Dealing with difficult dialogues

When dealing with difficult or complex issues, community engagement requires more than simply hosting a meeting or gathering public comment.  At the most basic level, effective public engagement requires in depth analysis of the people, values, information, and issues involved; careful choice of the structure for dialogue; and planned follow up.  In order to resolve longstanding conflicts and reach sustainable resolution, participants often need to first explore the differing values, interests, relationships and experiences that lie behind different viewpoints.  Unless participants can build mutual trust and resolve emotional connections to a dispute, they will not be able to productively process information and integrate new perspectives.  If focused too soon on just  information or pre-identified options, participants often retreat to communication patterns that can quickly become intense and intractable, eroding or destroying any progress previously made.  By helping participants focus on questions surrounding specific concerns, a common ground often begins to emerge.  Facilitators need a range of coaching, focusing, and conflict resolution skills to help groups move through these difficult dialogues.

One response to “Dealing with difficult dialogues

  1. Mutual trust, and the related quality, mutual respect, are vital. Without a sufficient amount of these, dialogue isn’t going to work. Sometimes this doesn’t exist. My own experience with this is that when this happens it is very helpful to get bridge people involved. These are not moderators, mediators or facilitators, but simply people who are trusted by different groups that don’t trust each other. These bridge people can talk to leaders in groups that aren’t talking to each other, and reduce mistrust, misinformation, misperceptions, etc. Once this has had a chance to work, the groups can start to talk to each other. Finding these bridge people takes some effort, but sometimes they just seem to appear.

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