Strategies for talking about the things we can t talk about
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Strategies for Talking About the Things We Can’t Talk About. VA Conference Ministers’ Convocation January 14 – 16, 2014 Ellen Ott Marshall, Candler School of Theology. Goal for Workshop.

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Strategies for talking about the things we can t talk about

Strategies for Talking About the Things We Can’t Talk About

VA Conference Ministers’ Convocation

January 14 – 16, 2014

Ellen Ott Marshall, Candler School of Theology


Goal for workshop

Goal for Workshop

To identify and practice some strategies for having conversations that you “can’t have” in your context of ministry.


Plan for workshop

Plan for Workshop

  • Individual reflection on the things you can’t talk about.

  • Ellen talks about preparation strategies

  • Small group work: try it out

  • Ellen talks about dialogue strategies

  • Small group work: try it out

  • Ellen talks about some particular challenges (emotions, dialogue dominators, disrupting debate mode)

  • Small group to practice closing strategies


Individual reflection

Individual Reflection

  • First: set aside baggage

  • Then, take 5 minutes (or so) to

    • Brainstorm a list of things you can’t talk about in your context of ministry (or other context that is on your heart)

    • Choose one of the topics to focus on today

    • Generate a list of reasons why the topic is so difficult (or what worries you have about approaching the topic; or what stumbling blocks prevent healthy dialogue about it)


Preparation strategies

Preparation Strategies

  • Self-assessment

  • Think about purpose and goals

  • Think about participants

    • Ask participants what they do/need to prepare for difficult conversations.

  • Think about space


Small group of 5

Small Group (of 5)

  • Try out a talking piece as you take turns sharing your topic (the one you decided to workshop) and explaining the reasons/worries/stumbling blocks that you wrote down.

  • Think together about ways to open this conversation (prayer, meditation, scripture…)


Dialogue strategies

Dialogue Strategies

  • Over-arching goal: to create a space where people can authentically speak and listen to each other.

  • Breathe!

  • Open with prayer or meditation.

  • Craft guidelines or covenant.

  • Talking piece

  • Open questions (stories, relationships).

  • Interview chair


Small group

Small Group

  • Try crafting some open questions. (questions that give freedom and do not convey judgment)

  • Try the interview chair:

    • Person A poses open questions. Person B responds. Person C paraphrases.


Particular challenges

Particular Challenges

  • Strong emotions

  • Uneven participation (dialogue dominators)

  • Debate-mode (pounce-free zone; Q&W; listen for shared concerns)

  • Sick of talking?

    • Try a movie, book, outside speaker (but you still have to talk about them)

    • Really sick of talking? Try a shared meal or activity.


Closing strategies

Closing Strategies

  • Think about Tony’s blessing last night!

    • Recognized the pain in the room, offered a blessing for relief and rest.

  • Invite participants to share something that they learned from someone in the circle. (promotes recognition, empathy, and affirmation)

  • Invite participants to articulate a hope for the future.


Small group1

Small Group

  • Share a hope or vision related to the contentious subject you have reflected on during our workshop. What do you hope for?


Strategies for talking about the things we can t talk about

Example Slides


Safe space covenant used during candler s model dialogues in spring 2010

Safe Space Covenant(used during Candler’s model dialogues in spring 2010)

Knowing that it is difficult to separate people from problems, individuals from institutions; knowing that we often experience statements as a personal attack even when that is not intended, we covenant to:

Speak honestly and without hostility,

Listen with empathy and strive toward understanding, and

Attend to the impact of our words on other people

Knowing that perceptions of one another will change through this process of dialogue, we covenant to:

Remain in relationship and

Treat one another with respect


Covenant for a circle process tom porter justpeace

Covenant for a Circle Process(Tom Porter, JustPeace)

Maintain Confidentiality

Speak with Respect

Listen with Respect

Stay in Circle


Covenant for a circle process tom porter justpeace1

Covenant for a Circle Process(Tom Porter, JustPeace)

Maintain Confidentiality

  • What is shared while in circle stays in circle.

  • Personal information that is shared in circle is kept confidential except when safety would be compromised and except to the extent that the circle agrees on what is to be shared.


Covenant for a circle process tom porter justpeace2

Covenant for a Circle Process(Tom Porter, JustPeace)

Speak with Respect

  • Speak only when you have the talking piece.

  • Speak only for yourself.

  • Speak from the heart.

  • Be specific.

  • Speak in a way that encourages dialogue.

  • Be brief and to the point.


Covenant for a circle process tom porter justpeace3

Covenant for a Circle Process(Tom Porter, JustPeace)

Listen with Respect

  • Listen for understanding.

  • Be open to being transformed.

    Stay in Circle

  • Respect for the circle calls upon people to stay in circle while the circle works to find resolution to the issues raised.


Guided meditation an example from thich nhat hanh

Guided meditation: An example from ThichNhatHanh

Breathing in, I see myself as a five year-old child.

Breathing out, I smile to myself as a five year-old child.

Breathing in, I see the five year-old child who is myself as very fragile and vulnerable.

Breathing out, I smile to the five year-old child in myself who is fragile and vulnerable.

Breathing in, I see my conversation partner as a five year-old child…


And something more wesleyan

And something more Wesleyan…

A benediction in keeping with Wesley’s “spiritual respiration”:

Breathe in the grace and love of God.

Feel the breath renew your spirit and revive your soul.

Breathe out – speaking, acting, and being grace and love in the world


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