Difficult Conversations:
The art and science of thinking together

Slides and Speaker Notes


WElcome, agenda and getting oriented

Click to enlarge.

Welcome and thank you for being here. Before we get to the agenda and brief introductions, I‘d like to start by saying a little about this workshop.

This workshop is a response to what many feel is a critical time in our country: a time when the future of our nation, and of humanity as a whole, depends on our ability to get outside our bubbles: to reach across our economic, social and political divides and engage in meaningful dialogue. Only then can we find common ground, and begin building our future in concert and with wisdom.

One thing we know, however, is that this is much easier said than done! Such dialogues can require patience, commitment, self-awareness, trust, and at times even courage.

Helping us gain these skills is the goal of this workshop. Because the more of us who know how to turn contentious debate into constructive dialogue, the better our chances of coming together to create the kind of future we all want.

Optional slide.

This is a large group and not everyone knows each other. So let's start by taking about five minutes to give us all a chance to greet each other.

NOTE: I use this slide when facilitating large groups. Getting people moving and meeting each other right away helps reduce feelings of anxiety that can arise in situations where we don't know everyone or are not sure exactly what we just signed up for! 

Thank you, everyone, for participating so energetically in that group greeting! Let's come back together now and review what we'll be covering during our time together.

We'll take a few moments to get oriented to the day, and then do some further introductions. That should all take about a half hour. The we'll get into the heart of the workshop, which is divided into four parts. Part 1 is "Our Challenge/Our Choice," followed by three explorations that I've cleverly called Three Explorations! I'll tell you more about each of these when we get there.

I’ll then introduce elements of what I call a personal practice to help us be the people we need to be to have the conversations we need to have.

Then we'll close with a summary and a few minutes of reflection.

Okay, just a few words about how we'll be working. Sometimes we'll be all together, sometimes we'll be working just with those at our table, sometimes in pairs, and finally there'll be some individual reflection time as well.

I used to have several agreements, but found that people rarely remembered them. So now I have one, and it seems to be sufficient: To treat each other with respect. It means "to look again." So if you find yourself reacting to something I say, or someone else says, take a moment to register your reaction, and then look again. Did the person intend to say what you heard? Might they be interpreting their words differently from you? It's a reminder, when we are in a reactive place, to step back, relook, and ask questions to make sure we really understand what they're saying. Is this agreement okay with people?

Optional slide.

What I'd like you to do now is appoint a time monitor at your table. The role of the time monitor is to help keep you on track, and to make sure everyone has a chance to speak within the time allotted to the activity. Everyone have a time monitor? Good. Thank you.

NOTE: I use this slide for large groups that have been subdivided into smaller groups. 

Optional slide.

Okay, now let's take a few moments to help us all get present. 

Note: I don't always use this slide. It depends on the situation. When it feels right, I do something along the lines of what you'll find here.

Okay, now let's get to know each other in just a little more detail. We'll do it in two rounds, and for each round I’d like to ask you to keep your answers short, say about 30 seconds. That will give us plenty of time for the rest of our conversation. Our time monitors will keep track for us. Thank you, time monitors!

Let's start with some brief introductions: your name, where you're from, what you do with your time, etc. 

Thank you for sharing. Next it would nice to hear from everyone: What brought you to this workshop, and what would you like to get out of it?

Who would like to start us off?

Before we jump in, a few words about t what this workshop is and isn't.

It's not about techniques or strategies. There's some of that, but what it really focuses on is self-awareness:  Understanding what gets in OUR way of having difficult conversations. What triggers us? Why? And when it happens, what can we do about it to keep the conversation in a creative, productive space? 

If there are two people having a difficult conversation and both have a high level of self-awareness, amazingly productive things can happen. And if only one of them has a high level of self-awareness, there's still a high probability a difficult conversation will end positively. But if neither is self-aware, then that's when difficult conversations can really spiral out of control.

So one way to think about the purpose of this workshop is to increase the number of people in the world with enough self-awareness to be a positive change agent in any conversation that arises.

The last thing I want to say before we jump in is "try it on."

This workshop is about offering ideas and concepts that you may find helpful when encountering communication challenges. The material is grounded in research, and my website has a listing of all the resources that went into it. That said, I've arranged it in a way that makes sense to me, and I've put a narrative around it that is true to my own experience. In that sense, I offer it as a personal sharing -- a way of looking at the world that I've found helpful and rewarding.

It's up to you to decide if it makes sense to you. The only valid testing ground for the truth or helpfulness of these concepts is your own life. As a friend of mine used to say, "the test of truth is experience." Your experience.

An analogy I like to use is to think of this workshop as a coat. You're going to try on this coat for about four hours. After that time, you may decide to keep it on, maybe with a little tailoring here and there. Or you you may decide to hang it up in your closet, possibly to try on later. Or finally, you may decide it's not for you and you're going to donate it to The Salvation Army.

All are acceptable outcomes!