just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

From Monologue to Dialogue

Published on 20/08/19
by randy

Going Deeper

Are you interested in going deeper in your conversations with friends and family?  Are you tired of just talking about the weather, sports, and gossip about other people?  Would you like to engage others in the rich exploration of how we know what we think we know without being attacked?

I’ve studied communication and its disorders for almost fifty years and have found the following system to be the most effective.  It’s been called circle process, conversational cafe and council, just to name a few.  Essentially, the group agrees on certain rules, just like we do for most of the games we play.  It’s no longer about the loudest voice in the room.  It’s about a sincere desire to understand rather than the typical push to persuade.  It’s not about trying to come to a consensus or agreement.  It’s about respect for each other and a deeper willingness to come to an empathetic position of understanding with one another.  So how does it work?

Think of it like agreement to play a sports game.  There are rules that need to be followed, and when it comes to communication success we have very few examples.  Our media, politics and religion are usually fixed in beliefs, in a lack of willingness to surrender a sense of ‘being right’ for the open curiosity found in deeper exploratory conversation.  For dialog to happen we need the following rules to follow:

  1. Calm the mind’s chatter with a few moments of silence, just putting attention to the breath. This sets a common intention to hold a sense of equanimity through the game.
  2. Listen for understanding and surrender any notions of rehearsing a response when another is speaking.
  3. Agree to only speak when holding a talking piece, and agree to speak from the heart, from what comes up at the moment.
  4. Put some attention to ‘what you mean’, ‘how you came to know what you think you know’, and determine whether it’s worth saying or not.  It’s ok to hold the talking piece in silence.  There’s no need to persuade, perform, or fix.
  5. Agree to abstain from persuasion, attempts to fix, advice, judgment, etc.
  6. When speaking, speak, but not on and on.  Agree that each person has an allotted time to speak and a referee (guardian) will ring the bell if a participant’s behavior is straying from the agreed upon rules.  Usually, after a topic has been agreed upon, each participant will begin with a one to three minute expression that doesn’t reference anything any of the other participants have said.  On the second round there can be reference and after two rounds, at a deeper level, conversation can ensue without the need for a talking piece.  However, if the referee believes the rules are not being followed, they can institute the talking piece once again.

7.   Agree to hold the contents of the circle confidential with the intention to cause no harm.

One of the more difficult rules is to abstain from persuasion and attempts at fixing or giving advice. Surrendering our notions of thinking we are right creates a huge challenge.  To get to empathy, we agree to fully listen for the other’s experience, to do what we can to understand.  We’re aiming to hear what they’re communicating without coming to judgment or conclusion.

I’ve done a number of these communication labs and welcome anyone who’s interested in this process to contact me.  In today’s polarized society where we seem to either stop communicating or we just yell at each other, it’s crucial to our very survival as a species to start applying some human rules to how we communicate with one another.

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