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Community Norms

Community norms are agreements among participants in a conversation about how they will interact with each other.  They provide a framework within which participants can develop trust and take risks associated with sharing their perspectives and making themselves open to the views of others.  Once participants create a set of norms, they agree to abide by those norms as the conversation unfolds.  If the interaction begins to deviate from these norms, the participants have the right - some might say even the responsibility - to call out what is happening and encourage each other to return to the framework upon which they have agreed.  Facilitators especially strive to be mindful of keeping the interaction within the framework of norms to which everyone has agreed.

Recommended Norms

The Dialogue Zone has created its own set of community norms that it recommends for participants in dialogue.  In its own programs, Dialogue Zone facilitators share these norms with participants and invite them to consider them as a framework.  The Dialogue Zone also asks those who host programs in its meeting room (RL 107) to share these norms with their participants and to invite them to do the same.  Participants can add or modify these norms once they have been shared, in light of what they feel would be helpful in building understanding with each other.  However, we propose these norms as a starting point for fostering dialogue. 

Successful dialogue requires honest and open sharing of views. It requires the courage to question existing assumptions and to say with integrity what others might not initially understand or find comfortable.  It welcomes participants' not only talking about their views, but also telling the stories behind the views they hold.

Courtesy means exercising consideration for others. Moderation means communicating with self-restraint and avoiding language and behaviors that would alienate, disempower, or hurt others.  

Striving to comprehend fully and accurately what others have said before they draw conclusions helps mutual understanding to develop. Participants in dialogue avoid rushing to judgment. They ask questions that promote understanding. They guard themselves against assumptions, stereotypes, and biases that might keep them from understanding others.

Dialogue requires an environment that builds trust and empathy. People must trust that others will not attack, belittle, or judge them. Civility means that people see each other as equals worthy of respect and goodwill.  They assume the best about each other and if others say or do things contrary to their own standards of what is good, right, or appropriate, they ask others to clarify their actions, rather than assume the worst.

Successful dialogue involves thoughtful consideration of what all participants have offered and questioning the assumptions underlying people's views. It means that participants listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn.  It also means that key conditions for successful dialogue are humility, detachment, flexibility, curiosity, and a desire to learn.

We ask that all participants contribute in a way that upholds the ability of all participants to contribute to the conversation.  For those who talk a lot, doing so might mean being more concise with your contributions and contributing fewer times than they otherwise might be inclined.  Consider:  if a program has a total of 30 minutes available for conversation and there are 10 participants, if everyone were to talk an equal amount of time, then each participant would have only three minutes at maximum.  Using any more time takes time away from someone else.

Sometimes in a challenging conversation, what is said or done impacts others in ways that the people who said those words or carried out those actions did not intend (e.g., "ouch moments").  Whatever the intention of someone's conduct was, we believe that creating space for people to acknowledge and reflect on the impact of words and actions on others is necessary for creating a space where participants can trust that people have their welfare in mind and genuine understanding can be built.  This does not mean blaming others; it means recognizing that harm was done to someone and trying to learn from it.

The purpose of dialogue is to create understanding, not to make a decision. Once mutual understanding develops, it can serve as a foundation for effective decision making, but only if participants are ready to explore common action steps or commitments.  Because participants free themselves from the need to make decisions during dialogue, they must expect and accept a lack of closure.  Nothing practical might be solved during this conversation.  However, if understanding develops, there is a solid basis for subsequent collaboration.

Often dialogues focus on sensitive or personal topics, or participants will trust others enough to share information about themselves that they otherwise might not share. We expect participants not to disclose the names of other participants or what they have shared during a dialogue without their explicit permission to do so.  You are welcome to share your own thoughts and insights, but don't say, "So-and-so said X during the dialogue," when talking with others who were not present.


Dialogue Zone

Roesch Library
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 1360