Being a facilitative mediator and mediator trainer has exposed me to intense situations and forced me to rethink my Christian values and modes of dialoguing. Sharing these may help others practice Christian dialogue techniques.
Internalize the concepts of this article by considering the terms mediation and civil dialogue as synonymous and think of mediators as mentors, such as parents, teachers etc.
Facilitative mediators and mentors help parties have difficult conversations. The parties are the resolution finders. The mediation/dialogue process simply assists them to come to common understandings from which resolutions arise. When possible, healing and forgiveness are encouraged. Simply put, civil dialogue encourages constructive communication. It’s the type of dialogue families, civil authorities, businesses etc. need to have.
During civil dialogue participants learn much about themselves and others. They come to realize that the skills and behaviors of civil dialogue have many Christian aspects.
Mediators/mentors assure a level playing field for dialogue. They are non-judgmental. (See Mt. 7, 1 ff.) They assure that perceptions are fully grasped by all the parties. It’s a Christian effort to turn conflict into an opportunity through understanding. In certain situations a man and woman mediator/mentor team is helpful. (E.g. husband & wife)
Civil dialogue expresses that this is my perception of things. Accepting that perceptions are often imbedded and part of people’s beliefs is critical. Thus the importance of not pointing fingers with you statements. Such as “You don’t believe ….”, or “You’re wrong.” Constructive communication softens dialogue with I statements. Such as “I’m hearing that you don’t believe …. Am I correct?” Christians express responsibility for their perceptions and are willing to explain them. This opens the avenues for civil dialogue. It is exploratory and non-judgmental. People are treated with respect. It is a humble approach to understanding. (See Lk. 14, 7 – 11.)
Civil dialogue encourages the sharing of thoughts and listens to understand not to refute. It builds relationships and increases the feelings of self-worth.
Following are some specific civil dialogue behaviors and skills. All have Christian aspects.
Validating recognizes and confirms the facts as understood by others. This assures the importance of others’ “facts”, and the desire to understand why. This treats people with dignity by respecting and corroborating their perceptions. (See Lk. 10, 25 – 28.)
Empathy applies to emotions and feelings. It plays a critical role in reaching understanding. Emotions may block reasonable discussions. Violent demonstrations between opposing groups are an example. Statements such as “That must have been difficult” or “You must have been really upset,” sends a message of identifying with the emotion and feeling and that you care. Empathy is heartfelt. It’s not intellectual. It’s powerful for softening embedded attitudes. Christ’s empathy is seen in His healing and dealing with people. (See Lk. 19, 9 – 10; Lk. 7, 11 – 15.)
Clarifying sends messages of wanting to get a concept correct. I.e. Understanding is the goal. Productive civil dialogue requires active listening by both parties. Christ used the skill well. (See Jn. 9, 1 – 7; Mk. 9, 38 – 40; Lk. 11, 27 -28 .)
Summarizing and paraphrasing assure that perceptions are understood. It indicates that perceptions are important and open to discussion. Thomas, the doubter, was asked to touch Christ’s wounds. (See Jn. 20, 26 – 29.) Christ recognized his doubts and the communication became concrete through sharing a reality. Empathy, validation and love are all part of this scenario.
Open ended questions, those that can’t be answered by yes or no, are helpful when asked humbly and in good faith. An answer explaining a perception and its reasons is the desired effect. This opens up an exchange of thoughts to reach common understanding. This reflects the Christian attitude of respect for people and their perceptions. (See Lk. 10, 25 – 28.)
Finally, many facilitative mediators/mentors use a process to reach common understandings and usually resolutions. I call the process The Path. The process guarantees that all perceptions are actively heard, that the parties eventually dialogue directly with each other, and that the topics necessary to resolve the situation are identified. Brainstorming these topics leads to concepts that can become a written resolution. This humane process recognizes and supports each individual. Personal accountability and responsibility are essential components of the process.
A better understanding of civil dialogue/constructive communication would lead to more amicable resolutions rather than rude confrontations. Christians’ goals are healing rather than dominance. The parable of the Prodigal Son, which I call the Forgiving Father, demonstrates this clearly. (See Lk. 15, 11 ff.) Humility is seen clearly in Mk. 9, 33 – 37.
A complimentary diagram of the process, which I call ‘The Path’ in my book, with a written description is available. Write to [email protected]
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