Drew University Hosts Facilitating Complex Conversations Workshop

Organized by Graduate Admissions and the Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict 

January 2024 – Drew University hosted a Facilitating Complex Conversations Workshop, a timely event designed to provide valuable strategies for facilitating discussions among individuals with opposing views in the classroom environment. 

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Jonathan Golden

The event was hosted by Drew’s Office of Graduate Admissions and the Conflict Resolution & Leadership program. Director of Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict and Associate Professor of Religion Jonathan Golden led the conversation.

Using the Israel Gaza War as a baseline for topic examples, Golden offered insights and tools for engaging with complex issues and fostering meaningful dialogue. The goal is to help students enhance their self-awareness to understand how identity and personality shape engagement with different viewpoints and acquire skills to turn conflicts into learning opportunities. 

The workshop was also relevant for professionals in the workplace, as well as community organizations and social groups by touching on theories that create a culture that values diverse perspectives and encourages respectful and constructive discussion in any setting.

Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

When entering into any conversation that may evoke emotion, Golden suggested starting with a space warmer, a gentler and more conscious opener than an ice breaker. “When you break the ice, you never know what’s going to be underneath,” he said. “Think about how you might melt the ice rather than break the ice.”

Lay down basic rules of respect and decorum before the dialogue commences by drafting a charter for communication. Golden recommends the participants create the rules of engagement themselves as it gives a sense of ownership.

Allow yourself and others to be vulnerable. “You have to be willing to hear things that might be difficult for you to hear and fight the instinct to push back. You need to enter into a space where you could be transparent and authentic, which requires that vulnerability,” said Golden. “Take the conversation slow and ensure you are familiar with subject terminology,” he said, advising to attempt to shift a conversation from accusatory to inquisitive. 

Make the space safe enough for it to become a brave space,” said Golden. “We want to make that space safe enough that people can really enter into a brave space and feel the courage to actually say what they really feel and feel what they really think. There’s a recipe. It involves a certain amount of vulnerability. It involves a great amount of self awareness. It involves this authenticity. And then you can enter into this braved space.”

Drew’s 12-credit certificate in Conflict Resolution & Leadership, offered within the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, educates students and professionals in a wide range of fields for dealing with conflict of all types.

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