with different kinds of curiosity. This does not mean, however, that we never have to accept, agree or compromise. Dialogue is neither a negotiation nor a debate used to establish who is right and who is wrong.

Even though our time at the Nansen Academy was very short, it was very fun and productive. I believe that each of us did not only gain a great deal of knowledge in dialogue process and its impact, but we also had a great time together. I’m looking forward to having more discussions about world conflicts in the upcoming peace seminar, as well as getting to know each other even more through living, sharing and growing together in this small world community.

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