Strategies for Successful Dialogue, No Matter the Setting

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After the 2016 election, TCL’s pastor Carrie Graham shared some thoughts on building community in successful dialogue. In a charged cultural setting growing more divided each day, TCL revisits some strategies gleaned within our community that not only keep us healthy and productive, but that may be carried out to the community at large.

  • Expand Proximity! Sometimes we mistake being “open-minded” for being around like-minded people. Take note that embracing diversity and trying to understand people you don’t already understand are at times different things. We have good work to do. To do it, it takes intentionally placing ourselves in less comfortable, less like-minded environments. It may not be comfortable, but it is fruitful over time!

  • Note the Narrative! Strongly held within us are narratives that we subconsciously affirm and perpetuate. When we have new experiences, what stands out to us are the pieces that endorse already-held beliefs. We follow a script that is hard to change, and it is bewildering when we encounter someone that doesn’t follow a script very similar to our own. Necessary in dialogue is humility. Specifically needed is a willingness to change, question our own biases, and to take a step back and wonder what else might be at play when we are tempted to make the world simpler by blithely dismissing others’ convictions.

  • Gauge Readiness! There is such a thing as someone who has been talked into a dialogue, attends, and is not ready. For instance, I often say if someone “needs to win,” they are not ready for the dialogue and would do better to wait to attend until a different season of life. There is also such a thing as a dialoguer being well-meaning and not ready for certain topics within a particular dialogue. A dialogue’s success depends in part on the honesty and vulnerability of its participants. We validate and invite, which allows for participation at the level each participant is prepared for.

  • Watch for Undercutting! When someone asserts something about their own convictions, feelings or reasons for actions, and another dialoguer contradicts that person's lived experiences, the dialogue is dismantled. If one person is permitted to undercut someone’s feelings or convictions, then we lose the vital dialogical commitment of seeking to understand before being understood. Here, we must pause, back up, and work toward collectively to re-committing to the legitimacy of each dialoguer’s experiences.

  • Self-Awareness is a Work in Progress! Sometimes we may encounter a feeling or response to something someone shares that we simply didn’t expect, or that we do not understand. This is an opportunity to grow, to reflect beyond the dialogue, and perhaps to seek pastoral care or the care of your worshipping community. We expect difficult moments when we risk vulnerability around sensitive topics! We ask for grace and compassion for ourselves and others when caught off guard.

We at TCL invite you to employ some of these considerations as you engage in any number of settings with others who are different from you. If you are curious to engage in TCL’s dialogue community or have any questions about successful dialogue strategies, please visit our contact page!