How can we feel more confident and prepared to have conversations about controversial issues? On Saturday, May 12, the Winchester Multicultural Network welcomed more than 20 people to a workshop called “Strengthening Our Community Through Constructive Conversation.” The workshop, led by Phoebe Sinclair and Katie Hyten of Essential Partners, was designed to help participants build practical skills and modes of questioning, speaking, and “full-spectrum” listening to truly hear and understand other people’s perspectives and values. Among other activities, participants practiced asking “window-opening” questions (“How did you feel when you saw that?” “Can you tell me more?”) as opposed to accusatory, “door-slamming” questions (“Why do you always do that?” Why can’t you understand this?”). Sinclair and Hyten acknowledged that such techniques may not be enough to resolve all controversies, yet they are valuable tools for building trust and relationships in our increasingly diverse and pluralistic communities.

Participants found the self-reflection and skill-building approach taken by Essential Partners to be very valuable, commenting on ways the workshop impacted them: “(I”) feel more comfortable to talk about issues that I am passionate about; “(it) taught me to face/check my bias before a conversation;” and “I’m musing more about power, privilege, and specific ways I can improve my own conversational abilities.”

Special thanks to Rev. Heather Janules of the Winchester Unitarian Society for hosting the event.