Dialogue vs. Debate


In our last blog post, we talked about the equation, E+R=O as a way of focusing on how we respond to events in order to control outcomes.  This equation is extremely helpful when trying to resolve conflicts.  Another method that can be useful in conflict resolution is to engage in a dialogue as opposed to a debate.  Have you ever found yourself arguing back and forth with your partner over something that seemed to be so trivial?  The argument may have started out small but gradually escalated until it got to the point where it became a shouting match.  Half the time, you don’t even remember what you argued about.  However, when conflicts like this occur frequently, it can take a toll on relationships.

Why debates don’t resolve conflicts in relationships

During a conflict, it is common to debate with one another.  In a debate, the purpose is to win.  The goal in a conflict is for both people to understand the other person’s perspective and how he or she is feeling so that an agreement and/or solution can be reached.  However, when people debate during a conflict, it is more challenging to reach a solution.  This is because we focus more on winning the debate than trying to comprehend how the other person is feeling and what his or her needs are.  People often fixate on how they are going to respond as opposed to listening and acknowledging the other person’s perspective.  As a result, the debate continues and potentially worsens.

When a conflict escalates, a fight or flight response can be triggered.  This can produce passive, aggressive, or a combination of both types of responses from either side.  Eventually, someone ends up walking away due to anger or frustration.  At this point, the conflict either doesn’t get resolved or the debate continues until someone submits.  Even if someone submits, this does not mean that the other person wins the debate as the relationship is still impacted since the person who submitted may be left hurt or upset.

Dialogues and conflict resolution skills

Rather than debating, engaging in a dialogue is a much more effective method to resolve conflicts in relationships.  A dialogue is a discussion that is intended to produce an agreement or solution.  It is comprised of the following conflict resolution skills:

Active Listening – It may seem obvious that listening skills are crucial when attempting to resolve a conflict.  However, what we know and what we do may not always align.  When your partner is speaking, make sure that your body language is open, you are making eye contact, and refrain from urges you may have to interrupt the other person in order to make a point.  Nodding and saying “mm hmmm” will also show the other person that you are still with them.

Acknowledge each side of the conflict –  It is not enough to say, “I am listening” or “I understand” after your partner communicates his or her perspective to you during a conflict.  Rather, it is more helpful to summarize and acknowledge what the other person said.  This will convey to them that you are listening and understand.  If you are unable to understand the other person’s perspective, make sure to ask clarifying questions.  This will help you interpret what they are thinking.

Validate each others’ emotions – Once you are able to convey to your partner that you understand and acknowledge his or her perspective, it is important to validate any emotions that may have been created by the conflict.  Some examples of validating responses include, “you must feel pretty overwhelmed” or “that must have made you pretty frustrated.”  These types of responses will make your partner feel heard.  Once this occurs, it is more likely that he or she will listen to your perspective as well.

Brainstorm and agree on a solution – After each person acknowledges and validates the other person’s perspective and feelings, it may be necessary to discuss various solutions in order to resolve the conflict.  Uninterrupted brainstorming can prevent you from unintentionally falling into a debate.  This means while you are brainstorming ideas, refrain from shooting down the other person’s ideas.  After you create a list of possible solutions, select one or two that both of you agree on.

The next time you find yourself in a conflict with your partner, try to be aware of inclinations you may have to debate as opposed to engage in a dialogue.  Practice some of the skills listed in this blog and comment below if it was helpful!  In our next blog post, we will be talking about the book, “The 5 Love Languages,” by Dr. Gary Chapman.  This book is a great resource to help maintain and nurture relationships so make sure to check back soon!


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