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  • Writer's pictureJanet Chance

Q:Wonder how communities can talk about tough issues? A: Reflective Structured Dialogue

Are you concerned about the world and how divisive we have become, about the loss of civility? Are you wondering how you can get your community - whether that is your neighborhood, your church, your organization, or your family, to discuss controversial or emotionally riddled topics? Look into Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD).

RSD is a process designed to create an environment where personal experiences and values can be shared in a respectful space among people who historically are hindered by distrust, animosity, and divisiveness. It was based on techniques from family therapy to interrupt unproductive communication behaviors. The process allows each person to speak from their own viewpoint while sharing the time equally with other participants in rounds. The structure of the rounds provides participants the freedom to decide if they share and what they share.

The questions posed in each round promote reflection and sharing of experiences and values. Each participant will get to speak if they so choose, but this does not mean each participant will like what they hear. Nor does it mean participants will change their minds, that is not the intent. RSD allows each participant to gain an understanding of why the other side thinks the way they do and to be better understood themselves.

The purpose of the dialogue is not an agreement but a change in the outlook of future interaction between those in disagreement. This may seem like a small goal – you won’t be able to point to a plan or decision, but it is no small feat. Changing hearts and minds away from the stereotypical view of the opposing groups is a huge accomplishment in of itself.

I participated in an RSD on monuments led by Mediators Beyond Boarders International (MBBI) in a training session and was surprised at the nuanced facets of the topic. RSD has been used on issues such as abortion, monuments, race, bathrooms, and so much more. If your community is suffering from distrust and polarization, look into a qualified Reflective Structured Dialog facilitator. You will be surprised at just how positive an effect it can have.

Herzig, Maggie, and Laura Chasin. Fostering Dialogue across Divides: a Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project. Essential Partners, 2018.

Rawls, Raye. “Reflective Structured Dialog Training.” Mediators Beyond Borders International. Member Training, 2 Sept. 2020, Remote, Zoom.


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