Why We Need More Round Table Discussions

Social media allows us to share some of the deepest and most polarizing opinions with the push of a button. The ease of challenging others or upholding values while masked by an online identity is convenient, but such an environment could also lead us to miscommunicate, dehumanize others, or come across more harshly than we mean to. That’s why we need to ask the question: can our preference for online communicating hinder us when it comes to engaging in person on hotly-debated topics?

Having a round table discussion may prove as a more worthy and personal way of discussing differing opinions. For topics warranting more time and care, round tables remind us that behind every opinion is a human with feelings, a face with a background, and a soul worth listening to.

Participating in these personal, sometimes confrontational, discussions can be difficult, especially when we can anticipate that we’ll be met with someone who doesn’t agree with us or holds a stance that is opposite of ours. We may not prefer situations like this for a few reasons: if we need extra time to process, if we sort thoughts better by writing, or if the thought of intentionally approaching someone with whom we disagree brings on anxiety. On top of all of that, physical distance can make having an in-person discussion near impossible in some cases.

However, which better helps us grow and widen our horizons — continuing to be affirmed by people who always agree with us, or offering to be challenged and questioned by people who don’t?

If we so easily filter out what we want to hear, how can we learn to fortify our stances and beliefs and legitimize the feelings of those who disagree with us? Round table discussions can be instrumental to help us weigh our stances on topics that we may otherwise easily ignore and to hear from those whom we initially see as unrelatable. We may be intrigued to find that they are indeed extremely relatable, incredibly similar, and skilled to help us question or solidify our own stances.

How can we move toward more specific, personal, and intentional group conversations in this way?

If interested in hosting or participating in a round table discussion, here are a few points to keep in mind:

Take topics offline and in person. If a topic arises or a conversation begins online or through social media, offer to meet those interested parties in person or in a more personal environment to discuss. Consider an environment where you can focus on the issue instead of feeling pressured to perform or give in to entertaining a crowd (unless of course, the conversation intends to include an audience, and all parties are on board).

Consider having a facilitator. Whether or not one is needed for the entirety of a discussion, a facilitator can greatly help logistically keep everyone on track. Prompting less talkative participants, keeping feelings at bay, discerning time management (such as if a particular person is dominating the discussion), summarizing or finding conclusions or agreements, or simply reminding everyone of the value of the round table space are helpful tasks to designate for someone.

Remember that all opinions are equal. Each of us may differ on seeing opinions as facts, black and white, or right and wrong, but a key purpose of the round table discussion should be to clarify and to create a space for differing opinions on a topic. Consider each participant’s background and how this insight affects what he or she brings to the discussion.

… a key purpose of the round table discussion should be to clarify and to create a space for differing opinions on a topic.

Ask questions with open-mindedness and grace. “How” and “Why” are great beginnings to questions that allow for a wide range of open-ended answers. It can be easy to sound skeptical or accusatory when asking questions, so it’s valuable to note our tone. We can be curious of what others think without having to give up our stance.

Genuinely find interest in hearing from someone who disagrees or has a different perspective. If we do not feel interested, let’s remind ourselves of the benefit of learning something new or sympathizing with another. If those within the discussion are friends of ours, this conversation could reveal and help us better understand aspects of their personality that we have never seen before.

Don’t feel pressured for the discussion to reach a conclusion. For open-ended discussions, not all parties may agree at the end. Realistically, not all participants may hear what they would like to hear, but hopefully, all parties would feel that their contribution is worth their time.

Round table discussions are a great way to compile and weigh opinions, especially from those passionate, informed, and willing to share on a specific topic. If social media is an extension to support our relationships, then this style of communication should ultimately bring us back to appreciate and value in-person interaction.

Do think we need to have more round table discussions in society? On what topics?

Image via Fawn Deviney for Darling Issue No. 21

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