Ground rules for Productive Dialogue
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Ground rules for Productive Dialogue

There are nine ground rules that guide each Can We Talk? event. Before each one, we ask every student to agree to follow them. It's part of the role of the trained moderators who guide Can We Talk? breakout groups to enforce the ground rule for their group. The Can We Talk? team is available to help train you on how to implement these ground rules. To go deeper, see this series of essays on the ground rules.

Listen. It's as important as talking.

Simply waiting for your turn to talk is not “listening.” We stay willing, even eager, to hear something that will expand our thinking, and maybe even shake it up a little.

Make room for everyone to speak.

No one dominates the conversation. It takes effort by the group to create spaces, openings where someone is shy or cautious can speak too.

Disagreement is fine.

Figure out why you disagree. Don't feel like you need to "hide" your true self. But don't try to "win." If you leave a dialogue with a better understanding of why someone else holds a view that’s different from yours, then that’s the real victory.

Try to build on each other's ideas.

Work to connect what you have to say with what others have said before.

Ask clarifying questions to understand

Before stating disagreement or rejection of something someone has said, first try to make sure you’ve really heard and understood them.

Consider the possibility that your information may be incomplete.

Even if you've done some work to be informed, remember that you may not have been exposed to some ideas, facts, or experiences that other people can contribute to the dialogue.

Who is not in the room. What might they say?

Any given dialogue group might lack some diversity of viewpoint, gender, ethnicity, class, identity or experience. Think of something you've heard something say, or something you've read, that represents a different perspective, life experience, or stakeholder interest.

Be honest, but never mean.

Civil dialogue does not require you to bury your passions for the sake of politeness. But it does ask you to avoid personal attacks that leave wounds and shut down conversations. Show respect for others’ humanity and their shared stake in the future of our society.

One more time: Listen

Listening is a skill you have to work at. One part of that work is always remembering to pause before you speak.