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Dialogue Insights and Trainings from Public Conversations

pcp_logoWe read a great piece recently from our friends and organizational members at the Public Conversations Project reminding us about the importance of intentionally preparing ourselves for difficult conversations and presenting new training opportunities to hone our preparedness. Dialogue, deliberation, and other forms of public engagement aren’t always about moving forward together – sometimes we have to work through heavy issues or open conflicts between groups.

As Public Conversations’ Bob Stains writes in the article, if we aren’t ready for the emotions and reactions these conversations can provoke, it can derail the whole dialogue:

…The more intensely I care [about the subject of the dialogue], the higher the conversational stakes, the more likely it is I’ll say something I regret. The thing I’ve said that causes regret is almost always an automatic comeback: a knee-jerk reaction rather than an intentional response, usually defending myself or attacking the other in some way. My reactions in those moments can set others off and then sweep us along a downward-spiraling pathway to pointless argument, misunderstanding and damaged relationships. As I look back on those moments, I wish I’d been able to approach them differently.

Many of us have seen this happen before, or even been the ones reacting from a less-than-productive place, and it reminds us that being prepared for dialogue is ongoing work.

Lucky for us, the Pubic Conversations Project announced in the same post that it will be offering two new two new workshops for the first time this spring called Preparing to Succeed and Facilitating Public Meetings. These trainings will focus on preparing for and facilitating difficult public meetings that will help practitioners show up and perform at their highest level. These two new trainings will be added to Public Conversations’ Fall 2013 – Spring 2014 workshop schedule for trainings on dialogue design, skillful facilitation, powerful practices of inquiry, and more. And NCDD members get a 15% discount on all Public Conversations trainings, so make sure to let them know you’re with us!

But you don’t have to wait until Spring to get new dialogue tools. We’ll leave you with some of the great preparation tips that Bob shared in his blog piece. Next time you’re getting ready for dialogue, consider thinking back to these kinds of questions:

You can prepare for a hard conversation by yourself or with a partner by asking reflective questions. Here are some sample questions from The Uncertain Path to Dialogue: A Meditation, an article by Founding Associate Sallyann Roth:

  • What do I do that shuts others down?
  • What makes it possible for me to listen to them?
  • How can I keep from being taken over by the belief that the other person or group is really the problem?

And more questions to ponder from our pre-dialogue preparatory interview process:

  • When have you had a constructive conversation with someone with whom you disagree on this issue?
  • What aspects or qualities of yourself to you want to make sure to bring out, and what do you want to make sure to restrain in order for you to be at your best in the upcoming conversation?

Finally, simply taking some time to think about your purposes for engaging in the conversation will go a long way. What do you care about? What are you hoping for? What do you want to make sure to avoid? How do you want the relationship to be after this conversation? Stepping back and reflecting on these and other questions beforehand can help you respond intentionally rather than automatically. It can prevent future regrets about things said and turn a potentially destructive conversation into one of mutual learning, understanding and respect.

We hope you can put some of these reflections to use in your own work. You can find the full post on the Public Conversations Project blog, Doing Dialogue, by clicking here: blog.publicconversations.org/preparing-to-connect/#.UoGP_Pl-TS0.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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