“Conscientious Conversations”

Last Friday I attended the “Conscientious Conversations” workshop.  The focus of the workshop was understanding conflict in a classroom setting and how to deal with it.  I really appreciated the insight and terminology I gained from this workshop, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in facilitating a meaningful debate where things might get a little heated.  

One of the topics covered in the workshop was the three paradigms for diversity change leaders (by Judith Palmer).  My understanding of the three paradigms are:

P1 – The Golden Rule: these individuals are likely to say “we’re all human beings” or something similar, and are likely to think that the issues in society surrounding diversity are caused by a few prejudiced people rather than systemic problems.  They are not comfortable with using targeted initiatives or programs for selected groups because it would be unfair to others in the organization.  Their solution: everyone should just be decent people.

P2 – Right the Wrongs: these people see an injustice and believe that there should be an organizational change to fix the problem.  They are more likely to say that the demographics of an organization should reflect the demographics of the region.  Their solutions often involve organizational programs or initiatives to address the needs of a targeted group.

P3 – Value the Differences: people in this paradigm appreciate individuals and groups for their differences. They believe that everyone should learn to appreciate the various cultures of other people.  They typically do not single out a targeted group, but rather focus on the value of diversity itself.  These individuals may be slower to act when confronted with an issue because they typically seek to understand the situation on a story or dialogue level, which takes time.

The way in which people of these different paradigms interact is somewhat understandable based on the descriptions.  P1 and P2 are often at odds with each other, where P1 often sees P2 as radical and P2 often sees P1 as conservative or maintaining the status quo.  P1 usually sees itself as P3 and does not see the difference.  P3 is sometimes criticized for not taking action as quickly or decisively as necessary.

The reason that it is so important for an instructor to know these paradigms is that confrontations could come up during class and the people involved will probably subscribe to any one of these paradigms (though it is helpful to recognize that we don’t always fit in just one paradigm on every topic–our paradigm may shift with time or we may have a P1 attitude toward one aspect of diversity and a P2 or P3 attitude toward another).  With a working knowledge of these perspectives, the instructor can better understand what is happening during a conflict and guide the discussion in more constructive ways.

The suggested strategies to handle conscientious conversations were also very helpful.  The speaker suggested 8 possible steps to turn a heated argument into a learning experience.  One of my favorite suggestions was using the principle of charity.  If you can assume that the other person has good intentions (or give them the “benefit of the doubt”) and remember that you may not know everything about this topic, then the conversation can be a lot more productive than just bashing each other with rhetoric.  It also helps to slow the conversation by interrupting and asking everyone involved to do some free-writing or to turn the argument into questions.  Identifying and addressing a question is a much more focused exercise than just spewing out frequently repeated phrases about the subject.

It is important to learn how to have conscientious conversations with people who have different backgrounds, perspectives, or attitudes towards diversity. We may not always convince others to see an issue in the same way we do, but hopefully we can learn to appreciate each others’ viewpoints and find a constructive way to address the issues at hand.

Anyone have any other good resources for understanding how to handle conflict in a classroom setting?  I’m all ears…

1 Comment

  • erinleighvt says:

    I also attended this workshop and found it very interesting. I am still trying to wrap my head around the 3 paradigms but I already can see how useful understanding them can be in the classroom. I would definitely be interested in attending more workshops like this in order to become a better communicator, teacher, and mentor.

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