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Conversation Dinners or Conversation Meetings

The concept of the “Conversation Dinner” seems to have come from Theodore Zeldin. For this simple process, people are split into pairs and given a “conversation menu” from which they can choose their conversation topics. The menu could have a subject area theme such as “intergroup dialogue” or it could be a generic menu listing personal questions designed to help people to get to know each other. Conversation Meetings may or may not happen over meals; sometimes partners are encouraged to take walks together. Whatever the situation, privacy is key.

A group in the United Kingdom called The Oxford Muse has held a number of "Muse Conversation Dinners."  Here is a quote from their website:

"At the invitation of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, we orgainsed a Muse Conversation Dinner. The participants sat at tables laid for two, each with a partner they had never met before. A Muse Conversation Menu listed 24 topics through which they could discover what sort of person they were meeting, their ideas on many different aspects of life, such as ambition, curiosity, fear, friendship, the relations of the sexes and of civilisations. One eminent participant said he would never again give a dinner party without this Muse Menu, because he hated superficial chat. Another said he had in just two hours made a friend who was closer than many he had known much longer. A third said he had never revealed so much about himself to anybody except his wife. Self-revelation is the foundation on which mutual trust is built."

The Oxford Muse convenes people who want to get beyond superficial talk and have adventurous conversations. Some of their recent Conversation Meals include:

  • A dinner held for around fifty Oxford residents from diverse backgrounds, which was part of our Portrait of a City Project. Photos and thoughts about the dinner.
  • A mass meal in which hundreds of the inhabitants of the French city of Besançon dined in a huge park in pairs with our Menu of Conversation. The event was organised by the regional government of Franche-Comté; and inspired by the Maison du Temps et de la Mobilité of Belfort, of which Theodore Zeldin is Honorary President.

    A dinner held in Leeds, organised at the request of the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, bringing together local community and business leaders, public service officials, and voluntary association organisers. Listen to comments from a participant who learned more about a work colleague during the dinner than he had from working in the same office for twenty years.

  • A meal for business people on the Leadership Course for Senior Executives at Templeton College, Oxford University.

We learned about this process through the Gurteen Knowledge Website, at www.gurteen.com.

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