Effective communication is about practicing behaviors that will get you positive results rather than finding yourself stuck doing things that don’t work. In the first part of Deeper Communication Skills, we looked at how to help people talk in a meaningful way. In this post, we’ll review how to help a group work together on a challenging issue or any topic of interest. To continue the process from last time, reconvene the group and work through the following steps in order.
- Have the facilitator pick a topic of interest.
- Divide people into groups of four or five.
- Have each group repeat the process above by having each member give his or her perspective on the topic and the remainder of the group listening.
- Ask the group to brainstorm possible ways to deal with the topic. Have them write down their ideas and remind them that all ideas are valid and welcome. Let everyone know that this is just brainstorming, not the time for rebuttals, reactions or debate.
- Ask the group to pick one brainstorm item to start working on. Remind the participants that it doesn’t matter which item they pick, what matters is that they’ll be working together on whatever it is. Invite participants to let go of the need to advocate for their favorite item, encourage them to focus on the collaboration not the name of the item.
- Have each participant tell their group briefly what he or she will do to work on the brainstorm item and by when he or she will complete the action.
- Have each group share what happened in their group, what they decided to work on and how each will contribute.
- Take a break.
At this point you could adjourn the meeting. If time permits, you could have people share what they thought about the process. Give everyone a chance to talk from the heart but keep it brief.
So how does this process help people communicate on a deeper level? These exercises help people practice behaviors that are conducive to resolving conflict and promoting peaceful interaction. They eliminate the distractions that occur in standard conversations and give everyone an equal voice. The trap many people fall into is thinking that these types of interactions have to be about someone winning and someone losing. Both sides try to impose their will and no common ground is identified. The difference in the process outlined here is that it gets rid of both side’s agendas, encourages them to empathize and allows them to generate solutions collaboratively.
Well-meaning people can come together and move past the standard grievances and recriminations that plague so many interactions and shift to a model where they build trust and understanding. There is a huge amount of power in listening to other people’s stories and making decisions based on commonalities and shared experiences. When you set up an environment where people are able to let go of unproductive behaviors you open the door to creating positive relationships and mutually beneficial problem solving. This approach isn’t a quick fix but it yields remarkable long-term results. What will you do to promote deeper communication?