Guidelines for Successful Deliberation

For Listening

Listen to understand. Do not misrepresent others’ opinions or information. Attempt to recognize “where they are coming from” in the development of their position.

Avoid the rush to judgment. Consider all sides intently while you contemplate your opinion. Try to be open to persuasion. Resist the urge to “answer” other viewpoints without taking fully considering them.

For Speaking

Focus on the heart of the discussion. Do not become distracted by personal attacks, stories that go off on tangents, or what you had for lunch. Participants can often assist the facilitator in focusing the conversation on the key issues. Take on the personal responsibility to make relevant comments.

Speak and listen as an individual, not a group member. Try to acknowledge the individuality of each person, rather then associating them with a particular identity or stereotype and assuming elements of their perspective they have not articulated.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Or something like that…be conscious of the time your responses take up; practicing succinct answers is a worthwhile life goal.

For Arguing

Identify possible realistic options for judgment and move toward a choice. Continue to press the conversation towards common ground and acceptable solutions. Utilize brainstorming techniques and small group technique to generate possible solutions.

Agree to and follow procedures. Guidelines for discussion (turn taking, time limits, opinions expressed) better ensures opportunities to share the communicative space equally.

Take on positions you don’t necessarily agree with. Sometimes advocating viewpoints differently from your own allows you to “test” the argument. Think about the classroom as a laboratory for experimentation, not as a political platform. Playing “devil’s advocate” is a productive exercise to push the group in new directions.

Ask questions about the perspectives not represented. A valuable exercise is to think about what viewpoints are missing in the conversation. Students or the facilitator can adopt these viewpoints as a type of role-play to advance the conversation.

Utilize personal experience when appropriate. Speaking about events in your past to illustrate why you hold beliefs now is a powerful type of evidence. Making it the only type of evidence available for scrutiny, though, is a recipe for a difficult conversation where different experiences become impossible to compare.

For Interacting

Respect! Remember the basic rules of engaging other people: do not interrupt them, allow just one person to speak at a time, do not have side conversations, do not make audible sighs or groans, and do not engage in insults.

Be supportive of each other. Rather then saying “I totally disagree with you on this point,” try saying “I think I see where you’re coming from, but have you ever considered…” A successful discussion requires that multiple people listen to each other and genuinely attempt to understand different viewpoints.

Ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak. Including a maximum number of different perspectives enhances deliberation activities. Ensure that individuals have an opportunity to share their perspective at regular points throughout the practice. This is as much a responsibility of participants as it is the responsibility of the instructor; group members should want to hear a variety of opinions in order to arrive at the best possible judgment.

Understand that others have reasons for their opinions. Opinions are generally held for justifiable reasons. Understanding those reasons rather than dismissing them is critical to having something approaching “complete” knowledge. Individual knowledge is always from a perspective—understanding these perspectives allows deliberation to flourish.

Remember social niceties! Much of the skill in having deliberative discussions does not involve content as much as style--slight flattery, occasional deference, acknowledgement of the value of other perspectives, as well as "please" and "thank you" all have a role to play in maintaining a civil conversation.