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February 9, 2017 Blog

February 9, 2017 Blog

The Power of Honest Dialogue and Listening to Gain Understanding

I recently had the opportunity to attend an interactive session on diversity called “The World is All Around Us” at Iowa State University. Our facilitator, Lee Mun Wah, instructed us to find and partner with someone across the aisle (literally) who was different than us, without talking.

Using only my eyes, I partnered with a young college student who was about 15 years younger than me. As instructed, we sat down directly across from each other. We were then walked through a list of fairly intimate questions to ask each other, including our initial assumptions about the other and the history of why we are the people we are today. “Be honest,” our facilitator stated. “It is only through honesty that we can gain understanding and form deep connections with others.”

As we started the exercise, the two of us looked at each other and just laughed – mostly to ease the tension of bearing our soul to someone we just met and knew very little about. But after about 20 minutes of being open and honest about our initial assumptions about the other and delving deep into the nature of why each of us is the person we are today, I realized how much we really had in common.

For instance, even though we are different ages, at different phases of life, and from different parts of the country, we found out within a fairly short amount of time of open and honest conversation that: 1) we were both introverts, 2) being introverted and “quiet” were qualities that both of us had always been led to believe were negative qualities to have, and 3) as women, we had both experienced fairly similar instances of discrimination throughout our lives.

With this woman who I had only known for 20 minutes, I came to know things about her that I don’t even know about friends I have had for my entire life. I told her things about myself that I have never even admitted to my closest friends and family.

At the end of the session, my new friend and I hugged and let each other know how lucky we felt to have met the other person. I gave her my contact information in the hopes of keeping the conversation going.  

As we left that night, our facilitator passed out little cards (that I now have pasted on my wall at work) sharing the following rules of communicating to gain understanding:

  • Reflect back what is being said. Use their words, not yours.
  • Begin where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Be curious and open to what they are trying to say.
  • Notice what they are saying and what they are not.
  • Emotionally relate to how they are feeling. Nurture the relationship.
  • Notice how you are feeling. Be honest and authentic.
  • Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or misunderstanding.
  • Try to understand how their past affects who they are and how those experiences affect their relationship with you.
  • Stay with the process and the relationship, not just the solution.

Reflecting back on the experience of that session, it still amazes me that in 20 minutes of an honest conversation with another, and by making a conscious effort to listen, I could learn so much about the other person. But what amazes me more is that just before writing this blog, I received an e-mail from the young student letting me know how much she enjoyed our conversation and was happy to have met me. I’m planning to have coffee with her the next time I am in Ames.

Honest communication is truly the beginning of any meaningful connection, and we should not underestimate the power of openness and honesty in connecting with those in the world that we may initially see as different than us. In so many ways, we all share similarities.

Written by: Kristen Corey, Office on the Status of Women, Iowa Department of Human Rights

Community Connection: What is the Office of Latino Affairs?

The Office of Latino Affairs serves as an ongoing resource for Iowans of Latino heritage, government agencies, businesses and other entities in the state. We help to remove barriers for Latino Iowans and bridge existing cultural, language and service gaps by:

  • Assisting public and private groups to develop inclusive strategic plans, programs and initiatives and to implement them.
  • Connecting organizations and Iowa employers with Iowans of Latino heritage.
  • Educational presentations and forums in English and/or Spanish.
  • Serving as the voice of the Latino community on committees, advisory boards, task forces and initiatives.
  • Up-to-date and reliable information, resources and news on our Facebook  page, monthly newsletter and statewide announcements.

The Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs:

Like all statewide boards and commissions, the Latino Affairs Commission is balanced for gender and political affiliation and it’s made up of seven Governor-appointed community members who volunteer their time to represent the Latino community in Iowa. 

According with Iowa Code 216A.15, the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs has the following duties:

  • Study the opportunities for and changing needs of the Latino population of this state.
  • Serve as liaison between the office and the public, sharing information and gathering constituency input.
  • Recommend to the board for adoption rules pursuant to chapter 17A as it deems necessary for the commission and office.
  • Recommend to the department director policies and programs for the office.
  • Establish advisory committees, work groups, or other coalitions as appropriate.

If you are interested in serving on the commission, go to to learn more about the application process.

Written by: Sonia Reyes-Snyder, Office of Latino Affairs, Iowa Department of Human Rights

Agree to Respect

Want to try something new today?  Let’s semi-retire the phrase “agree to disagree” and replace it with “agree to respect.”

We can all agree that there is plenty of disagreement out there.  Rather than nurture more tension by simply accepting or ignoring conflict, I propose that we see what happens when we take the time to just listen to a different perspective. 

Here’s the idea.  The next time you find yourself on the opposite side of a position from someone, try saying something like “You see things differently from me and I’d like to listen to your thoughts.”

Then listen.  Don’t disagree.  Don’t agree.  Just respect the thoughts of this person and thank them for giving you something to think about. 

I believe this will make a difference for you and for the person you’ve chosen to listen to.  By respecting the dignity of others’ ideas, you are not tacitly agreeing with them, and you are not passively disagreeing with them.  You are listening to them for the sole purpose of understanding.  You are showing that you genuinely care for someone as a person regardless of your differences.

The end result may be a deeper insight into the opposite side of an argument.  You may learn something that either modifies or solidifies your position.  You could discover that you are in “violent agreement” with someone who you’ve erroneously believed to be on the other side. 

Or you may simply begin a richer relationship with someone who experiences the world differently from you – which is one step closer to a place where we can agree, or disagree, with respect.

Written by: Monica Stone, Deputy Director, Iowa Department of Human Rights