Creating Space for Good Conversation
“Conversation is innate to humans. You can rely on this as you invite people to join a conversation. Talking and listening to one another is something we remember; it’s what humans have done for thousands of years, so it’s deep in our species’ memory. These days, because of the bad habits we’ve developed and the frantic pace of our lives, we may need to be reminded about slowing down, not interrupting, listening to each other and not instantly responding.” – Margaret Wheatley
So, you’re interested in hosting a good conversation in your church, school, seminary or community? Great! But, now what? Where do you start?
As Meg Wheatley says in the quote above, we all have the skills needed for good conversation – we just need to remind ourselves how to do it. And, we believe that the best way is to just simply start. It is as simple as inviting a few friends to get together to have a conversation about things close to their heart.
Below we have listed some advice and guidelines to help you get started. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
We have also created some pages on our website that focus on The Circle Process and Ritual & Relational Covenants. These processes will help you facilitate larger groups in a way that we have found to be powerfully spiritual for all involved. Be sure to visit them as well.
Who Should I Invite? – If you’re hosting a conversation in a local church or at seminary, start with those you know well and are close to. Practice compassionate listening with one another and speaking from the heart. Then, as the conversations continue, keep extending the invitations out to others to enlarge the group.
What is the Ideal Number of Participants? – An ideal size for a conversation circle is 5-8. Starting out smaller than this is OK too and will allow for a more relaxed and easier to facilitate conversation. Eight people in a group allows for greater diversity of opinion and life experiences and is small enough to allow everyone to speak an ample amount of time. More than eight people will result in a much longer circle and less time for each person to speak. Another option when faced with a large group is to split the group up into smaller circles.
Where Should It Take Place? – Anywhere that is quiet and free from distractions. A church social hall or a seminary classroom can be transformed into a space for reflective conversation with the addition of a simple lighted candle.
Inviting Others – Inviting others over the phone or in person is always helpful because it allows you to respond to questions about the purpose of the conversation. But, emailing or invitations over social networking might be quicker and more efficient. As you invite others, be clear about the purposes – learning from one another/becoming a closer community/stronger relationships – and be clear to indicate that the purpose is not for people to convince to think a certain way or argue over what is right and what is wrong. Be sure to include a clear start and end time and some indication of what to expect. You can link them to www.justpeaceumc.org/goodconversation so they can get an idea.
What Should We Talk About? – The topics discussed should matter to the people present in the conversation. At JustPeace, we like to use principles of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Instead of asking, “What’s wrong?” or “What issues do we disagree on?”, the AI approach assumes that every individual has something positive to build on. In the context of your church, seminary or school, ask questions that bring out people’s best experiences – “What are we doing well?”, “What do you like best about our community?” The purpose is to build relationship and community, not to dive into controversial topics and try to solve them all! Discussing divisive hot button topics can be done in a circle too, but conversations such as this can quickly devolve from a good conversation to heated arguments if a strong sense of community and relationship isn’t already formed.
Where Can We Turn For Advice? – We would absolutely love to hear from you if you’re thinking about hosting a good conversation. We are available to answer questions, talk through issues, and provide you with additional resources should you need them. Please click here to contact us.