Fact and Opinion, and their Place in Dialogue

by Ken Howard

As many of my readers may know, I am administering a volunteer-moderated Facebook group I started early this year, Dialogue across Differences: Speaking from the Heart, which is dedicated to promoting respectful post-election dialogue across the many fissures that have developed over the years and were terribly exacerbated during the last election. Recently, in response to a question from a dialogue participant, I wrote this post, which I thought would be useful to many of you.

A frequent source of confusion in Common Ground Dialogue is the difference between “facts” and “opinion,” and how each are handled under dialogue ground rules.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

FACT: “A thing that is known or proved to be true.” In other words, facts are things that can be independently verified, and something offered as a as fact can be proven or disproven by evidence. Both “Donald Trump is male” and “Hillary Clinton is female” are statements of fact that are demonstrably true, while “Donald Trump is female” and “Hillary Clinton is male” are statements offered as fact that are demonstrably false.

OPINION: “A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” In other words, opinions are statements of values or feelings, and as such are not independently verifiable. Both “Hillary Clinton is a good person” and “Donald Trump is a good person” are statements of opinion that cannot be independently verified or proven true or false. They are not true or false, but simply the POSITION of the person who holds them.

Two people can hold opposite OPINIONS, but they cannot hold opposite FACTS.


Both FACTS and OPINIONS are allowed in Common Ground Dialogue. A common misconception is that FACTS must be “checked at the door” because they might lead to debate. The difference between Dialogue and Debate lies in how they are used by the person offering them.


  • Politely asking for evidence of facts.
  • Dispassionately producing evidence if asked.
  • Offering any actual opinion (as defined above).

Not Allowed:

  • Facts cherry-picked to reinforce a position.
  • Facts used to score points, win an argument against, or beat down an opponent.
  • Attempting to shield facts from verification by wrapping them in a statement phrased as an opinion. (Example: “I believe 3 million people voted illegally” is not an opinion).

Examples of How We Handle Opinions and Facts in Dialogue:

  • If someone states an actual opinion – “I like/don’t like Trump/Clinton,” “I hate/love okra,” or “I believe in choice/I believe in the sanctity of all life” – something they value (or don’t) in dialogue, we don’t ask people to back them up. Rather, we ask questions to help us understand their values and beliefs and what is at stake for them (what is at the heart of the matter).
  • If someone offers an opinion about a fact – “I believe Trump always/never lies,” “I believe Hillary Clinton is/is not a thief,” or “I believe asparagus is a fruit/apples are vegetables” – the person responding may ask for evidence, as long as they do so respectfully.
  • If someone offers a statement of fact – “Trump/Clinton was caught driving 10 miles over the posted speed limit” or “Your dog has fleas” – the person responding may simply accept the statement without comment or respectfully ask for evidence to support the claim.

If this type of conversation appeals to you, please join us at Dialogue across Differences: Speaking from the Heart or simply use these guidelines for your everyday conversations.