Thesaurus gives the following alternative words for collaborate and collaboration: teamwork, partnership, group effort, association, relationship, work together, join forces, team up, pool resources, act as a team, co-operation, alliance. They are attitudes we all want to experience when we are in a team. We aspire to them but how do you get there? Is it about the people and the dynamic they create when they get together, or is there a process to help collaboration? Over the last 20 years people have begun to use the words ‘dialogue’ or ‘non violent communication’. They ways of moving from ‘I’ to ‘we’, from ‘silos’ to ‘teams’ . As individuals we have our unique skills and experience to offer and more can be achieved when we work with others who also have unique skills to achieve change. Dialogue is the petrol for the collaboration car. But what is dialogue and how does it differ from discussion and debate?
Implicit in dialogue is that those involved have existing ideas and opinions, which, as they respect each other, they are willing to voice in a non-confrontational manner. People identify themselves with their own views, based on their experience and how they see the world. They believe in them but are not so emotionally attached to them, that they would hold onto them at the expense of an outcome not happening. They want win- win at the highest level
They are willing to suspend and reshape their opinions based on the exchange of views and ideas, and in doing so, allow for the possibility that something new and better will emerge. It emerges ‘just like that’ in a inexplicable way. People engage and explore through inquiring questions, expand their thinking and are willing to hold uncertainty about an outcome until it emerges. This demands humility and a decision to stay in inquiry rather than advocacy. It’s often been described like cooking a cake. You combine ingredients, allow them to cook and they create a new form, the cake, as long as the conditions are right. The first step is to get the conditions right.

Dialogue is deeper than discussion as it embraces values, meaning, learning and changing. It can be challenging. People who engage in dialogue are prepared to uncover assumptions and integrate multiple perspectives. They want to learn from others. Dialogue deals with what could be. People come together to collaborate and work with others rather than on their own or in silos to do it. It welcomes the belief that just as computers have collective intelligence, so too can people. With collective intelligence, they act more intelligently than any individual, group or computer has before. It encourages and allows space for the unexpected.

Discussion is any kind of mutual exchange of ideas that involves no confrontation. It implies a forum of acceptance where opinions are not necessarily pre-formed and can be shaped by the exchange of ideas. There is telling, selling, persuading and evaluating to accept the best idea. Often people defend or justify their assumptions. Discussion deals with what is or has been. The TV programme Question Time is an example of discussion.

A debate is when the participants not only have existing ideas, but are vehement about the fact that they are right. There is a greater emotional element to a debate than a discussion or dialogue. The debaters meet in a confrontational manner and use rhetoric, logic and empirical evidence to convince the other side that they are correct. A debate is not an argument as it has more structure and there is usually mutual respect for the institution of debating. The point of a debate is to bring forward all the possible arguments in favour of either side and to prove that one side is right based on ideology, evidence etc. Though it is not necessary, a debate often has a winner and as such also has a competitive element not present in discussion or dialogue. Look at some of the Parliamentary question time TV coverage to see an example of debate.
Judith Mills 05/2008

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