Written by Paige Dawson on Thursday, May 25th, 2017
Recently, I joined with Dallas-area leaders to embark on a candid discussion on race relations as part of the Year of Unity project event, “Together We Dine.”
The brainchild of Reverend Richie Butler, Year of Unity is a collaborative movement among Dallas-area religious, business, civic, philanthropic, grassroots, and government organizations, based on the belief that what unites us is greater than what divides us. His team has mapped out a year of events focused on diversity awareness, understanding, and unity.
Richie asks us to “take a moment and create a movement;” to take intentional steps that build a stronger community by working, playing, reading, worshiping, dining, and learning together.
In May at Together We Dine, we did just that…
Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Hunt with nonprofit Relationships First (and yes, Harville and Helen of Imago Relationship fame) facilitated the discussion using their new model SafeConversations, a process for structuring conversations using three steps and taking turns talking and listening. So simple, I know.
SafeConversations is a safe way to listen and communicate better, but as we experienced during role playing, the process involves practice. Listening is hard to do. Harville even tossed out a stat that made everyone shudder: 14% is the accuracy listening rate people have when not under stress.
“Talking is the most dangerous thing that people do,” says Harville. As a communications consultant, I wholeheartedly agree. Watching Harville and Helen interact and model the skills left the room energized. The process is a bit forced and awkward at first, but the end result is a deeper discussion, as with each step you peel back layers of meaning.
First, they equipped us with the basics: features, norms, and guidelines to follow, such as bring zero negativity or judgement, make concise points, take turns, don’t interrupt, etc.
The twist is the concept of “mirroring” and its value in discussions—especially difficult conversations where it’s challenging to listen with an open mind. The technique focuses on both active and accurate listening, so we learned to mirror (i.e. let me see if I’ve got that), check for accuracy (i.e. did I get that), express curiosity (i.e. is there more about that), and show appreciation (i.e. thank you) in a specific and repeated sequence. An added bonus: mirroring strengthens neural pathways!
Speaking firsthand, it takes intense concentration to train your brain to listen and then model back the essence of a conversation. Answering takes work too, as the process digs beyond your surface answer.
Some of my favorite Harville & Helen tidbits:
We deployed our newfound skills on the topic of race relations and discussed:
With 100 folks ranging in age from early 20s to late 70s and representing about every race and persuasion, the answers were varied. A few notable were:
The discussion left me thinking about my Pollyanna childhood and how my husband and I are raising our multi-ethnic child. I’m happy and at peace with both, but I’m also resolute in ensuring my child and all our children experience less discord in differences be it race, religion, or beyond. Racial discord and bias are real, are damaging, and are learned.
It’s time for each of us to carry the skills and dialogue forward in our spheres of influence. It’s time to build a society that we are proud to live in now and for our children’s children to live in one day. It’s time to take a stand and gain a united voice.
Join with us in the Year of Unity effort:
Or, simply share this blog or pose our race relations questions to your network. Every discussion ties us all together a bit more.
Together we can make a difference!