JCP ,Pre-Plenum ivili Institute
Thursday-Saturday, March 3-5, 2011
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director, Encounter
Rabinovitch, Facilitator, Mediator, Trainer and Consultant Conflict Resolution
Framework Speaking Across
Questions of Curiosity and Empathic Listening
.Programmatic Tools and Structures
Conflict Narrows, verwhelms, and Disconnects
When we feel threatened, angry, fearful, or silenced, we tend
• get defensive and distrustful
• either become argumentative or shut down and disengage (fight or flight)
• focus primarily on how we have been harmed and who is to blame
• dig further into our pre-existing views and positions, desiring ever-greater
certainty that we are right and they are wrong
• hide any of our own uncertainties or doubts
• seek out evidence that proves us right and ignore that which doesn't
• seek out evidence that delegitimizes our adversaries and ignore all else about
• seek out people who agree with us and avoid those who don't
• listen to those who disagree with us only to prove them wrong or find ways to
dismiss them as speakers
• see those who are talking to us as adv~rsaries rather than allies in any sense
• assume our adversaries have bad intentions and are immovable in their ways
• think of those adversaries increasingly in one-dimensional terms, as arrogant,
wrong~ stubborn, crazy, or in some way "enemy" to be dismissed or overcome
• feel frustrated that this situation is happening and wish it would end
• feel frustrated that we are unable to communicate better, explain our views more
clearlYl and be heard and seen as we really wish to be heard and seen
• feel confused as to what we should do, what our options are, and how to get
beyond the situation and move forward
The sum of these tendencies as follows:
When we are inside conflict, communication becomes a series of one-way
streets: arguments, accusations, desires, and frustrations are all articulated but
are scarcely listened to with any fullness, clarity, or genuine interest and thus
have very little chance of "landing."
Inside Entrenched, Polariz Social onflict:
In the midst of entrenched, polarized social conflict (such as the Middle East conflict),
people tend to feel that their sense of ~elf is at stake in the conflict. People
personally invested the conflict are always a moment away from being t ad
directly into a high-conflict stance. Once there, effective communication becomes nearly
impossible. potential is always already in the room, easily ignited even without
direct threat, aggression, or intended adversarialism.
This sensitivity can apply equally among people with relatively like-minded views.
small differences can trigger destructive reactions and all their negative consequences.
At the same time, many people grow so weary or alienated that the very mention of the
topic itself can be triggering.
And as this is happening ... because we are more and more isolated in enclaves of like..
minded people and we increasingly lose understanding of those on other sides. Each
self-affirming nucleus grows more baffled by what seems like the unreasonable,
unintelligible words and actions of those with other points of view. The gulf between
opposing sets of narratives, theories, and assumptions widens, making communication
evermore difficult and making it more likely that we will trigger each other when
speaking across conflict.
"Feeling Felt": Expanding, Centering, and
We feel "feltl) when we have the sense that those around us "get us," meaning they see
us as we want to be seen, or they are sincerely and actively trying. "Feeling felt" creates
a sense of being understood and valued simply for being oneself, without a need to
defend, ju or protect who we are from attack. Often just the sight close friends,
family, or like-minded people creates this sensibility.
When we feel felt, we tend to:
~ feel calmer and more trusting
~ feel more patient and at ease
~ think more clearly and methodically
~ be more forgiving of misunderstanding, misperceptions, and mistakes
~ be more open to listening to those with whom we disagree
~ acknowledge that there may be other ways of seeing the same topics
~ acknowledge that we might have more to learn and become open to doing so
~ acknowledge our own doubts and uncertainties without feeling threatened
~ acknowledge when we are wrong or have been wrong in the past
~ give the benefit of the doubt to the intentions or motivations of those with whom
~ want to ask questions so as to understand where differences lie
~ become willing and even interested in finding shared understanding and
engaging in collaboration for creative problem solving
When parties feel "felt," they will increasingly reciprocate with respect and curiosity.
They will see those with whom they currently disagree as complex, fully human and
capable of wisdom and change.
"Feeling Felt" in Entrenched Social Conflict:
Preventing, isarming, and Oefus.ing
Amidst long-standing, polarized conflict, the sense of "feeling felt" perhaps the
greatest tool that we can offer our audiences to open them for effective and real
communication. Demonstrating to parties that we understand how they see themselves
- or least want to - helps to:
~ prevent people from dismissing us as brainwashed, irrational, or deluded people,
and ignoring the content of our words as a result
~ prevent people from seeing us solely as a direct danger or threat, intent on
~ disarm the tension that is always already in the room because of the social
intensity of the conflict
~ overcome alienation by saying "I'm truly trying to work with you, even if I may not
agree with you"
other words, it prevents people from being triggered and helps restore broader vision,
connection, and centered ness once they have been triggered.
The result: this helps create, sustain, or restore a communicative space within which:
~ we can present our views, arguments, and requests in full and have our words
and core messages received, without familiar degeneration into a reactive spiral
~ we can learn about others' reasoning, experiences, and frustrations without being
personally attacked or maligned
~ both parties can engage more deeply and genuinely with one another, and
challenge each other openly and directly
Strat ies for Speaking Across o nfli ct
So what can we do, pro~actively, to make people "feel felt" and to increase the likelihood
that we will 'ifeel felt" ourselves. These 6 strategies all contribute:
~ ground core messages in the deeply personal stories our own experience,
emotions, and values
~ build an authentically empathic understanding of our audience
(note: empathizing is not the same as agreeing)
~ demonstrate an empathic understanding of our audience how we tell our story
and throughout our interactions
~ demonstrate an ongoing effort to have a greater empathic understanding of our
~ connect our messages to a shared narrative of collective redemption and hope (a
"story of us") - one that resonates for us and for our audience
~ invite others to join us in a conversation that has a mutual purpose
Each of these is a move that is completely under our control and that will maximize the
possibility for creating space to speak openly, honestly, and effectively across conflict.
These strategies allow us to sustain connection without sacrificing our positions or the
strength of our argument.
Over the remainder of this training, we will identify and practice simple (though
challenging!) things we can do to implement these strategies.
Listening to Feel:
Questions of enuine Curiosi
and Empathic Listening
In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face
that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of us a reaction
that cannot prepared beforehand. It nothing of what is past. It demands
presence, responsibility; it demands us.
Listening to feel means listening with complete presence, conveying "I am with you
doing my best to understand you in "
Questions of Genuine Curiosity
Asking questions curiosity means seeking out more information, clarification, and
elaboration on people's views. Questions of genuine interest are questions that seek
understanding and deepening. They do not have judgment or evaluation implicit in
Some sample questions of genuine interests are:
"When you say __, do you mean or do you mean _ _
"Can you say more about that?"
"How might _ ..... have seen it differently? How might you see the situation differently
in 20 years?"
"Tell me more about why this is this important to you."
Questions that are NOT questions of genuine interests include:
Pretty much all questions that begin with "but" or "yeah, but"
Rhetorical questions: "Would you like someone to treat you badly like that?"
Most questions that start with phrases such as "Don't you think that. .. " and 'WOUldn't
you agree that. .. "
Close..ended or leading questions apprOXimate a lawyer questioning a witness,
"Do you say that because you think _ _ or "Isn't it true that most people just
want to be respected?"
Reflection is the act of mirroring to people what they've said. This makes people feel
heard and often allows people new clarity what think and feel.
Reflections are said in the second person, often preceded by statements like "what I
you saying is ... " or "it really sounds like ... " A good reflection will often be followed
by the speaker saying "yeah, exactly" or something to that effect.
A Simple Example:
Speaker: "The whole thing seemed stupid to me. It was like a joke. I just
wanted to leave."
Listener: .RYou didn't see why you should be there or why you should take it
DeE:~Derreflections look for everything that is being communicated, not just what is being
said. This includes emotions~ values, interests, and one's sense of identity.
of universal needs, values, principles or intentions:
OUR POWER TO ENRICH FOR OURSELVES AND
III RESPECT AUTONOMY
III CELEBRA TION
III CREA TIVITY
AND PHYSICAL COMFORT
III CHOOSING ONE'S DREAMSIGOALSNALUES AND HOW THEM
of feelings we have Examples of feelings we have when
our needs are not being met our needs are being met
• CONFUSED • CONFIDENT
• LONELY • JOYFUL
• FRUSTRATED • TRUSTFUL
• AFRAID • EAGER
• EMBARRASSED • COMFORTABLE
• ANGRY • STIMULATED
Reflections and questions of genuine curiosity are NOT:
Advising: I think you should ... ?; how come you don't..
One..upping: That's nothing; wait til you hear what happened to me.
Educating: This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just. ..
Consoling: It wasn't your fault; you did the best you could.
Story-telling: That reminds me of the time ...
Shutting Down: Cheer up_ Don't feel so bad.
Sympathizing:Oh, you poor thing.
Explaining: I would have called but. ..
Correcting: That's not how it happened.
Believing we have to fix situations and make others feel better prevents us from being
Programm ic Recommendations and Tools
1. Audience Participation. Integrate opportunities for audience participation and
input into frontal public forums, including panels, presentations, film showings,
on divisive issues (eg. facilitated small groups; public polling; America
Int.~ralr!'tI"A Public Forums . 1Il"n~:lIni-::::,o interactive public forums (eg. open space,
forum 'theater, storytelling)
3. Targeted Dialogues. Convene key leaders from across the political spectrum in
4. Communication Agreements. Develop Communication Agreements that
support, rather than police, constructive communication in interactions and public
5. Training. Create opportunities for Speaking across Conflict training and
coaching for key leaders and multipliers (and when possible their constituencies):
lay leaders, institutional leaders, rabbis, educators from every sector the