Acknowledge common ground
to build a more unified and proactive community.
Every day we find ourselves bombarded by lots of talking. When fortunate, we get to hear and engage in real conversations. Speaking, listening, questioning, listening, responding, questioning, listening, and so on. Give and take. Genuine listening. Authentic questioning.
For the past several months, a cadre of people in my community have chosen to develop their conversation skills by engaging in deliberative dialogues. Residents come together to discuss hot-button issues. As the National Issues Forums Institute describes it, neighbors come together to discuss some of the “thorniest issues” a community confronts. NIFI works closely with its research partner, the Kettering Foundation, to provide issue guides to nurture open-minded community conversations.
A deliberative dialogue is not a debate. Rather than a contest to make a point, vanquish a different perspective, and win, it is a gathering designed to dissect, question, and listen to various perspectives. The agreed upon goal is to seek common ground. Deliberative dialogues understand quick change is illusory. The participants consider and reconsider differing views on an issue. Again, not win but, rather, to seek understanding—one skill set that is often missing in a call-out pyrotechnic culture.
At its core, a deliberative dialogue promotes civil conversation Consider these basic ground rules for a deliberative dialogue:
- Listen carefully to understand.
- Encourage participation by all participants. No one should dominate.
- Everyone is encouraged to speak.
- Consider the options and actions fairly.
- Disagree out of curiosity, not anger.
- Move toward understanding.
From my experience with the process (as a participant and as a breakout discussion group moderator), a successful deliberative dialogue promotes civil discord. We need to understand where our differences lie, talk about them, understand why they exist, and what we can do about them.
A two-fold goal emerges when a community comes together for a deliberative dialogue. First, the participants see a need to address a particular “thorny” issue—one that affects quality of life. In the past six months, the dialogues in our beach communities have addressed issues of toxicity in our societal discourse, mass shootings, mental illness in America, and (to come in November), sea level rise.
Once together, the second goal comes into focus: How do we identify the common ground we share on what can be divisive issues, and how might acknowledging that common ground allow us to build a better community?
I served as a co-moderator in a session earlier this month that addressed “Mental Illness in America: How Do We Address a Growing Problem?” The ground rules provided a pathway to move beyond divisive tribalism to a more productive and unifying conversation about issues. As Kettering shares on its website, such a discussion is “distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.”
The focus is on listening and options. Not collective monologues and political diatribes. In short, what should we do as a community about the problem on the table? What options are available and what opportunity costs come with each option?
As we listen and observe our societal rhetoric amplifying to a level that makes understanding more difficult, one of the strategies of deliberative dialogues stands out above all: It’s OK to disagree, but do so with curiosity, not hostility…and…avoid coming to conclusions until we have deliberated on all the options.
A worthy goal.
Video Recommendation for the week.
As you hear in this brief video, deliberative dialogues build energy with smaller communities to nurture a vibrant larger community. Dialogues lead to education, understanding, and community mobilization. In a word, connectedness.
Make it a great week and HTRB has needed.
My latest book, Community as a Safe Place to Land (2019), (print and e-book) is available on Amazon. More information (including seven free podcast episodes that spotlight the seven core values highlighted in the book) at www.stevepiscitelli.com.
Check out my book Stories about Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island (2017). It has been adopted for teaching, learning, and coaching purposes. I conducted (September 2019) a half-day workshop for a community college’s new faculty onboarding program using the scenarios in this book. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same. The accompanying videos would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
My podcasts can be found at The Growth and Resilience Network®.
You will find more about what I do at www.stevepiscitelli.com.
©2019. Steve Piscitelli
The Growth and Resilience Network®