Richard J. Prystowsky at AACU:
How to Guide Groups in Embracing Viewpoint Diversity
- → When possible, have participants sit in a circle in order to create a community-like setting.
- → Agree to jettison hierarchies in the room. Also agree that no one will be retaliated against for expressing a view that others do not like. One by one, everyone should commit to these agreements verbally.
- → Establish decorum rules that everyone agrees to follow (for example, no name-calling or personal attacks).
- → Ensure that everyone who wants to speak will have an opportunity to do so. (Perhaps use a “talking stick.”)
- → Especially for difficult discussions, establish common ground that unites the group (such as, “Do we all agree that we want to be engaged citizens working for the benefit of our communities?”).
- → Ask participants to avoid using overly general words or phrases such as “liberals,” “conservatives,” “the left,” or “the right.” Often, such terms are divisive and do not advance understanding or help to create alliances.
- → Remind participants to listen and speak to others as they would want others to listen and speak to them.
- → Agree to listen to others in order to understand them rather than to be ready to reply to them.
- → Before participants respond to a perspective that they find problematic, they should first summarize the perspective in a way that the person holding it would deem accurate. If they summarize it incorrectly, they should ask for clarification.
- → Commit to supporting each other, especially when people disagree. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when hearing good-faith views that challenge one’s own assumptions.
- → Participants should not necessarily assume bad faith on the part of those whose views they find challenging.
- → At the end of each session, restate the group’s unifying common ground.
- → Inject grace. Allow for mistakes.
- → Remember: Ultimately, it’s about maintaining good relationships, establishing alliances, and strengthening the group’s health, not about adopting the same perspectives.