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Facilitating a Conversation Cafe
An Open Dialogue about Nonviolence

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The Conversation Café process almost facilitates itself. The table hosts are like any hosts -- getting things started and keeping them going. It starts with a couple of rounds of individual sharing with no general discussion, and then blossoms into respectful conversation. A brief guide for table hosts follows. While we are currently focused on the war in Iraq, these guidelines are for any conversation café process.

What, generally, makes a good conversation? Many things: an alive topic of interest to all, an open and receptive mood, people willing to listen as much as speak, a willingness to drop preconceptions and explore many ideas, a comfortable setting in which people can easily hear each other, a small enough group that everyone can speak. A good conversation is more like a game of hacky-sack than a game of tennis -- the objective is to keep the ball in the air, not to defeat your opponent. At it's best, such conversation gets deeper and richer the longer it can be sustained. Here are some tips:

The Beginning

Find a "focus question or questions" of mutual interest from which you all can begin. Currently: What is in your mind and heart now about the Middle East? (In general, the focus question may change from week to week and may be prepared ahead of time or chosen at the café.)

Agree on a few ground-rules (see suggestions on table card) to help you stay conscious of the space and time and Set a time for closing comments (perhaps 5 to 15 minutes)

Take a moment of silence to relax, reflect on the question, become open

The Middle

Listen to understand -- to expand your insights, to see differences and similarities, to learn

Speak to share and inform, raise or answer questions, offer an insight, help focus the discussion, state an opinion

Be inclusive -- share the air time, encourage everyone to join in, avoid dominating or interrupting

Search for deeper meaning

Offer specifics rather than generalizations

Ask for time out if the conversation seems to be fragmenting, confusing or chaotic

Take time to summarize and reflect, come back to the central question or issue

Remind each other to share the time if need be

If stuck in disagreement or debate, respectively acknowledge your differences and change course to explore underlying assumptions, differing information, beliefs, values, etc.

Helpful conversation assists:

1."Can you say that in another way?"
2."Am I correct in understanding you to be saying...?"
3.(after verifying your understanding of a person's ideas or feelings) "I'd like to offer another point of view..."
4."I'm having some strong feelings here that come out of my need/belief/value around..."
5. (if someone has been silent) "I'm wondering if you have some thoughts or feelings about what you've been hearing?"
6."If what you are proposing came to pass, how would things be different?"

The Closing

Remind yourselves when you are nearing the closing comment time

Do a round of closing reflections at the agreed on time -- stop the conversation where you are, take some time (say, one minute each) for each person to make a closing comment:

* What is the most interesting or important thing that you take from this conversation? * Any last thought you would like to leave with the group? * Any suggestions for the focus of the next conversation?

Close by thanking each other ... set a time and place for another conversation if desired

After, consider staying awhile and talking further with others who may have the time or a similar interest