Many political conflicts are taking place on campuses and in communities today over the war in Gaza between Israeli and Palestinian supporters. Here are a few possible opening questions mediators and dialogue facilitators can use to encourage colleges and universities, groups, communities, and people on both sides or in-between to engage in facilitated dialogue and mediated problem solving. They are suggestive, are likely to work best in small groups, and are only the beginning of a longer term process of discovering how to talk and learn from each other. For additional questions and techniques, see my chapter on “the art of asking questions” in The Magic in Mediation. There are thousands of potentially useful questions – please add a few of your own.
Questions about the Process
[It may be helpful to begin by acknowledging and recognizing those who have died and suffered, and are continuing to die and suffer on both sides, and take a moment at the beginning to mourn these losses, in the hope of preventing new ones.]
What words would you use to describe the most important values held by people in your culture?
Who taught you those values? Why are they important to you?
How might we use those values to help guide our conversation today?
What do you see as the main differences between dialogue and debate?
Which would you prefer to engage in today? Why?
What ground rules would you propose to help guide the conversation today?
What are you risking by being willing to be here today?
What makes it worthwhile for you to take that risk?
What do you hope will happen today? What do you hope to learn or gain?
What is one thing you are prepared to commit to in this conversation to help make it happen?
Questions about the Relationship
What words would you use to describe your present relationship with the other side? [List all words.]
Which of these words apply equally to both sides? [Confirm consensus words.]
What words would you like to be able to use to describe your relationship in the future? [List all words.]. How do these words differ from the others? What needs to happen to make them happen?
Do you feel you have been stereotyped or misunderstood by the other side?
What do you think they believe about you that is accurate or inaccurate?
What is one thing you wish they understood or acknowledged about you?
How does it feel to be stereotyped or misunderstood in those ways? What does it do to your relationship?
Is it possible that you have also stereotyped or misunderstood them? How?
Are you willing to do your best to stop stereotyping and misunderstanding each other in this conversation? What can others do to support you in doing so?
What is one thing those on the other side can do to improve your relationship? Are you willing to do what they suggest? If not, what might you do instead?
Questions about History
What life experiences have you had personally, or in your family of origin, or in your community, that have influenced how you feel about the other side?
How did those experiences feel? How did you respond to them? What do you wish the other side had done instead?
What parts of your history would you most like the other side to understand and acknowledge?
Is it possible for there to be more than one accurate history or narrative about what happened? Are there aspects of your experiences or history that are similar?
What truths can you accept or acknowledge about the other sides’ history or narrative? What do you think may be true about it?
Why does the history of your side in the conflict matter to you? What does it signify or mean to you? If you were to rewrite your history or experiences today, how would you write them differently?
What are your sides’ most important goals and priorities in this conflict? Why?
What has the other side done to prevent or make it more difficult for you to achieve your goals and priorities?
What has your side done to prevent or make it more difficult for the other side to achieve their goals and priorities?
How might you support each other in achieving your common or mutually acceptable goals and priorities?
Questions about the War
How much time, money, and other resources do you estimate your side has put so far into defeating the other side?
How much time, money, and other resources has your side put so far into mediating, problem solving, consensus building, negotiating, diplomacy, or peace making?
Why do you think so little has been done by either side to support mediating, problem solving, consensus building, negotiating, diplomacy, or peace making?
What has been lost so far on your side as a consequence of the fighting? What do you think the impact of those losses will be on future generations?
What, so far, has your side gained?
Has it been worth it? If so, why; if not, why not?
Can you measure which sides’ anger, fear, grief, or guilt is greater? Does it matter? Why/why not?
Does one sides’ anger, fear, grief, or guilt cancel, or diminish, or compete with the other sides’ anger, fear, grief, or guilt?
Which sides’ children deserve to die? Which women, elderly, and innocents?
Does the death of one sides’ children, women, elderly, and innocents justify causing the death of the other sides’? Why/why not?
How many people do you estimate your side will need to kill in order to win? How many of these are likely to be children, women, elderly, or innocents?
What would victory for your side look like? How do you imagine it?
What do you imagine it would look like for the other side?
How long do you think that will likely take?
Can you imagine winning without the other side losing? What do you think that might look like?
What is one thing the other side, or others could do that might encourage your side to be more willing to try mediating, problem solving, consensus building, negotiating, diplomacy, or peace making?
Would your side be willing to do any of those things?
What is one lesson you have learned from this conversation today?
What is one thing you would like to ask the other side, or others to do to encourage mediating, problem solving, consensus building, negotiating, diplomacy, or peace making?
What is one thing you would be willing to do to encourage mediating, problem solving, consensus building, negotiating, diplomacy, or peace making?
[It will be useful at the end to evaluate what worked, what didn’t or could be improved, and assess the willingness of participants to continue the dialogue, or expand it to include others.
Kenneth Cloke is Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and a mediator, arbitrator, consultant and trainer, specializing in resolving complex multi-party conflicts internationally and in designing conflict resolution systems for organizations. Ken is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in the field of conflict resolution, and a published author… MORE >