The Art of Dialogue: Multi-partiality

Dialogue has become a catch-all phrase used casually to describe difficult or engaging conversations. But alternative breakers know - dialogue is much more than an elevated discussion. Like Reflection, well-facilitated dialogue allows everyone to walk away with new insights and perspectives by illuminating identity and structures.

Students often ask how they can stay objective or unbiased while facilitating dialogue in Reflection. It seems logical that a facilitator should avoid overtly forwarding an agenda, but in truth, it’s both impossible to remove our own inherent biases and that avoidance prevents us from being full and active participants.  

Instead, recognize opinions and biases to move toward an intentional balance of social power:

  • encourage participation from everyone in the group; challenge contributions that uphold dominant societal norms and narratives
  • offer perspectives not represented among the participants

This is multi-partiality. Rather than forcing neutrality or faking objectivity, facilitators practicing multi-partiality give equal attention to multiple identities and experiences and - most importantly - to those identities and experiences that might be absent or unheard.

Facilitators should focus on the physical space and time given to certain identities and experiences and balance that with tactics to create space for dissenting opinions and stories. We must look for ways to further complicate the conversation, rather than allowing “this or that” binaries to emerge.  

Multi-partiality ensures that everyone gains something new from Reflection and meets the true goal of dialogue: listen first and seek to understand.