deeper dignified dialogue

understanding is two way street

last year i was part of the denver faith & justice conference, a lovely event that included so many wonderful conversations. as part of the kick off, we set up the importance of cultivating dignified dialogue at the gathering. the people attending came from a wide variety of faith traditions, and  justice issues stir up a lot of strong feelings.  we used these guidelines for communication, and they seemed to set the stage for more safety & better listening.

here were the 5 guidelines for dignified dialogue:

1.  consider first:  ”that person is first and foremost a child of God, created in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect”

2.  ask questions to clarify understanding instead of only make statements.

3.  stick with “i think” or “my opinion is” or “my interpretation is”  instead of making generalizations like “God says or God thinks” or “the Bible says”.

4.  remember that this is an opportunity to listen and learn not convince, give advice, or change anyone else.

5.  honor the time with brevity and give others a chance to finish their thought before sharing yours.

these are a start for sure, and were great for a 1 day conference where there wasn’t a ton of time to engage beyond just hearing each other and setting the table for understanding.  the question came up a few months later on how to dig deeper together, how to hold a space beyond just a limited conversation, and how to maintain dignified dialogue in more meaningful conversations together.  the textures could be so different.  sometimes, deeper isn’t possible because of safety issues. or the relationship isn’t strong enough to hack it.  or there’s just not time or desire to engage more intently.

but if there is a space for it, sometimes it helps to have some ideas of questions to further the conversation.

today, as part of this healing the divides week, i thought i’d just toss out a few.  i am sure you have some better ones to add, but maybe this is a start.  i can’t say it enough, though: we can’t go deeper with unsafe people. it just won’t work.  it doesn’t mean both parties need to be perfectly safe (we’re human and that’s an impossibility), but it does mean we need enough health in there to make it work.

of course, good reflective listening skills are always helpful (here’s what i hear you saying..), but there are also some other questions we might be able to ask to engage more deeply in some of these hard conversations where we have definite differences:

  • what is your story? how did you get to where you are are today?  (the truth is that’s the best thing we’ve got, to hear each other’s real stories)
  • what are some of the primary things that influenced you to believe what you now believe?
  • how have some of your views changed over time?
  • what troubles you about where you have currently landed? what doubts do you have about your position or perspective?
  • what brings you the most peace? what parts feel most clear?
  • how have you wrestled with the scriptures about this?
  • what do you fear?  how has that influenced you?
  • what misperceptions do you think people might have about you or your views?
  • what have been some of the costs to your beliefs?  relationships, church, jobs, etc.?
  • how have you felt misunderstood?
  • what are ways i might be able to help you feel more understood? (bonus points for this one!) 

what other ones would you add?

God, help us hold a space for these respectful and deeper dialogues so we can learn from and better understand each other. 


if you’re just landing here, the other posts in this “healing the divides” series are:

last post tomorrow is a formation friday; haven’t had one of those in a while. it’s called “our inner pharisee”

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Hi Kathy, I have been subscribed to your blog for a while now and always really enjoy your posts. Thank you. Deeper dialogue is a passion of mine and my desire to get to know my fellow church members at a deeper level is what prompted me to come up with a resource idea based around questions to help facilitate that. The idea was picked up by Innovative Resources, a publishing house whose profits go to St Luke’s Anglicare who do amazing work in the community. They decided to market it towards young people but it is perfectly suitable for all age groups. It’s called Deep Speak, in case you’d like to check it out. Thank you for your ever thought-provoking writing!

  • I’m hearing the points about “dignified dialogue” and going deeper. And I find these helpful – thank you.

    At the same time, I can’t help sitting with an unease having read what you have written. It;s taken me soem time to figure out where this unease has come from and rather than state an opinion, I’ll share an occasion where for me what you are suggesting would not have worked.

    In one – someone told me that they expected to be loved. Later, they were asserting that “it is all abuot me”. I listened on all occasions and asked deeper questions, seeing that they had desire and were struggling. It had got to the point where I was expereincing difficulty conversing with them. I mentioned that they were being egocentric, not centring on Christ. And we argued, they broke into tears and I had a restless night’s sleep.

    Later I said to them not to worry, that they had been expereincing God’s discipline. They repented and they were filled with joy of the Lord, strength in him, thankful to me for doing what I have done, that through this they were experiencing a “covenant relationship” with Jesus and beauty, freedom etc. Then what they shared with me was that they had been angry with themselves and others for actions taken, that they had feared rejection and didn’t feel they could be loved and driven by others approval, wanting to feel strong and appear to be stong to others.

    So – had I not challenged and rebuked, they would not have expereinced such freedom in the Lord. If I feared having an “inner pharisee” and held back out of that from being assertive with them then I would have helpd back on being loving and they would not have had the freedom they enjoyed but out of wanting to feel and appear to be stong would be continuing down that path of “it’s all about me”.

    So – whaere I support what you are saying, I need something more potent as well and affirmation and encouragment in the good that I have been doing as shared for the “unsafe” Christ and the kingdom.

    • then i would encourage you to keep pursuing what you are looking for. what i am saying is not for everyone, that’s for sure.

      • Thanks for your encouragement. Dignified dialogue where there are always going to be differences and we all see as through a dark glass dimly and therefore can learn from different perspectives in the building up of each other in Christ is what I am looking for. As is what you have advocated in intra-faith dialogue. I remeber what I learnt in street pastor trainning – disagreement isn’t always a bad thing, but never having any disagreement is.

        I hope you enjoy your break, the new book and I look forward to your future posts 🙂

  • So what I am hearing you say, is that we can’t go deeper with unsafe people? I wish that I had heard this 10 years ago, hahahaha. Oh wait, I was a lot more unsafe than I am now…I heart this line —> “what are ways i might be able to help you feel more understood?” I feel like this can be really helpful in the adolescent therapy world, where respect has to be the cornerstone. Good stuff!


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