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Living room conversations: a highly effective platform

By Sharon V. Kristjanson. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I hosted a Living Room Conversation for the first time and was delighted with the outcome. We were six people from different walks of life, with a range of experiences and perspectives. We would not normally have crossed paths, much less shared a dinner table and a few bottles of wine together, but we had sufficient interest and comfort to talk for four hours instead of two!

Our topic was viewpoint diversity on campuses, and how to balance free speech with appropriate consideration to the impact of certain types of speech. At times, it seemed we wandered from the designated topic, but in fact we were laying out the complexity of the subject and revealing how it touches and is influenced by so many other factors. 

I was also struck by the sincerity of everyone wanting to contribute thoughtful ideas. We all remained fully engaged throughout the evening and we discussed many different issues and perspectives. Some listened more while others spoke more, as befit their personalities, but all participated. We wandered in and out of vulnerability, which is not easy to do with people we have just met, and this added depth. 

I am excited about what Living Room Conversations is contributing to public discourse, and the manner in which it is helping our country move forward more constructively. The Living Room Conversations platform is easy to use and it is flexible, and therein lies its effectiveness. Too much structure would be stifling; too little would feel limp and uninteresting. The founders’ forethought and planning has created a highly effective platform, and I hope many people use it.

Living Room Conversations work dovetails beautifully with my own: I recently launched People Beyond Politics™ (PBP), a new endeavor that offers a workshop and strategies for engaging with difference in a meaningful way. Using an approach from intercultural theory and practice, the workshop helps people recognize how emotions shape our rational arguments, and how often this occurs below our level of awareness. In addition, we teach techniques for exploring frames of reference—our own and those of others. Our workshop is designed to help people move from discussion—the sharing of ideas and opinions—to dialogue, a practice of shared inquiry. It is at this level that deeper insights and connections take place.

Living Room Conversations and People Beyond Politics™ have the same goals: to help us talk about our ideas and hear different perspectives in a setting that enables us to truly hear one another. I am excited about the bridging that is taking place one small step at a time. I am also hopeful that this work will help us build stronger communities that go beyond groupings of like-minded people and instead bring together citizens who understand the power and possibility of including multiple viewpoints.

I encourage everyone who is reading this to try a Living Room Conversation; it is surprisingly easy to do, and it yields unexpected insights and connections. I also encourage you to sign up for both newsletters: that of Living Room Conversations as well as People Beyond Politics™. It is the best way to hear about our developments as we add events and online opportunities. The work of Living Room Conversations and People Beyond Politics is complementary and our synergies are promising. As we grow our work we invite you to join us!

Sharon V. Kristjanson is an intercultural professional who has lived in multiple cultures in six countries, and has visited many more. She has over twenty-five years of experience in developing effective modes of communication across perceived differences, in both corporate and non-profit environments. Her expertise rests on a well-honed ability to identify and articulate key insights and concepts. Sharon's passion centers on developing capacities for understanding multiple perspectives — be it across cultures, ideas, or politics.