4.5 - Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Eliciting Personal Stories

4.5 – Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Eliciting Personal Stories (1 hour 5 minutes)

Materials needed: Strategic Engagement handout, pens and pencils.

Purpose of piece: To practice using “both/and” thinking and conversational techniques that encourage consideration of how racial differences impact people’s lives.

Say to group: Today we’ll be focusing on how to navigate conversations in which people are solidly on one side or the other of the common humanity and racial group differences tension.

Say to group: This exercise is meant to give us practice in strategically engaging people who demonstrate a particular one-sidedness to their thinking. The goal is to influence the conversation in a direction that allows for a “both/and” appreciation. (This is neither the only way, nor the best way, to approach all conversations about race. We are simply working on this as a strategy so it can become a tool in our toolbox.)

Review handout section on strategic engagement with group. Discuss as needed. If desired, take a few minutes to discuss which steps may come more easily or might be more challenging. (10 minutes)

Strategic Engagement to Inspire “Both/And” Thinking

  • Step 1 – Ask questions that derive from a place of curiosity. Try to ask questions for which you’d don’t already think you know the answers. What makes you feel like you do? When did you first start to believe that? Get a sense of that person’ story and perspective. Listen for something that you can relate to, something that generates empathy. It may help to try and uncover emotion underlying the story.
  • Step 2 – Validate at least something that person says. Relate personally and share a story of your own of when you felt a similar emotion or came to a conclusion about something based on an experience that has some similarity.
  • Step 3 – Check to see if there is more to that person’s story that impacts how that person experiences the world today.
  • Step 4 – Offer more of your personal story. Begin to add information that explains why your perspective on the issue is different. Use additive language. Focus on sharing, not convincing.
  • Step 5 – With humility and self-questioning, pose questions about what it might mean if everyone is basically interpreting the world based on their individual experiences. Note how useful it is to hear other people’s stories and how incomplete our worldview might be when we only consider our own experiences or those whose lives have been like our own. The point is to try and name the value of the “both/and” as well as the value of multiple people’s perspectives on any issue.

Say to group: We will now split into triads to practice some role plays. Each person will play a role, either yourself as the agent, a focus person, or a witness. When it is your turn, you will play yourself and select a situation to practice. One of your partners will be your focus person. This is the person you will engage with directly. The focus person will take on the persona of the person in the situation. The third partner will be a witness and will observe the interaction, paying attention to what it feels like to experience the exchange, the points when the witness feels pushed away, anxious, pulled in, emotionally softened, etc.

We know how easy it is to talk about the situation and never play it out. Please push yourself to do the role play. Many facilitators of this structure report dramatic learning that comes from playing out the situation, practicing in the moment. The real insight often comes from the focus person and witness providing feedback regarding what it felt like to experience the conversation at different points, what statements drew them in as well as which statements pushed them farther away. Please take the risk to try this and see if you can reap the same benefits. (Introduction and group formation – 8 minutes)

It is not required that you use the sample prompts provided on the handout. If there is a situation you are facing, a conversation you know you need to have with someone in your family or community, feel free to use that instead. Also, as you are acting as the agent, feel free to use the sample sentence starters offered on the handout. They are there as a resource. If they don’t fit, don’t use them. (Review sample prompts and sample sentence starters – 2 minutes)

Sample Prompts:

  1. You are speaking with a white person you know fairly well. You mention being dismayed at how people have responded to Black Lives Matter protestors, stating that people who say “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” are missing the point. The person you’re talking with says, “I understand that the point is about police violence. But, I don’t think they need to make it about race. I don’t see them protesting when a Mexican or White kid gets shot. I mean, when you really look at it, it’s being racist to only talk about Black people, as though they’re the only ones who experience violence. I’d be supportive if they were really for all people.”
  1. During a conversation in which national politics are being discussed, you invite a fellow community member to a multi-racial dialogue that will take place the following week. You say that you plan to attend and think it will be an important community-building event. This individual tells you that dialogues focused on race are a waste of time because they push people to see themselves in terms of their differences. This person says what is needed are more celebratory events that bring people together and heal the past.
  1. While talking with a white friend, you share that you have been reading a book about systemic inequities that have faced people of color in the U.S. throughout the country’s history. You lament that the racism that has stifled people of color’s economic success is ongoing and wish we had the political will to address the issue directly. Your friend says that this would be misguided, as there are plenty of people of color of all backgrounds who are able to make it economically. Your friend then begins to talk about a specific person who exemplifies the individual success story.

Trial role plays (30 minutes)

Large group debrief: (15 minutes)

  1. How was the process for you?
  2. What was challenging? Why? What worked well? Why?
  3. How did your areas of strength show up? What areas for growth emerged?

Wrap Up: When it comes to conversations with friends and colleagues who have an entrenched worldview characterized by either/or thinking, trying to convince the person that their way of seeing the world is wrong is not likely to be effective. Instead, we can attempt to first learn more about the experiences underlying their worldview. We are then more likely to have our story listened to and taken seriously after having first listened to theirs. The goal is to influence the expansion from a one-sided, narrow worldview toward one that accepts multiple realities.