358–359: Improving Our Conversations about Important and Emotional Topics

conversationHow many times have we inadvertently offended a person or group of persons because we simply aren’t thinking about how the things we say might strike them? Because we are in a hurry? Because we are writing or speaking while our emotions are high? Because we signal that we care less about them than we do about our being “right”? Conversation is hard work, especially the kind in which we truly connect with other persons. It can be scary to make ourselves vulnerable to the influence of others, to risk possibly having to change our perspectives—and maybe even admit that we are wrong or owe a big apology. Add in that the extra stress that arises when we talk about religious things for which the stakes feel so high and which has been presented to us as “the” truth of the matter.

In some ways, upsetting, mischaracterizing, or not imagining in advance one’s entire potential audience is inescapable. But there are definitely practices and reminders that can help keep our conversations from going sideways as often and with fewer deep and damaging effects to our public and personal relationships. Lindsay Hansen ParkRussell Osmond, and Jacob Hess are three great practitioners and thinkers about effective group and interpersonal conversation and relationships, and today they join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for this two-part episode in which they share stories of conversations gone well and poorly, as well as talk about best practices (and things to avoid!) for effective communication on both large and small scales.



Dialogue/Converation Aids and Groups:

Allsides Dictionary

Learn about the 2017 Essential Partners 3-Day “Power of Dialogue” workshops coming to Utah

The Village Square–Utah (with links to other groups in the U.S.)

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

Living Room Conversations

Edward Kimball reading and interview:

Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008). Free Link

Edward L. Kimball, “Confession in LDS Doctrine and Practice,” BYU Studies 36:2 (1996-97). Free Link

Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (2005)

Interview, “Edward Kimball, Son of Spencer W. Kimball,” Mormon Stories Podcast, March 2010



6 comments for “358–359: Improving Our Conversations about Important and Emotional Topics

  1. Carlito-way
    December 10, 2016 at 12:41 am

    thanks Dan, for posting something , wish you some fine happy days , and a pleasant time with christmas , goodbye ‘n take good care.

  2. John Shaw
    December 12, 2016 at 9:40 am


    I really like the format and agree that having both conservative and liberal (for what those labels are worth) on the show would not be good. I think, interestingly, that your actual issue is between the ‘dialogue’ Mormons and the ‘Faith Crisis’ Mormons (big tent). – mostly because that is the audience for your show. So I think the balance is really good for your audience. However, it is an echo chamber. What I think you could consider (and I’m not saying that from time-to-time you haven’t) is including some more conservative thinkers to deal with topics. I fear that there are just too many of the ‘faith-crisis’ crowd that feel like their’s is ‘the truth’ where a more conservative historian, or a faithful historian feels like they have truth as well.

    The issue, like we learned at the 50 year celebration for Dialogue is that the more conservative side of things just doesn’t show up to these kinds of things. But, if you could use your influence, it would be great.

  3. Mandy Lyons
    December 12, 2016 at 10:42 am

    The failure in facillitating conversations is certainly affected by time and time perceptions – I enjoyed how one of the speakers (Russell Osmond?) described how it can be used to help instead of hurt conversations.
    I am curious as to how tangible factualities can be incorporated into such conversations without bringing an immediate shutdown to the dialogue or quibbling over what is “real” or what “really matters”.
    When Goldberger discovered the cure for pellagra, he failed to discover a way to convincingly pass on that information despite his best efforts. He was dealing with matters in which the other side refused to join in the conversation, yet he was there to help.
    How can vulnerable people (or people in power) be drawn into a conversation where life and death is at stake, but the conversation will cost so much in terms of humiliation and the power scale is out of balance?
    One such topic which concerns me in Mormonism is the power scales of authority within a bureaucratic church with a (currently) oligarchical theology. Those who are most vulnerable have little to no connection with those in positions of highest authority, which greatly impairs the ability of members of these two groups to converse within the formal organization.
    One such instance which has unfolded in the recent past is the escalating suicide rate here in Utah. Youth suicide rate has nearly tripled since 2007 – that is fact. While there is theory and correlating data showing a link between % Mormon in a state and the rise in suicide rate (from Barker, Parkinson, and Knoll in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.49), I will instead focus on anecdote.
    I personally know of four suicides in recent years, three of which were completed. While internal/social conflicts in one case remain unknown, the other three involved gender and sexuality issues relating to religion as particular topics of tension leading up to the attempts. I do not feel at liberty to share all of the particulars of each case in a public forum, but my surviving friend, Cooper, shared his own personal experience in the online publicly available Far Between movie project.
    Finding a direct link between a Mormon campaign, a Mormon practice, or a particular Mormon teaching with increased suicide rates is unnecessary to the start of a conversation. This is an urgent problem in our Utah community. I suppose authorities have tried to address this issue in recent years, but from my little corner in Mormondom, there is absolutely no direct, open, back-and-forth conversation. Instead, it seems like the first Ordain Women action – those who are vulnerable, one by one, quietly and politely request and are turned away by someone assigned to do so. How can those who feel imprisoned in echo chambers get someone with keys to open a door?

  4. UTManMI
    December 15, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Great conversation. Reminds me of this Dar Williams song.

  5. Anita
    December 20, 2016 at 4:59 pm


    How are you determining who is your major audience? Also, I am a little confused. Your podcasts are mostly discussions, not debates. How does adding a wider variety of opinion detract from the discussion? I love your podcast, but definitely would prefer a broader perspective expressed in your discussions in order to promote more depth of thought.


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