What is this?

The idea is basic. It’s just a short phone conversation, no more than 40 minutes, between two strangers who are each compelled or curious enough to want to connect and swap stories. The call is convened by a trained facilitator, who is on hand throughout to help keep the conversation on time and on track. And that’s it. When the call is over, it’s done.

What is “dialogue”?

Many definitions exist, but ADP has strong affinity for this one from William Isaacs:

Dialogue… is a conversation with a center, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and coordinated power of groups of people.

See Clark University’s What is dialogue? for more.

Why should I do this?

An American Dialogue Project call will be a spontaneous and unscripted conversation with a stranger.  It will likely be the most interesting 40 minutes of your day.  This will be a conversation with a human being.  Unlike opinion polls, stump speeches, soundbites, stereotypes, and caricatures, human beings are complex, fascinating, and capable of thoughtful exchange.

As a participant, you should do this to share your unique perspective with the world, to hear someone else’s firsthand, and to practice being in conversation with someone who is different from you. Dialogue takes effort and skills. An American Dialogue Project call is a low-stakes opportunity to practice engaging in productive conversation across difference.

Why the American Dialogue Project (ADP)?

Discourse and dissent are fundamental to a functioning democracy.  Our many differences have always been a strength of the American democracy.  However, we are currently experiencing a moment of deep divisions, and the national dialogue consists largely of insults and rancor.  In an effort to win the debate, we have lost the ability to connect.

Many of us are feeling a personal sense of loss as political differences compromise relationships with friends, loved ones, and neighbors.  This project gives us an opportunity to practice the democratic skills we are in danger of losing: speaking our truths without attacking, listening without defensiveness, and finding humanity in our fellow Americans.

What do we talk about?

Whatever you’d like a fellow citizen to hear about you, your point of view, or your experience. ADP uses this prompt in most calls:

“Tell us a bit about something that defines you and/or significantly shapes your perspective on life.”

You don’t have to sound smart or make a point; the objective is simply for people to talk about their lives and what matters to them. Consider sharing something a person who has different beliefs or has a different background might be surprised to hear about from a person like yourself.

Am I supposed to talk about politics?

The aim is for each participant to share something about their life in order to foster an exchange of information and encourage understanding. If you want to talk about something political, you can, but that’s completely your choice.

Is this a debate?

No. This is an experience in talking and listening. It is not about making an argument, providing evidence, or changing anyone’s mind. There is no winner or loser. Just people, speaking sincerely and listening actively.

How does an ADP Call work?

Three people get on a phone call together, talk and listen in a structured way for about 40 minutes, and then hang up.

To participate in an ADP call, you just fill out a brief web form, tell us when a good time to call is, and wait for the phone to ring. When you pick up, a facilitator will be on the line and will connect you with another participant. From there, the facilitator will guide you through a structured conversation in which both participants have the opportunity to speak freely and to listen closely.

What is going to happen when I call?

  • The facilitator will begin the call by establishing the Norms for Productive Dialogue and explaining the structure. The facilitator will keep time throughout the call.
  • Each participant will be given a minute to briefly introduce themselves.
  • Dialogue Partner A will be invited to speak uninterrupted for 7 minutes in response to the ADP Prompt.
  • Dialogue Partner B will then be invited to speak uninterrupted for 7 minutes in response to the same prompt.  Partner B should NOT respond directly to Partner A.
  • Then, Partner A will have the opportunity to respond to or ask questions of Partner B for 7 minutes.
  • Partner B will have the opportunity to respond to or ask questions of Partner A for 7 minutes.
  • Finally, the facilitator will conclude the call.

What are the norms and expectations for Dialogue Partners?

The American Dialogue Project has established four norms for productive dialogue.

  1. Speak your truth, using the “I” perspective.
  2. Listen to understand, not to respond.
  3. Embrace discomfort.
  4. Ask for help from the facilitator if you need it.

Rude or abusive speech, including personal attacks or hate speech, will be grounds for terminating the call, which the facilitator can do at their discretion.

What does it look like to “speak your truth”?

Here is an example of speaking your truth using the “I” perspective:  Because I ate cheese pizza growing up, I feel strongly that cheese pizza should be served in all restaurants around the country.

Here is an example of a statement that focuses more on denigrating the other side:  People arguing against cheese pizza are so hypocritical because I know that most of them eat cheese, bread and tomato sauce.

What happens if someone on the call is rude or abusive?

Nothing prohibits an individual on the call from hanging up at any point during the call. However, the facilitator is there to help participants tell their stories and ask their questions in a way that feels authentic and adheres to ADP’s Norms for Productive Dialogue. If the call becomes non-productive or in any way abusive, the facilitator will exercise their ability to unilaterally end the call.

Who are the facilitators?  Where are they from?  What is their training?

All ADP facilitators are people who work in or are retired from professions in which helping people talk to each other is central. They include mediators, ombuds, counselors, social workers, and so on. To become an ADP facilitator one must submit a brief statement of interest and their CV or résumé. There is also a telephone interview and a reference check. ADP facilitators are not paid.

Is this anonymous? How do you protect my confidentiality?

All ADP calls use first names only (and you can give any name you like). To sign up, you will be asked to provide a first name, complete a brief confidential survey, and provide a phone number where ADP can reach you. Contact information will only be used to schedule and confirm your call time. ADP does not retain phone numbers or share them with anyone, including third-party vendors.

Can I participate in more than one call?

Yes!  After your first call, you will receive a link to a feedback form. After completing that, you are directed back to this site where you can schedule another call with a new Dialogue Partner.

What if I want to talk with my Dialogue Partner again?

We don’t connect people after the call, unless both Dialogue Partners request to have their contact information exchanged after the call has concluded. Everyone who participates in an ADP call is invited to join the private ADP Facebook Group, however, to connect and debrief the experience with others.