Monthly Archives: July 2015

Key Communication Elements of Dialogue

Conflict! I’m interested in the efficacy of communication and write regularly about how communication works and why it is fundamentally and by definition the best way to elicit change. One of the most important contemporary questions is how differences engage one another; how do individuals and groups with incommensurate realities and significant cultural variation manage their relationship? One way is intergroup dialogue which has been written about but remains an ethereal concept considered by many to be an idealized form of communication that is difficult to achieve. I remain resolute in my conviction to continue to discuss dialogue as a pragmatic and achievable form of communication that is not overly romanticized. Dialogue is a particular type of communication designed to solve problems that require mutuality, cooperation, and change. In these terms – mutuality, cooperation, and change – are not niceties but theoretical requirements.

Intergroup dialogue is really about action. It’s about how you collaborate with others across differences with the goal of social justice and problem solving in mind. Solidarity-based communication is that between similar people working on a similar problem. The interaction is cohesive and reinforcing with goals of stimulation and accomplishment of objectives to bring about any desired change. But bridging discourse, as termed by Dryzek, is between people of who are different and trying to find ways to manage the differences between them, trying to reach across information, cultural, and intellectual divides. Most important dialogue struggles with bridging discourse and it is of course the most difficult.

There are a variety of perspectives and approaches to dialogue, but one of the most thoughtful and theoretically well-developed perspectives is critical-dialogue as described by Nagda, Gurin, and others. These authors have identified four communication processes that are particularly important and pertinent to the dialogic process. Each of these four is required and part of the challenge of establishing conditions for successful dialogue. You can read more about these processes here.

  1. Engagement: This is primarily the requirement that dialogue be taken seriously and individuals be personally involved and committed. These are not the conditions for social loafing; dialogic contact with somebody of difference, when the problems are real and significant, needs the participants to engage in the full range of committed communication. Participants must take risks, assert themselves into the story, and do the hard work of listening empathically as well as critically without overweighting one.
  2. Appreciate differences: Politics is essentially the management of differences. Solving problems in general conflict resolution is the same. Differences are fundamental and the goal is not to eliminate them but to manage them. For this reason, an appreciation for differences is crucial. Democracies in particular use the communication process to manage differences. There is simply no peaceful resolution to problems without understanding the perspective of others, creating trust across differences, and even trying to participate and when appropriate adopt differences. Again, the goal is not simply the aesthetic appreciation of differences but the pragmatic issues of empathy, understanding, and the ability to argue and communicate in a manner that resonates with the other.
  3. Critical reflection: Again, the unreflective and rigid presentation of self is always limited by the boundaries of the self. Critical reflection is the ability to examine one’s own assumptions including finding those places characterized by bias, stereotypes, and distortions related to how the other is perceived including unfair sources of power and manipulation. Any genuine attempt to solve problems requires participants to think critically about their own patterns of communication and thought processes. Moreover, participants in dialogue must be able to recognize the sources of bias and inequality in both themselves and others but in particular themselves.
  4. And finally, building associative relationships: Participants in dialogue groups must build something together. As often as it has been said, and as easy as it sounds participants in conflict must eventually explore common goals to develop new associative relationships that are conducive to resolving intergroup conflict. There is plenty of research that supports the impact of intergroup dialogue. Its goal is to foster the bridging of differences and these four communication patterns of the mechanisms that accomplish these goals. True enough they require additional research and operationalization but these form the foundational theoretical underpinnings

Communicative Contact Works on Even the Toughest Cases

One introduction to these issues by Miles Hewstone appears here. It is a YouTube video and worth checking out and I don’t think you have to watch it all.

Various analyses (especially Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006) clearly support the effectiveness of intergroup contact for improving attitudes towards outgroups. Communication scholars concerned with these matters are enthusiastic about the role of contact and its ability to improve attitudes and intergroup relations. The word contact, by definition, implies communication. Such communication does not have to be particularly systematic or controlled, and can be anywhere along a scale from spontaneous and unplanned to highly designed, but some sort of communication is implicated. Contact means interaction in the broadest sense.

But during conflicts it is relatively common knowledge that a few people cause a lot of trouble. The majority of a group might desire resolution and be genuine about achieving it but have their efforts thwarted and undermined by a few extremists. It’s easy enough to understand contact as effective for people who genuinely want to work out problems and solve difficulties. But what about the highly ego involved, intolerant, prejudiced, ideologically oriented person who is resistant and inflames others? This would be the “difficult conversation” that I have written about before; these difficult and ideologically oriented people are the “Fierce Entanglements” that characterize intractable conflicts in particular.

Typically, we assume that successful contact with highly prejudiced people is difficult given their intolerant nature but, on the other hand, there are strong theoretical reasons for believing that the contact experience should be beneficial to desired attitude change for the particularly intolerant. Contact reduces anxiety and increases empathy and is clearly capable of reducing anti-outgroup sentiments. The establishment of even a minor social relationship begins the process of including the other in the self which helps undermine the forces contributing to intolerance.

The research is pretty consistent with respect to the value of contact whether prejudices are minor or major. Hodson in 2011 explained that individuals with intolerant attitudes and who had few outgroup contacts were particularly negative in their prejudicial attitudes. But those with more prejudices benefited from increased contact. Examples were prejudice heterosexuals who had contact with homosexual, White prison inmates who formed relationships with Black prison inmates, and those with more intolerant attitudes all benefited from communicative contact with target outgroups. Contact, the explanation goes, increases empathy and psychological closeness to the outgroup. It also moderates the effects of those factors that intensify prejudices such as the sense of threat. Prejudice whites consider Blacks threatening as do prejudiced heterosexuals feel threatened by homosexuals.

It is gratifying to know that contact relevant issues such as threat and anxiety are associated with the effectiveness of communication. If it were not possible to improve attitudes after a communicative encounter through the mediating variables then the contact hypothesis would be in question.

Practical considerations dictate turning our attention to getting people to the actual experience of contact because although authoritarian and high dominance people benefit from contact they tend to avoid it. This articulates nicely with the main problem of managing intractable conflict which is getting people to the table talk to one another in the first place. The most intolerant are the ones who most need contact but also most avoid it. It certainly is not surprising that the intolerant avoid contact because if they were the type of people who sought out diverse contacts they would not be intolerant in the first place. It’s comparable to someone who is sick or has troublesome symptoms but avoids medical care.

Contact designed for positive outcomes must direct its attention to the prejudiced person, and away from simple outcomes such as attitude change and begin to examine other issues that might be political or economic but are more directly relevant to conditions that foster the reality of contact. Communication works, but you have to get people to the communication table first.






Paul Berman on the Confederate Flag and What BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Does not Seem to Understand

Confederate flag



The article by Paul Berman on the Confederate flag debate is just too good to pass up. Click here to read it.








The BDS movement (which stands for boycott, divest, and sanction) against Israel is an aggressive social movement designed to challenge the existence of the State of Israel. The video below is a typical example of the BDS arguments against Israel. They are the standard exaggerations designed to criminalize and delegitimize Israel. The goal is not simply to pressure Israel but to challenge the very existence of the Jewish polity. Take a few minutes to watch the video.

A report on just who runs, funds, and supports BDS is available here. The report explains how BDS presents itself as a movement for human rights designed to economically pressure Israel. The BDS organization claims it is doing little more than engaging in the democratic process by organizing for a social cause. They present themselves as a grassroots Palestinian organization inspired by issues in human rights. The truth is that BDS is part of the ongoing campaign to subvert the Israeli economy in an effort to damage the state.

The BDS movement misleads institutions and international organizations into believing that they are a benign social movement looking to establish a Palestinian state and the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians. The truth is that they are far more aggressive and have malicious intentions with respect to the state of Israel.

What the BDS Does Not Understand

But interestingly the BDS movement does not realize the damage it does to Palestinians. They are so preoccupied with their own ideology that they are, in fact, doing more damage to the Palestinians and the prospect of peace than they are to Israel.

The BDS is making things worse for the Palestinians. BDS is misreading the relationship between the Palestinian economy and the Israeli economy. A recent article in the publication Fathom explains how Palestinian unemployment is related to strains in the Israeli economy. There has been a marked decline in Palestinian employment in Israel which the authors estimate amounts to 13% of Palestinian GDP in 2005-2006. Palestinian work in Israel is central to the good health of the Palestinian economy. And this will remain true even after some future peace agreement is signed. The state of one side’s economy in a conflict is important to the peace process because economic stability is necessary after treaties and agreements are signed. Otherwise, economic problems are the primary reason peace accords fail. Estimates are that the size of the Palestinian labor force needs to double. The report in Fathom goes on to clarify the impact of restrictions on Palestinian labor and on the future importance of a flow of labor into Israel from Palestine.

BDS is raising poverty levels in Palestine. When BDS opposes economic ties with Israel – Palestinians go hungry. The settlements are a problem and Israel must confront them in the future. There is little doubt that a hypothetical future peace arrangement will include the removal of many settlements. But to boycott settlement products only damages Palestinians. Settlements provide work for Palestinians who are paid on the average twice as much as those employed elsewhere. Moreover, there are some successfully Israeli-Palestinian business arrangements that will be important as future models of coexistence but boycotts threaten these partnerships.

Economic partnerships and interdependence creates unity and trust. They are an important foundation for peace. Organizations such as Hamas gained popularity through their social support programs and Hamas will be more attractive as economic conditions worsen. Boycotts and divestment will not lead to cooperation, improved fiscal infrastructures, and energized entrepreneurship. Any successful consequences of BDS will harm only Palestinians and, ironically, slow the removal of settlers from the West Bank.




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