Daniel Yankelovich distinguishes between dialogue, debate, discussion and deliberation. While debate aims at winning an argue, dialogue is a win-win situation. In discussions, there does not have to be equality, empathy and exploration of assumptions, whereas these three elements are essential in dialogue. Finally, deliberation is an activity that is more concerned about solving problems and making decisions, whereas in dialogue that is not the case.
David Bohm defines it as ” a stream of meanings flowing among and through us and between us”. According to Bohm, dia here means through not two, thus, this stream can flow among any given number of people, even one can have a dialogue with himself (monologue). The difference between dialogue and discussion, according to Bohm, is that unlike discussion, dialogue should not have a purpose or an agenda and it should not have a leader or any type of hierarchy (although it could have a facilitator). Bohm also observed that in discussions there is a need to convince others with some ideas and he remarked that convincing is perceived as winning in a discussion, whereas a dialogue is a win-win situation which is fundamentally about constructing a shared meaning . However, he emphasized the need to have a reason for a dialogue, just as it is needed in discussions.
In his article “On Dialogue“, David Bohm discussed the role dialogue plays in making “shared meanings” and “collective culture”. The transformative power of dialogue has been used in so-called ‘civic dialogue‘ where diverse people engage in a discussion to explore and understand social issues with diverse and possibly conflicting perspectives.
Why we need to engage in an open dialogue
Bohm observed that we hold assumptions that we consider truths and parts of our identity so we tend to defend them when they are challenged, and this defense might prevent us from having dialogues. According to Bohm, dialogue is concerned with meanings, not truths, and shared meaning is what the society is based on and the culture constituted by. This notion has been emphasized by Daniel Yankelovich who remarked that public opinion changes by the process of dialogue more than facts and analysis. Thus, although this is not the goal of it, dialogues might inspire actions and decision making by individuals and organizations.
Additionally, Yankelovich believes that dialogue is the remedy for many social problems such as the ‘culture of technical control’ as he calls it, which is ‘a mindset… that treats people as objects to be manipulated.’
How to structure and efficient dialogue?
According to Yankelovich, ‘dialogue is not… an arcane and esoteric form of intellectual exercise that only the few can play. It is a practical, everyday tool accessible to us all.’ However, I might agree that it is accessible to everyone but that does not mean it is not an arcane or a skill we born with but rather it is more like an arcane. Actually, this might be the reason that thinkers in dialogue studied and suggested principles to have effective dialogues. Here I will list some of them, which are taken from: “On Dialogue” by David Bohm and “The Magic of Dialogue” by Daniel Yankelovich.
- How many? the optimum number of people to constitute a microcosm and te get a microculture of the whole culture ( and sub-cultures) is 20 to 40. Too small groups (6 or less) tend to get a ‘cozy adjustment’ where one adjusts to the group in order to be polite and not to upset them. the collectively shared meaning appears in this case which is more powerful than the individual meaning
- Who? when people know each other a coherent shared meaning come up from dialogue. We need to make sure to include people who we disagree with.
- When? We should start a dialogue after talking about and understanding dialogue. Dialogue should not end. There have to be regular meetings to sustain the dialogue for a long time.
- How? We should start with a gesture of empathy and focus on common interests. We should suspend our assumption during dialogue and we should be able to express our opinion without hostility. Generally, we should be able to communicate our attitude/spirit of dialogue verbally or non-verbally and focus on conflicts between cultures and value systems, not people.
Critiques to dialogue: (Drawn from “On Dialogue“)
- Dialogues can be dominated by the one who is the strongest whereas others might find difficulties to talk.
- Having so many opinions might be frustrating
- Some people might fall in role-playing while participating in a dialogue.
Short reflection on Bohm’s article “On Dialogue“
Although Bohm discussed the concept of dialogue very well and distinguished it from discussion very clearly, however, this seem to be simply theoretical aspect whereas in everyday dialogues it might not be pragmatic. Defending one’s opinion might be hard to avoid even in the best dialogues, defending our opinion might be embedded in our words and body language without realizing it. It seems almost impossible for anyone to express their opinions without justifying and thus defending them. Additionally, Bohm suggested that dialogues should not have a purpose or an agenda. Again, these can not be avoided at least in our individual unconsciousness. Finally, Bohm’s assumption that dialogues help make shared meaning and culture might not be the case sometimes as it could often lead to negative emotions and judgements towards others and thus splitting cultures into sub-cultures.