Foundations for Constructive Dialogue

Harmony in our interactions is achieved by the coexistence of differences, just as many machines require resistance to operate effectively. Engagements in dialogues that address our differences may be more difficult than avoiding, judging, or maintaining those differences.

Try these tips:

Stay Aware

  • Remember to practice grounding and centering skills to increase safety, empathy, and understanding that you have already built. Go back to those skills as needed when you explore and face differences.
  • Recognize you have conflicted, inner voices that may represent agression, compassion, wisdom, bias, fears, hopes, etc. Practice awareness of these voices and learn how to understand their intention and how to balance them and even them together.

Be Curious

  • Be curious about exploring your desire to know the full story and the big picture of your opponent’s position.
  • Allow for the possibility that you have blind spots in your understanding of yourself, the other, and the situation.
  • Identify common ground and differences: Consider creating a diagram of two overlapping circles in which you put your views in one circle, the other’s views in the second circle, and the views that you may share in the overlap of the two circles.
  • Challenge yourself to maintain an awareness of your partner’s humanity no matter how deeply you disagree. Dignify and honor the other person rather than shame or attack.

Take Turns

  • Alternate speaking carefully, one important idea / feeling at a time.
  • Remember “slower is faster” at this stage of dialoguing differences.
  • Remember that this “process” is more important than any agenda to “fix” the differences.
  • Shift the focus from being adversarial to understanding: Reflect, validate, and empathize with what the other person has said.
  • Continue asking / sharing “What do I have to gain and / or lose if I open up to the validity of what the other is believing, feeling, or needing?”

Open Up to Ideas

  • Consider that many situations do not require being right or wrong.
  • Honor differences as possibly additive, not contentious.
  • Notice when a new idea or awareness occurs. Stop, and let it sink in. Write it down. You don’t have agree with it.
  • Hold both your ideas and the other’s ideas in your mind at the same time. This expands your tolerance to seeing many views and holding the tension of opposites without undue stress.

Dialogue First, Negotiate Next

  • Wait until you both understand and respect your differences before trying to negotiate any strategies or solutions to solve any situation.

Debate and Dialogue


  • Assuming that there is a right answer and you have it.
  • Combative: participants attempt to prove the other side wrong.
  • About winning.
  • Listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.
  • Defending our own assumptions as truth.
  • Seeing two sides of an issue.
  • Defending one’s own views against those of others.
  • Searching for flaws and weaknesses in other’s positions.
  • By creating a winner and a loser, discourages further discussion.
  • Seeking a conclusion or vote that ratifies your position.


  • Assuming that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can craft a new solution.
  • Collaborative: participants work together toward common understanding.
  • About exploring common ground.
  • Listening to understand, finding meaning and agreement
  • Revealing our assumptions for re-evaluation.
  • Seeing all sides of an issue.
  • Admitting that others thinking can improve one’s own.
  • Searching for strengths and value in the other’s positions.
  • Keeps the topic open even after discussion formally ends.
  • Discovering new options, not seeking closure.

Synthesized and adapted from the work of the Public Conversations Project, National Study Circles Resources, ESR, and The Common Enterprise by Mark Gerzon and Rachael Kessler, Mediators LTD, 3833 North 57th Street, Boulder, CO 80301


for Safety

Read about Safety


for Understanding

Read about Understanding


for Dialogue

Read about Dialogue


for Strategies

Read about Strategies