A Conversation from Two Sides
How to deal with polarity and deadlock
The conversation from two sides is a safe way of exploring a polarity that arises. It is a method that includes a number of basic facilitation skills and can be used by a neutral facilitator or adapted for use in teams, meetings and even relationships
A conversation from two sides
Dealing with polarities
Polarities are often surrounded by tension. If we try to gloss over them, we risk seeing tension rise and conflict escalate. Tension, however, makes conversations challenging to facilitate. This method enables us to hold a conversation about a problematic issue safely. It also allows participants to gain insight and understanding into one another’s perspectives and usually leads to the conversation reaching a deeper level. If problems are avoided, this is an excellent tool to use.
Step by step
- Clearly state the issue and the two sides (a polarity).
The polarity may have become apparent before or during a meeting. You can identify the polarity by summarising or using a meta-reflection. You could then ask the group if it is willing to use this method of trying to gain clarity.
- Explain the process and create safety for participants.
Explain what the process entails and what you will do as a facilitator. Check whether everybody is ok going into the process. Invite participants to express doubts they might have. Doubts constitute wisdom for the group, and you can ask a participant who expresses doubt: what would you need in order to go into the process? If the group agrees, this need can be one of the “safety rules” for the conversation. For example, somebody says they don’t want people to become personal and attack individuals verbally. Answering the question above, this person might say: I want us to agree that we won’t verbally attack each other personally. The facilitator asks the group: do we all agree to this? If they do, it becomes a safety rule for the group (see the steps in the inclusive decision-making tool for more help in this regard).
- Everybody says all that needs to be said from one side.
Everybody in the group only finds arguments for one side–whether this is the side they support or not. They place themselves in the shoes of those supporting that side. Encourage participants to use direct statements only – no questions. Remind them that they are arguing for a perspective and not aiming their statements at a particular person. Remind them that this is not the time to respond to statements – the “other side” will get its turn soon. As a facilitator, you might need to do this a few times when people want to respond.
Continue until everything has been said, and then switch sides.
- Everybody goes over to the other side and argues from that side.
Now you repeat the process from the other side in the same way.
- Go back to side one and then to side two; repeat if there’s more to say.
You will find that the “first side” will have some responses – allow these to be spoken. Ask participants not to repeat what has already been said. Continue for a while, then switch sides again. Continue until everything has been said.
- Gather the insights. What hit home? Use I statements: “what does it say about the way I think, act or feel?” Don’t slip back into the argument again!
This is often a challenging activity for people to understand. You could say that arrows have flown from both sides. Some of them might have caused a reaction – even a physical reaction. Some of them might have given insights or realisations. Allow people to reflect silently for a while. Ask the question: “which arrow hit home? What does it make me realise about myself and how I act, feel or think?” Gently remind people to answer the question when they start to argue for one side again.
Remember to be present, neutral and compassionate during this phase. People are saying things about themselves – these can be very personal – treat each contribution with the utmost respect.
- Make a decision based on the insights.
Summarise what has been said (See the Summary Tool). This is an excellent time to decide with the group what they want to do or how to act on what they learned during this process.
(This tool comes from Deep Democracy where it is known as “the Argument” and was developed by Myrna Lewis)