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20 Tips for Great Conversation and 13 Things to Avoid

One of our dedicated and deeply appreciated volunteer hosts, Kathy Mitchell, created a list of insights from the Communicating With Care conversation. From her experience hosting this conversation, she generated a list of some of the best and worst communication practices. 

Kathy observes, “Talking with others about sensitive topics is rarely easy, but avoiding those difficult conversations doesn’t help. We have to learn how to connect with others so we can solve our problems.” These insights are great for Living Room Conversations best practices–and best practices in life! Enjoy.

20 Practices that Foster Great Conversation on Touchy Topics

  1. Body language that shows you are listening to understand rather than to judge.
  2. Ask questions after someone speaks in order to ensure you understand them.
  3. Be open to other ideas and opinions. 
  4. Be aware of your contribution to the conversation – Own your actions.
  5. Honestly express your concerns without criticizing others (attacking the problem, not the person).
  6. Seek to understand the “why” behind opposing viewpoints. 
  7. Remember that everyone is somebody’s loved one. 
  8. Assume the best in others to the greatest extent possible.
  9. Extend grace to others by understanding that their accusatory comments usually come from a place of pain and fear. This circles back to seeking to understand their “why.” 
  10. Have ground rules laid out before the discussion.
  11. Rather than dismissing someone’s account, say, “I’ve never heard that before.  I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
  12. Consider the timing of the conversation. If the time doesn’t seem right, make an offer to talk more at some point in time.
  13. Talk face to face when possible rather than online or via other forms. Note that some forms of online communication are more respectful than others. For example, social media comments can quickly turn hostile, whereas as a structured online Living Room Conversation with ground rules has the potential to build connections and common ground. 
  14. Rather than making a statement, ask, “Have you ever thought of this scenario?”  This keeps others engaged and helps to gain a sense of their perspective.
  15. Remember that you don’t know the history people bring to the conversation.
  16. Rather than reacting to offensive words, explore them with caring questions.
  17. Be curious – ask why people have the opinions they do – learn their stories.
  18. Assume good will.
  19. Focus on common goals.
  20. Talk about issues rather than people (separating people from problems).

During Kathy’s experience hosting conversations on Communicating with Care, participants voiced a shared view of themselves as “natural-born peacemakers.” We all share a desire for harmony in our lives. Here are some conversational practices to avoid in order to help keep the peace.  

What Shuts Down Conversations: 13 Practices to Avoid

  1. When someone is focused primarily on being right by defending their views. 
  2. When someone shows more concern about making a point/counterpoint than listening to the other party.
  3. When someone labels your views as wrong/uncaring/unfair/shortsighted, etc, rather than asking you why you hold those views.
  4. When someone uses generalities and verbalizes condemnation of a group of people with no regard to the individuality of every human in that group. 
  5. The “cancel culture” that has spread from celebrity treatment to treatment of friends and family. This refers to the widespread practice of shutting out/unfriending/canceling anyone who says or does something we don’t particularly like. Refusing to reward people for bad behavior is understandable.  Respectfully calling them out is usually warranted. But shutting them out, and even refusing to accept their apologies only drives them into an opposing corner with other “canceled” people and adds to our dysfunction. This circles back to the need to extend grace. Everyone falters at times. No one should be canceled for a mistake that they regret.
  6. Talking over someone.
  7. Talking about statistics rather than talking about the person in front of them.
  8. Showing a level of certainty in your dialogue that gives the other party a feeling of inflexibility on your part (makes the other party wonder if they should even bother).
  9. Reacting negatively to offensive words.
  10. Name-calling of anyone (including political figures).
  11. Assuming one’s character is being attacked when our opinions are criticized.
  12. Weaponizing terms, using them as a means of attacking/shaming/silencing others’ opinions rather than using them in an educational context with no judgment attached. Example: “white privilege” is often presented in an accusatory manner or with the perceived intent of making the recipient feel like they don’t deserve the life they lead. It should be used instead as a judgment-free, empathy-building concept that allows us to see our personal histories and current lifestyles through a new perspective.
  13. It’s difficult to extend grace when we feel like we’re in hostile territory. This goes back to having ground rules that creates a safe space for respectful conversation.


In addition to the insightful conversation tips, Kathy shared some unanswered concerns. Have suggestions for ways to address some of the concerns below? Write us and share your insights! 

Concerns Expressed

  • How to deal with people who clearly don’t know facts?
  • How to deal with people who walk out during a conversation?
  • How to comment/ask about a situation while still ensuring that others feel respected?
  • How to discuss policies without slipping into the judgment zone?
  • How to recognize, manage or eliminate terms that sound hateful to the other side (sound bites that are often repeated)? 
  • How to hold the conversations we need to hold rather than avoiding politics altogether?

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