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…
Fostering Healthy Dialogues: An Approach That Works for Every Topic…If You Allow the Process
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:
- It’s not what you say but how you say it.
- Deal with the topic and not the personality.
- Everyone has a world that makes sense inside their head.
Getting Personal: Insights on How Race Impacts Each Person
We deployed our newfound skills on the topic of race relations and discussed:
- How do you talk about race differently than your parents?
- If you have children, nieces, or nephews, how is your approach different than your parents?
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:
- We actually talk about race and racial issues whereas in my childhood home we didn’t discuss it.
- I have biracial children and bring a more personal concern than I experienced growing up.
- I’m more optimistic about race than my parents, who vividly remember and experienced discrimination during the Jim Crow days.
- My mom was raised by vocally racist parents so she feels apologetic and ashamed for her heritage while I feel to move ahead I accept and take ownership of the past.
- My discussions are direct and real-world based with my children as coverage on television, internet and social media is so profound. In my childhood, the examples were fewer and limited to books or history.
- Living in an urban city, we expose our daughter to as many races and religions as possible. We seek cultural events that my parents would have never considered.
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.
Making Progress: Take a Moment for Unity
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:
- Learn about events and news on the website
- Get social on Facebook or Twitter
- Learn how to host your own Together We Dine event
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!