Think about the last time you had a conversation. Why were you there? Was it just a casual passing of the time between a few colleagues you don’t necessarily know that well, or was it more constructive – trying to solve a problem or generate ideas?

No matter where your conversations are taking place, or who with, or what about, there’s always a purpose. Even if that purpose seems small, like building a rapport with people through small-talk. But not every conversation gets the consideration it deserves to really enable the participants to get the most out of it.

The art of dialogue

Last month at the Good Day At Work Conversation 2015, Leadership and Dialogue Consultant Sarah Rozenthuler co-hosted a session with Robertson Cooper’s Matt Smeed, on the art of dialogue. It turns out that although most of us know how to talk, we’re not always very good at it.

Not all conversations are created equal

According to Sarah, we tend to engage in four types of conversation, which she has ranked in order of usefulness: monologue, debate, discussion and dialogue. The latter is the highest form of communication.

Of course, each form is useful in its own way. Monologue, for instance, is useful when we need to convey information and that’s all we need to do. Managers tend to fall back on this form of communication a lot. Debate, by nature is confrontational. It is essentially two people monologuing in the same room and by the end, there is a clear winner and a loser.

Neither monologues nor debates are conducive to creative problem-solving or to generating new ideas. They each serve their purpose, but you certainly couldn’t expect to go through life relying only on these two forms of communication.

That’s where discussion comes in.


Most of us are familiar with this concept. We consider discussion as conducive to creative thinking, collaboration and productivity. But really all a discussion is, is a glorified debate. Although the discussion may not go from “point” to “rebuttal,” throughout we still seek to persuade others to our way of thinking. Opposing views are presented and discussed until the winner is chosen.

The highest form of communication

Finally, there’s dialogue, the highest form of communication. Dialogue is rarely seen in organisations where people focus on blame, making quick decisions or defer naturally to the biggest personalities in the room.

Conversely, when it comes to dialogue, people feel to freely and creatively explore issues, without fear that they will be derided or shot down. Before true dialogue can happen, people must leave their preconceptions at the door and be willing to hear new ideas and adapt their own accordingly. It’s about searching for truth and genuine solutions, rather than advancing political agendas, innate biases or being proven right.

What do you think of dialogue vs. discussion? Leave your thoughts in the comments!