Defining Dialogue

While the term dialogue is often tossed around as another word for discussion or conversation, it is quite different. It is distinct from these and other forms of communication (discourse, debate, deliberation, rhetoric, etc.) in its intention and the rules by which participants agree to abide. This is not to say that the other forms of communication are useless. For example, debate is well-suited for instances where persuasion is vital for decision-making. We use rhetoric and evidence in a debate to make a case for or against something. Deliberation is another decision-making tool, as it allows participants to talk through solutions to problems or areas of disagreement. It may also include elements of debate and/or dialogue.

So what is dialogue?

At its core, dialogue is about openness, respect, and listening. A broader (longer) definition of dialogue is as follows:

Dialogue is the two-way communication of two or more people willing to actively listen to one another in a respectful and equitable manner, in which participants consciously attempt to suspend assumptions and are open to the possibility of changing their own perspectives. (Fontes, 2021)

Dialogue is more about actively listening than speaking, and it is a challenging thing to do. It sounds simple enough, but our worldview and past experiences significantly impact our ability to "suspend assumptions" or be open to changing our perspective. For this reason, at Athina, we believe that dialogue must sometimes be preceded by activities that allow participants to get to know one another and build relationships. Diapraxis, or the convergence of praxis (action) and dialogue, is one way to work toward authentic dialogue.