Having a productive and open-hearted conversation with someone who has different views from your own can be challenging in the best of times. Today, given the additional stresses of prolonged COVID isolation, heightened demands for racial justice, and deeper political divides, the need for effective communication among our family members and friends and within our larger communities has never been greater.

This one-day retreat via Zoom is designed to give you the knowledge and tools to become a better, more confident communicator with people of differing opinions and experiences. Perhaps you have a family dinner or a virtual reunion coming up, and you know already that your discussions could become heated, given all that is going on in our world. Perhaps you find yourself reading contentious back-and-forth comments on your social media account. Or maybe you are party to a conversation in the grocery store or a parking lot. How do you maintain your calm and your integrity when you find yourself speaking across divides?

Join us on Saturday, September 26 to learn very practical time-tested tools for effective communication. This training is designed to help with two-party discussions, but the lessons learned can be applied when you are in larger groups as well. The day will alternate between large-group presentations and small-group breakout rooms for reflection and practice. Here's the shape of the day:

  • A two-hour Zoom session (1:00 - 3:00 pm Eastern Time, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm Pacific Time). We will review components of communication in the context of stressful conversations, including some we rarely think about or recognize, and then look at specific strategies for effective speaking and listening. We will consider how to choose the best vehicle for communication and then practice skills in breakout groups of 2 or 3.
  • A one-hour break (3:00 - 4:00 pm Eastern Time; 12:00 - 1:00 pm Pacific Time) for a snack, a walk, and, if you wish, some journaling. We will provide a few questions for you to consider and some soothing nature scenes in the Zoom room.
  • A two-hour Zoom session (4:00 - 6:00 pm Eastern Time; 1:00 - 3:00 pm Pacific Time). We will learn methods for reducing unnecessary stress and look at intervention strategies for making difficult conversations more productive. The goal will be to show ways to build and preserve relationships across divides. We'll explore how to send constructive messages via email or social media about topics you care about and ways to respond to messages you find upsetting. In breakout groups, we will practice respectful listening, leaning-in to learn more, reframing a topic, I-messages, and ways to save face, among other tools.

Our retreat guide is Susan Carpenter, a mediator, trainer, and writer in private practice. She has spent the past 45 years bringing people together to address and resolve highly controversial public issues at the local, state, and national level and has trained public, private, and nonprofit groups domestically and beyond.

She was the founding director of the Program for Community Problem Solving in Washington, D.C., and spent ten years as the associate director of ACCORD Associates in Boulder, Colorado, mediating complex public disputes and training others to handle conflict productively. She has authored numerous materials including the book Managing Public Disputes: A Practical Guide to Handling Conflict and Reaching Agreements. She currently works with diverse stakeholder groups to address complex public issues and to build capacity for collaborative leadership.

Spiritual texts and teachers tell us to love ourselves, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. Having productive and open-hearted conversations is one way we do that. And in the months leading up to the U.S. election, this kind of engagement is a critically important spiritual practice. We hope you will join Susan and our S&P community for this important retreat.

Please sign up no later than 10 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, September 25, so that we can be sure to include you in our mailing about how to join the Zoom retreat. In addition to sending out an email with the login information, we will be posting it in the retreat "Practice Circle" that's accessible to people who sign up for the retreat. The Practice Circle is located here:

We will make a recording of Susan's talks available after the retreat. So if you need to miss part of it, you will be able to catch up on her portions. However, since the retreat is designed to give you opportunities to practice communication skills, we encourage you to make every effort to be there in person.

(3 CEHs for chaplains available.)

Available On-Demand
(choose your own start date and frequency)


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