1. Assume good intentions in every speaker
2. Be curious. People who are truly curious ask questions and then listen intently without judgement about what is offered.
The purpose of this guideline is to focus on understanding rather than being “right”. By doing this we create an environment where people feel their experiences are valued and we add valuable pieces to the bigger picture of which we are all part.
There is almost nothing as disarming as someone who is truly curious to understand what our reality is all about. This kind of curiosity is not being “nosy” or “intrusive”. It comes from a genuine and sincere interest in understanding the other person.
3. We will listen even when someone is saying something challenging and that we may not want to hear.
The purpose of this guideline is to demonstrate that we are interested in learning from others and acknowledging the value of their truth even though it may be challenging because it is different from ours.
By being willing to “hang in there” we demonstrate our willingness to respect different experiences and perhaps learn from them. If something evokes a strong response in you, notice this and when it is your turn to speak you may choose to say something about your experience of hearing what the person shared.. By speaking from “I” you can acknowledge your reality while respecting the person who spoke as well as contribute a different or additional point of view.
4. Be willing to examine your own thinking
The purpose of this guideline is to build awareness of how the assumptions that we hold influence and color the way we experience people and situations, sometimes in ways that limit us and sometimes in ways that expand our horizons. A willingness to test our own assumptions is a mark of a person who is open to learning.
We all have assumptions about how the world works, certain groups, about why other people do or say things, etc. During a Dialogue it is useful to be willing to become more aware of your assumptions and even hold them up for examination, asking “What if I thought differently about this? How would my relationships and life change for the better?”
Stereotypes are examples of assumptions about people and groups that often limit the way we interact with people. Because a stereotype robs a person of her individuality and uniqueness, it is a barrier to building relationships. As we become willing to be curious, listen and learn more about how people are actually thinking and feeling we open the door to expanding our perceptions and building connections where there were none.
5. We will allow each other mistakes if we do not always use the correct and/or accurate language
The purpose of this guideline is to give people permission to speak without using the perfect words so that they will not feel inhibited by risk of using language that is inaccurate or may be jarring to another person. This guideline is not permission to intentionally use disrespectful language.
We all make mistakes in the words we use either because we don’t know what is appropriate or we are trying to communicate something important and unintentionally use a word that is inaccurate and /or disturbing to someone else. This is a risk we all take when we choose to share our thoughts and feelings in the moment. If we feel we can only communicate if we say it “right” we may not risk saying anything at all. So, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and listen with an intention to hear what is really important to the person speaking.
6. We will not evaluate or judge the views or experiences of others with our words, tone of voice or body language.
The purpose of this guideline is to create an environment where people are not afraid to express what they are thinking and feeling for fear of being jumped on or judged; to enable a conversation where everyone can understand and be understood.
Although we all continually judge what others say, it is important that for the period of this conversation such judgments be set aside, in the interests of listening to and learning about the experience of the other person. If we do not set aside our judgments we will not be able to listen with an open heart to what is said. There will be a time to evaluate later. Right now the focus is on learning different viewpoints.
This does not mean that you need to set aside the strength of your passions. In fact, it is because we want to create an environment where everyone can speak about what is most important, that we temporarily suspend our criticisms so that everyone, including ourselves, can be heard. We want to seek to understand and be understood.
7. Expect and accept non-closure
Since the purpose of Dialogue is to deepen understanding rather than problem-solving, it is an on-going (one hopes life-long) pursuit with no discrete beginning or end.