Facilitated Dialogue: Possibilities, Pitfalls, and Practice Notes

Exploring the Impact of Facilitated Dialogue: Strengthening Communities, Bridging Divides, and Navigating Complex Conflicts with Rachel A. Viscomi

At its best, facilitated dialogue can bring us closer together. It can enable mutual understanding and connection across differences, strengthen the social fabric of communities, and promote thoughtful engagement around matters of public concern, helping us to expand the way we view the world and each other. At its worst, facilitated dialogue can push us farther apart, leaving people feeling unheard, marginalized, or misunderstood; entrenching preexisting power imbalances; flattening nuance; and relying on the emotional labor of some to educate others.

In this talk, Rachel A. Viscomi, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and the Director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) explores what makes the difference. When executed effectively, the power of facilitated dialog has the potential to bridge divides, foster understanding, and promote meaningful engagement. By encouraging mutual respect and thoughtful exploration of different perspectives, it can strengthen communities and expand our worldview. However, when mishandled, facilitated dialogue can exacerbate divisions, perpetuate power imbalances, and fail to address the underlying complexities of conflicts. It is crucial for facilitators to navigate these challenges and create spaces that prioritize inclusivity, respect, and genuine dialogue.

In her clinical work, Viscomi supervises projects related to dispute systems design, conflict assessment, facilitated dialogue, strategic negotiation advice, and curriculum design. She has worked closely with students to re-envision public safety, reinvigorate public dialogue, increase access to justice, and enhance connection and accountability within organizations. In the classroom and outside, Viscomi strives to help her students engage not just with conflict in the external world, but with the internal tension this work can elicit, training new lawyers and conflict consultants to lead through uncertainty, engaging the strong emotions, cognitive biases, and narrative intricacy that typify complex disputes.


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