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Are You a Fearless Challenger? Moving from Debate to Dialogue

deciding-1364439_1920I was watching the morning news where violence erupted at a recent US Presidential race rally. Hotly contested, this year’s presidential race between the Republican and Democratic parties include flying accusations, lying, shooting barbs and winning at all costs. Of these running mates, the question debated is who would best serve as the US leader? And yes, families at dinner tables, community leaders, political parties, friends, and co-workers are arguing and forcing their points of view of which candidates are relevant, competent, and reputable.  The arguments focus on who is right, points out flaws, and often takes a strong position for one candidate over the other. It is the news of the day, every day.

I bring this up because I see and hear the damage that debate causes among us versus a more constructive dialogue approach to discussing vast differences of opinions. So, what is the difference between debate and dialogue? In school, we learn that debate is a formal, structured process to bring opposing arguments over a particular topic or issue. However, what we see and experience is that informal, unstructured debate based on false assumptions, what we hear in the media, and turning that into our truths. In Daniel Yankelovich’s book, The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation, a debate is focused on right and wrong, truth or lie, black or white. It is taking an offense approach leading to a defense reaction. If I am right in my thinking, then you MUST be wrong in your opinion. Right? A debate involves behaviors that are often destructive and damaging to relationships, communities, and whole societies. Debating often turns into being combative, judgmental, opinionated, and insulting.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is about listening to understand and to learn about the issue discussed. Dialogue is about sharing our personal experiences as it relates to the topic without judgment of the other person’s different points of view. We all have a fundamental need to be heard and understood. Dialogue provides an opportunity to be open-minded about the differences we encounter and to engage in these differences in a constructive and productive manner. I had a wonderful opportunity to train and become a facilitator in the Soliya Virtual Connect program. The program aims to provide cross-cultural dialogues to engage people from various cultures, backgrounds and experiences from around the globe. This virtual platform tapped into strong differences of opinions on all topics from religion to social and global challenges including immigration, terrorism, gender roles, and even US Presidential candidates.

So, the similarity between debate and dialogue is that there is a topic or issue which has varying points of view that people feel strongly about and want to vocalize. Conflict will result from these discussions. An informal debate often takes a nasty turn where dialogue can promote learning and deeper understanding. In a debate, there is a winner and a loser. In dialogue, all points of view are acknowledged without the need to convince someone they are wrong. As a co-facilitator working with my partner, Kirti Kler from New Dehli, India, we worked very hard to engage our group on very difficult topics. We knew we needed to guide the conversations into conflict territory and challenge our group’s thinking, invite them to share their personal experiences while being fearless ourselves. We listened for moments of opportunity where these strong differences of opinion emerged to engage the conversation further. Sometimes, it felt daunting, scary and questionable about how we were to turn these debates into constructive dialogue. We persevered with the help of our fabulous coach, Amanda Brown and the Soliya team.  By the end of the eight weeks of dialogue sessions, the group learned skills in how to engage more effectively in dialogue within their families, local communities, and workplaces. After three months of training and facilitating, Kirti Kler, Amanda Brown and I were awarded the “Fearless Challenger” award by the Soliya team in seizing the difficult moments and turning them into opportunities for deeper understanding and learning.

Are you willing to be a Fearless Challenger? Then simply listen to learn and understand the other’s point of view. Don’t be afraid of it. Engage in the difference.

Learn more about the Soliya Virtual Connect program and how you can become involved.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach

 

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