January Term 2019 Workshop on Dialogue

Engaging Conflict: Reflective Structured Dialogue and the Inner Resources of the Facilitator

Bob Stains photoLed by Robert J. Stains Jr., MEd

The emphasis of this multiday intensive workshop will be on skill-building for individuals active in religious contexts to enable communities to engage difference in constructive ways: proactively, not just reactively. The workshop will weave theory and practice throughout. Participants will be encouraged, but not required, to come prepared to apply their learning to an actual conflict in which they are involved or with which they are familiar.

The workshop will draw on the work of the Public Conversations Project (now Essential Partners, or EP), which began in 1989 as a project of the Family Institute of Cambridge. Its model, Reflective Structured Dialogue, is based on family systems ideas and techniques for working with families faced with repetitive, destructive conflict. The model was developed around the issue of abortion and has proved to be remarkably adaptable across culture, religion, and class, in countries throughout the world, as a tool to address the deepest of conflicts related to identity, values, and beliefs.

Participants will gain hands-on experience and receive coaching on assessing potential difficulties in a group or organization; deciding what detracts from or helps to bring people back into constructive communication; designing dialogue as a means to block old negative patterns and address divides; preparing dialogue participants for fresh encounters; and facilitating the dialogue process. They will explore the challenges that their own identities and backgrounds pose while also noticing and cultivating inner resources and spiritual traditions that allow them to become better attuned and more effective facilitators.

Participants will be expected to read two journal articles and engage in advance reflection in response to prompts before the workshop starts and to read additional material during our time together. There will also be time to work on applying Reflective Structured Dialogue to group, organization, or community needs, so please come prepared to work on a situation in which dialogue for deeper mutual understanding might be useful.

Workshop Objectives

Participants will:

  1. Understand the basics of the theories that inform the thinking and practice of Reflective Structured Dialogue: family systems, narrative therapy, communication and social constructionism, coordinated management of meaning, Martin Buber
  2. Explore resources within religious traditions for engagement across difference and reconciliation
  3. Understand the forms and purposes of the components of dialogue
  4. Experience all aspects of dialogue: preparation, design, structure, listening, speaking, inquiring, facilitating
  5. Understand the forms and functions of different modes of inquiry
  6. Craft questions that serve to open constructive engagement on difficult topics in a group setting
  7. Identify and address communication problems in case studies of religious communities
  8. Apply their learning to an actual situation

Application and Enrollment

Open to current Harvard University students and fellows free of charge. If space permits, open to Harvard University alumni and the public with an RPP administrative fee of $350. Contact rpp@hds.harvard.edu if you have concerns about the fee or questions about the workshop. The workshop does not provide course credit.

Space is limited. Application deadline: TBA. Early application is encouraged. Link to complete the application form will be available soon.