1. Don’t dominate the dialogue.
A “dialogue” is not the same as a monologue. If you’re having a conversation, allow for sufficient give and take. As the APAGS authors suggest:
- Be patient and give others a chance to express themselves. Some people are slower than others to join in the commentary. Whether with one other person or with 50, pause between your own sentences to allow others to collect their thoughts and put them into words.
- Do not interrupt. This is one of the surest ways to infuriate conversation partners. Although some people make awkward pauses in their speech, and seem to go on too long, find a way to allow the conversation to flow.
- Don’t make speeches. Just as you shouldn’t interrupt others, don’t make it impossible for people to comment on what you’re saying. Think of a conversation as a written log; if your comments would occupy an entire page at a time, then you need to provide some breaks in between paragraphs.
- Frame your comments to allow opportunities for interaction. Using occasional questions—“What do you think?” “Does this make sense?”—and putting your views in the form of “I” statements will allow your conversation partners to feel invited to speak, and hence less likely to lash out.
2. Respect opinions.
Show that all viewpoints are important.
- Listen to each other with respect and an open mind. Show that you are able to appreciate what others have to say rather than frowning or looking impatient when someone expresses something that you don’t agree with. An open face will communicate an open mind.
- Recognize that disagreement is okay. Not everyone has to have the same opinion, and by accepting that there are views divergent from your own, you allow your partner to express what she or he has to say.
- All perspectives are valued. Stating explicitly that you value differing perspectives, and then acting as if you do, will reduce the chances of your appearing “acid” like.
3. Everyone is encouraged to participate.
This includes you.
- Don’t allow your thoughts and opinions to go unheard. Just as you want to encourage others to speak up when they have a perspective to offer, don’t feel that you have to restrain yourself. If you stifle your opinions, they’ll only leak out later in an unproductive way.
- It’s okay to change the subject. In the midst of a debate or dialogue, you may feel that an important topic is being overlooked. Explicitly stating why you want to change the subject will help prevent the perception by others that you’re simply barreling into the conversation.
4. Moderators are facilitators, not participants.
- Keep things going rather than dominating the scene. If chosen to lead a group discussion, don’t take advantage of the situation by running the show. Pay attention to the flow of topics among participants and choose speakers in a fair and agreed-upon manner (such as an order of speakers raising their hands at a meeting).
- Use your expertise when asked. It’s possible that you’re leading a group because you are the person charged with its smooth functioning. When someone requests your opinion or asks you for help, it’s okay to volunteer it, as long as you can do so without making others feel that they don’t know as much as you do.
5. Sometimes our best thinking comes after reflection.
Reflection helps bring psychological closure to a dialogue. Ask yourself the following questions after the conversation is over:
- How has your thinking about an issue changed?
- How has your thinking about other people’s views changed?
Being a good conversationalist is slightly different from being someone who can engage in dialogue. The kind of dialogue in which people feel valued, listened to, and respected is the kind that produces the greatest strides, and fulfillment in yourself and your dialogue partners.