What is Constructive Dialogue?
Learn more about the form of conversation that can bridge divides and lead to understanding.
Constructive dialogue is a form of conversation in which people who have different values, beliefs, and perspectives seek to build new ways to understand and interact with each other, even as they sustain commitments to their own principles and perspectives. The format is ideal for discussing important, complicated issues that can divide people.
Constructive dialogue prioritizes developing mutual understanding – the act of striving to better understand others’ views while feeling that others are striving to better understand yours. Constructive dialogue may lead people to enrich their own perspective or worldview, clarify their differences, discover common ground, or even create the possibility of future collaborative action that may have previously seemed impossible.
Constructive dialogue can be further defined by what it is not. Constructive dialogue is not about persuading others or winning an argument; and it is not about proving the other side wrong. While these may be reasonable goals for other forms of conversation, each disrupts the aim of constructive dialogue.
Five Principles of Constructive Dialogue
Approaching a conversation like a zero-sum battle, where one side wins and the other loses, sets up an adversarial dynamic that will lead the other person's defenses to go up. This dynamic minimizes the possibility of learning, and it often damages relationships. Recognize that by striving to win, you are actually setting yourself up for failure. Instead, try entering conversations with curiosity and the goal to understand. You will find it can be contagious.
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