Public Conversations Project
The Southern California Mediation Association recently presented the Public Conversations Project with an award for its work in promoting public dialogue on divisive issues. If you turn from CNN in disgust or if FOX News sends you running for the Daily Show, now's the time to check out PRC.Have we ever been this divided? How do we identify ourselves? Democrat and Republican? Red State or Blue? Men and Women? White and Black? Rich, poor, "comfortable," working or middle class? Christian, Muslim and Jew? Mediators, lawyers, social workers, therapists, academics.
The 13th century Muslim mystic, Rumi (translated here by Coleman Barks) wrote:
I, you, he, she, we
In the garden of mystic lovers,
these are not true distinctions.
Rumi got it right 800 years ago. These superficial differences among us are "not true distinctions." That being said, here are PCP's "Eleven Tips for Making a Hard Conversation Work.
Every one who is part of a conversation has some responsibility for how it develops. Even if there is a host, facilitator or group leader, everyone involved can play a role in helping conversations meet the highest hopes of everyone present.
1. If you feel misunderstood, clarify what you mean ("let me put this another way...") or ask the listener to repeat what she heard you say. Then affirm or correct her statement.
2. If you feel confused, ask a question that seeks clarification or more information. Or you can paraphrase what you have heard. ("Are you saying that...?")
3. If you feel hurt, angered or disrespected, say so. If possible, describe exactly what you heard or saw that triggered your reaction. ("When you said X, I felt Y.") If it is hard to be specific, just say, "OUCH" to flag your reaction.
4. If you feel angry, express the anger directly (e.g. "I felt angry when I heard you say X...") rather than expressing it indirectly, for example, by trashing another person's statement or asking a sarcastic rhetorical question.
5. If you feel cut off, say so or override the interruption. ("I want to hear what you have to say, but I'd like to finish first...")
6. If someone asks a rhetorical question, ask him to rephrase it. ("That seems like a rhetorical question. Is there a question you're genuinely curious about that I could answer?")
7. If someone makes a sweeping generalization, ask her to name a specific person she is referring to and/or to speak about his personal experience with people she knows.
8. If someone makes assumptions, point it out. ("It sounds like you assume everyone in X group thinks Y. That's a pretty broad assumption. What in your personal experience makes you think that?")
9. If you feel uncomfortable with the way the conversation is going, say so and ask what others' experience is. If others share your concerns and you have an idea about what might improve the conversation, offer that idea. ("How about taking a minute to reflect on whether this is the kind of conversation we want to have together?")
10. If you think the conversation is going off track, share your observation and check in with others. ("I thought we were discussing X, but it seems we bypassed it and are focusing on Y. I'd like to go back to X and finish that conversation. How does that sound?")
11. If you made communication agreements and someone forgets to observe them, share your observation. ("We agreed not to use labels, and you just called my political party X...") If someone draws your attention to a lapse on your part, thank him. Either way, you are creating an opportunity to honor a prior commitment.
For more help promoting real dialogue, visit www.publicconversations.org
To download the full PDF version of this document please click here.
And if you're still having that uncomfortable polarized feeling, don't reach for the valium! Just click here for Margaret Herzig's Moving from Polarized Polemic to Constructive Conversation. Cruise PCP's site and you might just survive the holidays with your relatives!