OP-ED: Crucial Conversation Tips with CERRU

6 mins read

As CERRU gears up for our Susheel Kirpalani Innovation Exchange, Trumps First Year: Impressions on Immigration from Across the Political Spectrum on Wednesday, November 15th at 4:30pm, and the launch of our new program, Political Leaps of Faith, it is imperative that we remember how to engage in thoughtful, ethical, and nonviolent communication techniques. We see part of the vitriolic communication across party and ideological lines stemming from a complete distancing from one another, and therefore inability to relate and engage. Below are CERRU’s tips for having emotional, sometimes high stakes, and divisive conversations. These tips are geared towards conversations with people you know and care about and with whom you have a history. However, much of it can be adapted to other spaces.  I have added my commentary and further questions for practicing the tips. For a better understanding, attend one of our Crucial Conversation Workshops or stop by the office, Delany 215!


  • Be Personally Reflective
  • Assess what you really want for yourself (values and motives)


Ask yourself why you are having this conversation. Do you want to prove your point? Learn about a new perspective? Shut someone down? Be honest about your goals so you go into the conversation with knowledge of your intentions. If your goals don’t sit well with you, consider why you are engaging in that conversation and if you can redirect your energy towards a productive and positive goal.


  • Assess what you want for the other person


Do you want this person to understand your perspective? Do you want them to feel heard and respected? Do you want them to feel inferior? Again, reflect if you don’t like what you’re recognizing as your goals and give yourself the opportunity to reassess.


  • Be Inviting
  • I would like to talk about… Are you open to talking about that?


This section is about beginning the conversation in a non-threatening manner. If you begin with an accusation or attack, the person is more likely to become defensive and the conversation is already less likely to reach the goals you set out. By asking if the other person is willing to talk, they are empowered to make a decision for themselves.


  • Offer your perspective and how you have been impacted by the situation/behavior


This technique is often referred to as “I” statements. By speaking about our own perspective and feelings, rather than telling the other person what they have done wrong, we help the other person understand the impact of what occurred rather than concentrating on their intention. This leaves room for understanding that impact and intention may not align and the importance of respecting that we can cause damage even when it is not intended.


  • Thoughtfully Listen
  • Gain the other person’s perspective without interruption (except to ask clarifying questions)


We are often eager to respond and spend much of our “listening” time coming up with our defense or come back. LISTEN. Do not try and come up with your best come back and instead actively work towards understanding what the other person is saying.


  • Summarize/paraphrase what you hear before you speak


This is an excellent tool for ensuring that you are understanding the other person and not just hearing what you expect to hear and furthering misunderstanding.  


  • Maintain Safe Space
  • Ensure you’re both able to speak honestly while maintaining mutual respect


As one student introduced, “say what you mean, don’t say it mean.” Honest conversation is important as is maintaining honestly without malicious intent.


  • Notice when the conversation escalates and attempt to restore safety


If you or the other person is becoming defensive, withdrawing, or engaging in violent communication, pause and regroup. Acknowledge that the space is feeling unsafe and invite the other person to bring it back to a place where everyone feels comfortable.


  • Conclusions
  • Decide how you want to move forward together


Were you able to reach your goals? Did you make realizations about how to improve your relationship and future communication? Commit to any next steps that are deemed important.


RSVP by Nov 8th on Eventbrite for Nov 15th Innovation Exchange to enter giftcard raffle. Attendance required to win. Applications are currently open for Political Leaps of Faith. Email yrosenstock@cerru.org for link.

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