Two monologues do not make a dialogue.

Hike - two trees Two monologues do not make a dialogue. -Jeff Daly

In 2004, I started a list serve here in Asheville for the neighborhood in which I live. There wasn't one, and since Al Gore went to the trouble of inventing the Internet, I thought it only polite to actually use it.

As I sit some evenings here in the bucolic village called Asheville with my mint julep or sweet iced tea and read the vitriolic messages among neighbors about trash cans, tree limbs, barking dogs, and other life-altering issues, I think two things: 1) My lord, we are privileged people when these are the issues that occupy our minds; and 2) I have little hope for peace in the Middle East when trash cans in Asheville, North Carolina, can provide ammunition for such utter incivility.

I feel the same way on Facebook or Twitter sometimes when rather than have a dialogue or conversation, people start having monologues in the direct proximity of other people. Two monologues do not a dialogue make. Trying to show how stupid the other person is does not a dialogue make. Repeating your position repeatedly in ever-increasing tones as if they simply cannot hear you does not a dialogue make. Being sarcastic and snide and part of the in-group  and hip does not a dialogue make.

How you have dialogue is more important than the subject matter of the dialogue. That's important to remember. The subject matter seems primary. It is not. The way you conduct yourself in relationship to other human beings, and particularly those with whom you disagree, is the most important part. Forget the subject matter. Forget the vehemence with which you believe in something. The point is this: have you improved upon silence? Have you allowed yourself to hear another human being's point of view and not just sat waiting for them to get to the period and shut up so you can dazzle them with your Truth (and brilliance, obviously)? Have you allowed for the possibility that they are as fully human as you are, even if they hold an opposing point of view? Or are you mainly playing to an audience?

If you approach dialogue with the thought, "hey, I could win this thing!," or "I'll show them!" or "I'll get retweeted!", then it's not a dialogue, it's a debate. If your primary intention is to look smart, convince the other person of your perspective, show how stupid they are, ramrod your position down their throat, then, my friend, that's no dialogue. Just call it what it is: A fight. And yes, some things are worth fighting for–very few, and be particular about it, but some. Just call it what it is rather than pretend you're having a dialogue.

Here are my thoughts about having a successful dialogue:

1. Give up your need to be right. We are attached to our rightness like a dog to a bone, like white on rice, you get the point. Give it up. You don't need to be right. You need to be civil, humane, generative, creative, happy, kind, but right just ain't in that list. What's that? You are right? I know you are, sugar, and I'm happy for you. But making other people see just how right you are won't make you one smidgen righter or more fully human. Let go of being right. Being right is an attachment that is causing you to suffer.

2. Don't pick up your end of the rope. The most powerful person in a tug of war is the person who doesn't pick up his end of the rope. Believe it or not, you don't have to respond. You may feel as if you do, particularly if your way of life, position, person is being assaulted, but you don't. YOU CAN WALK RIGHT AWAY INTO A MORE GENERATIVE POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP. Feeling as if you need to defend your point of view, way of life, position, is the first sign that dialogue has flown by the wayside. No, you're in a death struggle at that point–and you don't need to be. No need at all. None! Don't respond! Don't defend! Don't argue! Walking away is the most healthy thing you can do sometimes. Or as I often do, simply say "I don't see the truth in that" and then walk away.

3. Argue the other person's position. Think you're so bloody smart? Challenge yourself to convincingly and fully articulate the other person's point of view.

4. Listen more than you talk.I'll bet you a hundred bajillion dollars and my Johnny Depp action doll collection that you don't often even hear someone's point of view before jumping in to tell them how stupid they are. Listen ten times more than you talk. Feel compelled to interrupt? Don't. People reveal themselves the more you let them talk. Shut the hell up and listen, people.

5. Ask more questions than you make statements. Frame dialogue as an infinite, not a finite game. An infinite game is one you play to learn; a finite game is one you play to win. Questions are hallmarks of an infinite game–your job is to find out. Statements are hallmarks of a finite game–your job is to win the argument. See numbers 1-4 above. And while you're at it, explore what you have invested in winning. Why is winning so important to you? Can you give it up? Know your intention clearly–is it to win or to learn?

6. Recognize the other person's truth is just as valid as your own. It might not be yours. It might not be remotely related to yours. You may feel like they will go straight to hell believing what they believe. But it is their truth. Just as much as your truth is yours. I know this is hard to believe. But just imagine that this person you're arguing with has hopes and dreams and joys and losses just as potent as your own even if they look vastly different from your own. And don't be confused by form–the way I show love and respect might not involve the same behaviors as someone across the big ocean, but don't be fooled by behavior–look below the surface.

7. Be curious, not judgmental. This means that "YOU'RE A FREAKIN' IDIOT TO BELIEVE THAT" becomes "Really? Help me understand your perspective on dog barking in the neighborhood…" or "Help me understand your objection to gay marriage…"

8. Cultivate spaciousness. Leave space for others to talk. Leave space for you both to sit in silence. See numbers 4 and 5 above.

9. Be kinder than necessary. Before posting/saying, ask yourself one question: "Does what I am about to say belittle the other person in order to make my point?" If the answer is "yes," (and you will know when it is), find another way to make your point, a way that bestows the same level of humanity on the other person as you expect for yourself. Is the way you win by diminishing others? Try another tactic, really. Your karma begs of you.

10. Imagine you are deeply in love with the other person. You still get your point across, but you do it in a much more loving way. Seriously, try this.

11. Question to reveal alternate realities: Every time you make a pronouncement, always ask yourself "what else might be true?" This is a very important question. Ask yourself this question often, at least 10 times a day: "What else might be true?" THAT JERK CUT ME OFF IN TRAFFIC FOR NO GOOD REASON. Well, honey, what else might be true? He might not have seen you. He might have gotten his new Walgreen's flip flop caught in the gas pedal and panicked a wee bit when his life started flashing before his eyes. His pregnant wife might be in labor in the back seat. There is no good reason not to assume positive intent. Whether it's true or not is completely irrelevant, ultimately.

12. Reframe the outcome: Imagine that the point of dialogue is not changing their mind or convincing them of anything, but of creating a deeper, richer relationship between the two of you by sharing disparate viewpoints.

13. Pick up the phone. We rely too heavily on the written word–Twitter, Facebook, and even the ancient form of communication known as email–when nuance only steps lightly into speech. Rather than show your cleverness and linguistic prowess in writing (for an audience, which is most of the fun for some), pick up the phone.

14. Ask "what would love do?"

15. When in doubt (and always be in a tiny bit of doubt, please), love. When in doubt, love.

I wonder what would happen if we engaged in dialogue with people who hold opposing viewpoints by believing that the point of dialogue is not to change their mind or convince them of anything, but to create a deeper, richer relationship by sharing and respecting disparate viewpoints, by imagining that we are creating a better world not by converting people to our positions, but by loving into theirs.

You believe a Mosque anywhere near the World Trade Center site is the work of the devil? I don't. I think good Christian white people in cars, some of them drunk, kill many more people every year than died on 9/11 and yet there are streets all around that sacred ground filled with cars full of good Christian white people in cars, some of them drunk. So we disagree. Perhaps (CALL ME CRAZY) we even review the facts together, your set of facts and mine. 

I believe we can coexist in this human space without shouting obscenities at one another. Call me crazy, but I believe two seemingly opposing viewpoints can–and must–coexist. Sometimes–often–our egos get in the way. Our need to be clever gets in the way. Our desire for an admiring audience gets in the way.

Can two truths exist simultaneously? They do and they must.

"Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve upon the silence?" – Shirdi Sai Baba


  1. You nailed it. Exactly! Thanks!

    “…does it improve upon the silence?” Love that! The rule of thumb I’d previously heard is, “Does it improve the relationship?” but that’s so much harder to get my head around (especially when an argument is on the verge of erupting).

    I’m working on a post about misplaced competition with a similar underlying meaning. We must have been observing/interacting with similar people lately.

  2. Thank you, Patti, for this eloquent reminder.

  3. Beautifully said. And yes, the quality of relationship is everything.

  4. Love it!

    This is why I don’t read any comments posted on news articles. People love to hide behind the anonymity of the internet and don’t care if they offend people or not (and is often the case, are looking to offend people).

    As with news articles, it always seems to come down to Right vs. Left and somewhere along the way someone always seems to be compared to the Nazis! Really! It’s true! (And very very WRONG.)

    So anyway, yes, I love the post, Patti!

  5. Excellent. It is indeed a good reminder. I think some of the most wonderful things about talking with others and debating certain issues is hearing what and why people think what they do even if we disagree, I find I learn more from those whose opinions differ from my own. It’s wonderful and liberating when we realize that, I think. It is the key to maintaining open communication where real problems and issues may perhaps find a solution or just a delightful time spent in the company of one another.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Loved this especially (a good reminder to me, and said with Asheville style:) “What’s that? You are right? I know you are, sugar, and I’m happy for you.”

  7. Absolutely brilliant. Which means, I must agree…*smile* I would love to see this article go virile. It needs to reach a very broad audience. Many of whom still wouldn’t ‘get it’…and that’s okay, too, I suppose.

    Much love to you, Patti. You have indeed improved upon the silence, once again.


  8. A superb post that I hope many, many people will read and then go think about.

    (I wrote a poem called “Mosque” and posted it to my site.)

  9. I am just rediscovering your blog, Patti, and so glad to be back. You have a knack for expressing what’s in my head but not so easy for me to put into words. Lately I’ve been trying something that apparently does not come so easy to me (being a flighty Enneagram Type Nine): ATTENTION. Stop the thought-train in my own head and focus on the other person instead, on what they say, how they say it, see them as the whole human being they are. Have a DIALOGUE with them, even if only by looking them in the eyes when I thank them while paying for my groceries. Your post inspires me to keep practicing attention and dialogue.

  10. As always, you are so very wise. This is just what I needed to hear as I head into a weekend of family togetherness. I particularly like the notion of not picking up the rope. That may be my mantra this weekend.

  11. Thank you for beautifully blueprinting the how of the dialogue. My son just began kindergarten this week, and already these issues and conflicting communication styles are playing out on the playground. It’s empowering to teach and model a way of being that improves upon silence.

  12. Amen. This post speaks to my spirit; I agree with all the points. :)

  13. True? Yes.
    Kind? Ultimately, yes.
    Necessary? Absolutely.
    Thank you.

  14. You wrote, “I wonder what would happen if we engaged in dialogue with people who hold opposing viewpoints by believing that the point of dialogue is not to change their mind or convince them of anything, but to create a deeper, richer relationship by sharing and respecting disparate viewpoints, by imagining that we are creating a better world not by converting people to our positions, but by loving into theirs.”

    I wonder if the writer, director, actors and audience of “Twelve Angry Men” would “see the truth in that?”

  15. Thanks for all your wonderful comments – I’m so happy you found meaning in these words…

    Jim, I don’t understand your question, but it feels as if it’s not really a question, but something you already have an answer to…?

  16. I did infer from the movie that dialogue did lead to people having their minds changed and being convinced. I wasn’t too focused on other motivations, but maybe next time I watch the movie, I can see if “creating deeper richer relationships” was a primary motivation of Henry Fonda’s character.

    If I recall correctly, “the subject matter” in the movie was “life and death.” I felt, in this example of playing to the audience, civility was ultimately less important than “life and death.”

    12 Angry Men is currently rated #8 on

    Have you seen the movie? If so, what was your take-away?

    Do you believe a “change of heart” is different that a “change of mind?”

    Jesus is quoted as saying,”No one is good—except God alone.”

    Do you see any need to reconcile his words with “good Christian white people in cars?”

    You use the word, truth.

    Are you saying “Truth is not Exclusive?”

  17. Jim, I didn’t mean to imply that minds aren’t changed by dialogue – indeed they can be, if we let go of our need to be right long enough to really hear another point of view. As for life or death circumstances, I did mention that there are things worth fighting for–in which case dialogue probably isn’t the instrument of choice. And no, I don’t see a need to reconcile Jesus’ words with my own. To do so seems an act of hubris I’m not prepared to take on. And yes, I am saying that truth is not exclusive, that is it relative. Beautifully complex in its relativity.

  18. Really beautifully said. YES!

  19. Bravo! Doing my part to help it go viral on FB. You are my inspiration!

  20. I needed to read/hear/take in your words today. I have an open wound that oozes with pain – the images and views of those who protest “this” building are so violent. Fear. Anger. Hatred. The “war against terror” has become a “war on” ALL people of Muslim faith. Now, I have some salve to rub on my owie and I thank you for “your good medicine.” xo

  21. I am intrigued by your statement that truth is not exclusive, that truth is relative.

    Are you equating truth with one’s perception and if so, why not use the word “perception” instead? If not, how are “your truth” and “your perception” different?

    Can two contradictory statements both be true in the same sense?

    Are you stating absolutely that truth is not absolute? In other words, are you stating absolutely that truth is relative?

  22. Jim – perhaps I’m not as literal a thinker as you are, or perhaps not as precise a wordsmith. I’m not stating anything absolutely, just offering stories and thoughts into the world to land where they will, to offer food for thought if they might, and – mostly – to allow me to express the particular view of the world that I hold. Am I proselytizing that others should hold my view? No, certainly not. Feel free to differentiate between truth and perception – I just don’t feel the need to do so.

  23. Spot on Patti! I’m using this in my student leadership training this coming week! – this will be great to generate our need for courageous conversations – i have another phrase that I use – courageous conversations create caring communities (er, C to the 5th power). This is the framework and points that we can use to guide us! If we really care for peace in the world, we keep our toes to the fire, and stay in discussion/conversations. Thank you for the inspiration which will feed my motivation!

  24. I really did like this piece, but I smiled sadly when I realized the irony that it’s tough to practice what you preach. If I had a spouse or son or daughter who died in the 9/11 attacks, I am not sure that I would fully appreciate the “loving” and blithe comparison between thousands murdered on a single day and the annual death toll from a problem like drunk driving. Singling out the members of a single race and a single religion for their role as drunk drivers might not be the best way to build bridges either. Still, an “A” for the effort and for the underlying sentiment.

  25. Gannon, thanks for the passing grade, and for the food for thought.

  26. Great post, thoughtful and thought provoking…you got a lot of comments on this one, reached everyone’s heart I think…

  27. When it comes to dialogue in difficult circumstances, I love the stance of a Stanford business prof, Bob Sutton. He says to present your case as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong. Strong opinions, weakly held.

    Oh…and Twelve Angry Men:

  28. More than passing. Good job.

  29. “Recognize the other person’s truth is just as valid as your own.”

    This is a recipe for intellectual suicide and actually an impediment to honest conversation.

    Consider: a ? non-a

    If your view = truth
    And my view = non-your view
    Then my view ? truth

    No matter how bad I want it to.

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t dialogue about it. Ergo, what do you think?

  30. Rick, I like Sutton’s suggestion.

    Michael, is validity exclusive? must truth be Truth to be valid?

  31. Good point. Validity is not exclusive. A false conclusion may with validity follow from a false premise. But I don’t think that sacrificing the language of “truth” is worth it, simply for the sake of being “nice.” Let me share with you an example from my own experience.

    I am (probably no surprise here) a Christian. I recently asked a Muslim gentleman out for coffee. I didn’t know any Muslims in my community even though they have a community center less than two miles from me. It seemed to me high time to change that. Though he seemed skeptical about my wanting to meet him, we exchanged pleasantries and nervously began a conversation. He instantly started talking about how similar our beliefs are, i.e. that Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, that we both follow Abrahamic faiths, etc. Then he said, “We are all just spokes of a wheel with a common center.”

    I said, “Well I don’t really agree with that at all. In fact, I think it’s completely wrong. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good conversation together.”

    He didn’t say, “Well that’s just arrogant” or anything like that. Instead, he seemed completely relieved that we didn’t have to fake agreement about things neither of us–as I subsequently found out–believed. Instead, he said, “You know what? You’re right. Muslims don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross and we certainly don’t believe he is the Son of God.”

    The point at which we became honest about believing that the other was completely wrong was exactly the point at which we were able to engage in honest dialogue.

  32. Michael, I loved your example – I think far too much is lost by our unwillingness or inability to have honest conversation. I’m not interested in “political correctness” or niceness for the sake of niceness. I hope you didn’t take that away from what I wrote as it wasn’t my intention. What the two of you did, it seems to me, is only possible when you detach from the need to be right or make the other person wrong.

  33. mmmmmmmm. this post is yummmy. and the thing that has helped me go from a life of longing to a life of belonging has been learning how to listen and dialogue. it took me years. and it has made all the difference. I can never have too many reminders that listening, truly listening, is the key.

    that being interested, truly interested, is way more powerful than being interesting.

    thanks for this lovely reminder.

  34. Colson commenting about the difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship is quoted:

    “Well, the point here is simply this: Words matter. Time will tell whether the president was using generalizations or was signaling a disastrous policy switch. But in the meantime, let’s make sure that … we use words that communicate the Truth, and not dilute it.”