Avoidance. Having conversations that challenge our beliefs, values, biases and perceptions is seen by many as stressful. Who is looking for more stress? Some of the most committed community leaders I know will step away from a group conversation of key importance if they believe it will lead to nowhere or cause an emotional debate. Many go silent. Have you heard the statement, “I just can’t go there?” If you are truly committed to creating change in our communities, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Since our beginning, LMR has encouraged dialogue amongst our community leaders by creating a “safe space” for open and honest conversations that reflect a myriad of diverse perspectives which often do not appear to stand on the same side of the issue. However, no issue has just two sides. The conversation should not be about right or wrong, instead it should increase our understanding about each other and the experiences that inform our values, priorities, and opinions. It is through listening to others that we can elevate our levels of personal knowledge to start us down a path towards collaboration and problem-solving.

Social media has provided a variety of digital platforms on which individuals now feel safer, more confident and empowered to share their opinions with the world. However, while absent from digital communications, voice tone, physical gestures and body language play an important role in how we communicate with one another in person. They reveal emotion and passion which add depth to words, thus building deeper understanding. In this digital age, it is important that we take these conversations offline and sit face-to-face with one another for these difficult but necessary interactions. This could be about anything from politics to religion to monuments…whatever is weighing heavy on the hearts and in the minds of the community around us.

Next Tuesday LMR will host a facilitation training for members, where they can learn the tools necessary to manage open and honest group dialogue. What are tactics to alleviate tension in the room? What do you do when one person is dominating the conversation? How do you keep the conversation on topic? These are just a few of the questions we will address with Jonathan Zur (LMR ’08), President & CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

Over the holiday weekend as you converse with your loved ones, take note of the way you converse with one another and consider if your approach to those conversations mirrors how you converse outside of the home in your day-to-day interactions. Imagine the possibilities if everyone would listen with the same interest and intent to understand as you do with your loved ones. At LMR, we are thankful for the opportunity to strengthen ties and build understanding in our communities. We are thankful for the dedication and passion our members have for this region and excited to engage with the future leaders they are influencing every day.

Myra Goodman Smith
Class of 2006
President & CEO, Leadership Metro Richmond

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