January Term 2019 Workshop on Dialogue

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

Bob Stains

Led by Robert J. Stains, Jr., MEd

Intensive 4-day Workshop
Monday, January 7 to Thursday, January 10, 2019
9:00 am-1:00 pm and 2:00-5:00 pm

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. 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.

Workshop Objectives

Participants will:

  1. Understand the theories and practices of Reflective Structured Dialogue
  2. Explore resources within religious traditions for engagement across difference and reconciliation
  3. Deepen their understanding of what they bring to group work as facilitators or potential facilitators
  4. Experience all aspects of a dialogue session: preparation, design, structure, listening, speaking, inquiring
  5. Craft questions that serve to open constructive engagement on difficult topics in a group setting
  6. Identify and address communication problems in case studies of religious communities
  7. Apply their learning to an actual situation.

Required Reading and Preparation Before the Workshop

  • Read two journal articles that will be provided by workshop leader in advance.
  • Come prepared to work on a situation in which dialogue for deeper mutual understanding might be useful, as we will work on applying Reflective Structured Dialogue to group, organization, or community needs.
  • Bring with you an object, symbol or metaphor that illustrates the kind of facilitator you aspire to be by participating in this workshop.
  • Reflect on the following questions, writing your answers for your own use as you introduce yourself in the group:
    • How does your object, symbol or metaphor reflect your larger, or sacred, purpose as a facilitator?
    • What do you hope to achieve for yourself by coming to this workshop?
    • What aspects or qualities of yourself would you want to make sure to bring out that would help you get the most from your participation? On the other hand, what aspects or qualities might get in your way, that you might want to restrain or hold back?
  • Reflect on the following question, which we will discuss during the workshop: How do your spiritual and cultural traditions and/or other sources of inspiration inform the qualities you aspire to have as a facilitator?

Required Reading and Reflection During the Workshop

Outside the sessions during the workshop, participants will:

  • Read additional material and do additional reflective exercises.
  • Reflect on how to apply Reflective Structured Dialogue to group, organization, or community needs.

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 $250. 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. Extended application deadline: Wednesday, November 28. Click to apply.