These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Difficult Conversations and Active Listening

Posted on December 16, 2012 by Aliza Geller

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

T-Shirt w/Diversity Labels

On Wednesday, December 5th, a group of approximately 20 members of the Pardes community gathered to talk about what we could do to facilitate conversations on challenging issues among ourselves. This session was expertly led by Shoshana Rosen (Year Program ‘13) and Meesh Hammer-Kossoy.

The biggest concern voiced at the meeting is that people do not necessarily have the skills to talk about ideas that they do not believe in, or are outside of their comfort zone. We decided that it would be fruitful for members of the community to be “trained” as active listeners. This would include showing attentiveness through body language and eye contact, responding to what others say, and asking questions. One should focus only on what others are saying, rather than how (s)he intends to respond, and wait until others are done speaking to respond. The key to all of this is keeping an open mind.

If you do not agree with someone, there are appropriate ways to communicate with them. This is not just a skill that we can use in the Beit Midrash, but a way of communicating that will be useful in any setting that requires human interaction involving difficult material. Many of us tend to avoid difficult conversations because we do not know how to engage ourselves in these conversations in a productive way. One of the big ideas behind what we can achieve through active listening is that we will be able to have more meaningful conversations, and become increasingly comfortable with issues outside of our comfort zones.

The first program we had took place the day after our meeting. In the morning we were encouraged create labels for ourselves that expressed what we are proud of (about ourselves). During community lunch that day, we then had to identify ways in which we were similar to the people we were sitting with, and look for ways we are different as well. Over the next few months we hope to have more programs like this, and hope that other members of our community may want to help us organize them.

Next steps:

  • In order for these programs to take place we need your help!
    • The committee investigating the need for institutional change is looking for a few more people.
    • We are also looking for people to help plan ‘diversity celebration’ events.
    • We will be planning a series of challenging conversations, and working on how to create a culture of facilitating difficult conversations.
    • Finally, February 19th, is Conflict Day, and we are looking for people who want to help plan a community-wide program about overcoming conflicts.