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Ground Rules for Christian Conferencing


What is a Dialogue?


The act of dialogue is intentionally seeking to understand by listening deeply, inquiring and advocating in order to uncover meanings, revealing assumptions and walking in another person’s shoes. It is a process of seeking new ways to understand each other and create a shared sense of meaning through conversation. It is distinct from debate, which is by definition a “contention by words or arguments; a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides; the process of arguing opposite sides of a question; usually assumes a right or wrong answer.” Dialogue is about inquiry and learning, sharing our perspectives and beliefs, and broadening our understanding of the different perspectives and beliefs among us. The objective and result of dialogue is shared meaning, not influence on a certain outcome. (1)


Guidelines for Effective Dialogue (2)


Listen actively and without judgment

Listen intently to what is said and to the feelings being expressed beneath the words. Listen to the stories behind the views. Listen to yourself and others. Affirm the rights of others to hold their perspectives by listening intently and avoid preparing your rebuke when listening to another. Be aware of and set aside your judgments.


Practice self-focus (speak your understanding of the truth from the “I” position)

Speak your truth authentically, expressing your thoughts, feelings and experiences by making “I” statements rather than “you,” “we” or “one”. As you pay attention you will see how much more powerful using “I” statements will be. Speak only for yourself, not for a community as a whole, not for the person sitting next to you.


Invite others to speak so each person is heard

Be certain each person has the opportunity to speak and be heard. Be encouraging of others who do not readily participate in the conversation. Honor both the desire to speak and to not speak.


Disagree but do not shame, blame or attack

Disagree with each other; it is absolutely OK to do so. Let go of the need for people to be, think or act the same. Invoking shame for what one believes to be true, blaming someone for experiences or for thinking or feeling a particular way, attacking another because of anger or feeling offended due to another person’s perspective all undermine continued effective dialogue. Be open and respectful of disagreements. Hold each other accountable for behaving as Christians should. 


Accept messiness and practice non-closure

Be messy. Complex issues will not be resolved in one dialogue. You don’t have to have your statements worked out before you start talking or have any answers – your perspectives and thoughts are enough. A common fear is that you will offend someone – but we are here to learn from one another and offer as much as we can to the dialogue. Please accept that both your thoughts and the thoughts of others will be disorganized and share as openly as possible.


Focus on learning and approach the dialogue with the assumption the “other” view may be right

Intend to learn from others, to expand your view and understanding, not to evaluate others or determine who has the “best” view. Verbalize your thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas openly and listen actively to others so you may learn. Ask questions for clarification; be curious. Avoid giving advice and attempting to change anyone else’s beliefs or behavior.


Maintain discretion and respect others' situations and views.

We must agree that what is shared will not be used against anyone in any way. It will be important when you see each other beyond this context to respect that people may or may not want to discuss these issues after they leave.


Be aware that neither one person’s nor our collective understanding of God’s vision can ever come close to the fullness of God’s vision. No human being “owns” God’s final word on any particular issue. Participate in the dialogue with both a sense of humility and an openness to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit among us. 




(1)   From The center for Dialogue, Brevard, N.C. (828-877-3815)


(2)   Adapted from several sources, including the Florida Conference planning team for the Conference Table on Christian Conferencing; VISIONS, Inc. (; guidelines and materials from the Center for Dialogue in Brevard, N.C. (828377-3815); “Leader Effectiveness Training” by Thomas Gordon; “Introduction to Dialogue: A Journey of Collective Learning” by Glenna Gerard and Linda Teurfs; and “Touchstones” prepared by Sue Jones with help from Gwen May and the writings of Parker Palmer, Marianne Novak Houston, Marcy Jackson, Judy Brown and The Dialogue Group.


Permission granted to the Florida Conference for use and adaptation by the Wildacres Leadership Initiative; Durham, N.C.