What is Dialogue?

Dialogue Is...

...seeking to understand, curious, collaborative, open-minded, respectful, expansive, essential.

The word is in our name but answering “what is dialogue” or understanding exactly what "dialogue" means can be difficult. There isn't one right way to define dialogue and it often means something different depending on the context, atmosphere and question you're trying to answer.  

What is Dialogue for?

Dialogue can support groups and communities to respectfully explore polarizing issues, address conflict, deliberate on potential for complex issues and much more. 


We are often exploring the question "what is dialogue" and some common themes have emerged through our conversations. ⁠

Dialogue is seeking to understand

Dialogue does not believe that all differences disappear or that 100% consensus emerges, but it does prioritize the search for common understanding rather than emphasizing differences.

Dialogue is curious

Dialogue brings together many voices, stories, perspectives and experiences. Instead of arguing for what you already know, dialogue is entered into with a spirit of curiosity and openness. Dialogue should involve an exchange of ideas with the goal of gaining new understanding, not trying to convince others of your opinion. 

Dialogue is collaborative

Dialogue is a two-way or multi-way exercise in active listening and open conversation. Each party should be both willing to share honestly and listen earnestly. 

Dialogue is open-minded and respectful

Dialogue should be entered into with respect for all other parties and their opinions. Try to listen with an open mind and check your judgments at the door. 

Dialogue is expansive

The idea of dialogue is not to narrow down ideas or opinions but to broaden perspectives, acknowledging that there is no obligation to come to an agreement. 


We often get asked for tips on how to engage in dialogue. Here are a few ideas for successful dialogue.

Speak Personally and Tell Stories

Share stories of your experiences and personal values and how they shape your thoughts. Try saying things like:

  • “I think this topic is important, let me tell you a story about the other day...” 
  • “I am concerned about this issue because...”

Listen to Understand and Speak to be Understood

Disagreement is normal – use this as an opportunity to clarify new ideas and perspectives. Often, when we disagree, we start to interrupt, speak louder, or repeat ourselves. If this happens, use a question to ease the tension, such as:

  • “Okay, I want to be sure I understand. What exactly about what I am saying do you find frustrating?”

Identify Shared Values

Leave status, role and stereotypes at the door. We share the responsibility for a good meeting. Stay on topic, be respectful and be sure to share air time. If you find the conversation stalling, think about injecting some shared values, such as:

  • “It sounds like we disagree on X but can we confirm we both believe Y is valuable?”

Ask a Follow-Up Question 

Help everyone feel heard. Try asking a follow-up question before you share your response:

  • “I think you said [insert your summary of what you heard], did I get that right?”

"In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate, but to enquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover."

Louise Diamond

What is dialogue?

It’s not so much a definition as it is a conversation, and you can join the conversation too. What is dialogue to you?⁠

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