Having hard conversations can be difficult. Actually, having not hard conversations can be difficult in our current divided climate. When it’s time to get serious and talk about something that is either hard, or the nature of the people (diversity in ethnicity, ideology, etc.) makes communication difficult, mutual invitation can help open a space where real communication can occur.
Mutual invitation is an exercise we borrowed from Eric Law’s book The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb. This is especially effective in multicultural communities because it helps reveal how often the white majority members perceive greater personal power within the community than do many minority members. It allows all community members to see their own tendencies within the group discussion. While it can be awkward at first, stick with it and try it for a few gatherings.
Similarly, if someone “passes” and chooses not to speak, do not pressure them into doing so. If a person speaks very briefly or passes and then does not remember to invite the next person to speak, do not invite for him or her. Simply point out that this person has the privilege to invite the next person to speak. By ensuring that this person still has the privilege to invite, you affirm and value that person independent of that person’s verbal ability.
HOW DOES MUTUAL INVITATION WORK?
- The discussion leader should let the group know approximately how much time will be allocated for this particular portion of discussion. (The time will depend on the questions or topics that you hope to have everyone in the group answer or speak towards.)
- The leader will then introduce the topic or question to be discussed. This will typically come from the small group material. It is often helpful if the small group has access to the material to refer back to the question during the discussion.
- Next, the leader introduces or reminds everyone of the discussion process which is as follows:
“The leader or a designated person will share first. After that person has spoken, he or she then invites another to share. Whom you invite does not need to be the person next to you, and it is better if you do not. After the next person has spoken, that person is given the privilege to invite another to share. If you don’t want to say anything, simply say ‘pass’ and proceed to invite another to share. We will do this until everyone has been invited.” – The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb by Eric Law
Finally, Law offers guidelines in a memorable anagram that can be helpful to go over before you. begin:
R – take Responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others
E – use Empathetic listening
S – be Sensitive to differences in communication/cultural styles
P – Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak
E – Examine your own assumptions and perceptions
C – keep Confidentiality
T – Tolerate ambiguity because we are not here to debate. There are no “winners” or “losers.”