For the vast majority of us, debate is familiar because we live in debate cultures (of what Deborah Tannen calls ‘argument cultures’). If we want language to lead towards healthier, stronger communities and more vibrant, effective organisations, we need language that promotes progress – not language that maintains status quo. We need language that lifts us towards higher levels of discourse , not language that turns civic and corporate life into a verbal battlefield. While debate is useful for making decisions and taking votes, dialogue is the key to renewal. The power of debate is that two polarised voices are free to speak. But the power of dialogue is that these voices can be heard.
Skeptics take note: do not dismiss dialogue as nothing more than wishy-washy, feel good comaradarie. It is about addressing conflict in order to achieve concrete results. Whatever business strategy or community vision one may adopt, it won’t work if nobody follows through. With remarkable frequency, organisations in conflict seek more dialogue because they won’t achieve lasting results without it. An organisation or community can develop the clearest, most inspiring plans . Bust if those involved do not feel heard and engaged, and if their concerns are not taken into account through genuine dialogue, those plans will not be well executed. As Larry Bossidy warns in his hardheaded book on corporate leadership (Execution:The discipline of Getting Things Done), an organisation cannot set realistic and achieve them without exploring the assumptions on which they are based. In the private sector, dialogue is being applied more and more often because senior executives realise their success depends on it. When companies learn this tool (and others) of the mediator, their effectiveness increases. And when they fail to use it, they miss opportunities for renewal and change.
– Mark Gerzon from ‘ Leading through Conflict’