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Intergroup dialogue is a process for exploring social group identity, social justice, communication across differences, conflict, and community.

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How does Intergroup Dialogue work?
What makes Intergroup Dialogue different?
Dialogue: An Alternative Communication Approach
Dialogue Skills
Outcomes of Intergroup Dialogue
Intergroup Dialogue Courses
Contact for more info
Progress...Intergroup Dialogue Students' Growth in Global Learning

How does Intergroup Dialogue work?
Participants learn specific communication skills that guide a group in interaction across cultural identity differences. These skills emphasize understanding over persuasion. This means that participants seek to understand each other without evaluating or judging each other, and without imposing their own view, values and identities on others. The Intergroup Dialogue process includes:

  • substantive educational readings that de-bunk myths associated with social identity groups
  • interactive exercises to simulate the experience of one’s own and others’ identities
  • group discussions adhering to agreed upon communication guidelines that promote a confidential, safe, and open environment for sharing
  • progress (emotionally and intellectually) through four stages: identity development; power & privilege; working through conflicts; and being an ally for social justice

What makes Intergroup Dialogue different?
The Intergroup Dialogue Model emphasizes preparation of participants and balance of power dynamics.

  • Co-facilitators represent both dominant and non-dominant cultural identities
  • Trained facilitators have studied and/or taken courses to develop understanding of group dynamics and communication skills
  • Groups are constructed to represent balanced numbers of participants identifying with the dominant and non-dominant identity that is the focus of the dialogue
  • One social identity topic is selected for the dialogue so that interaction may be more in-depth and delve into more substantive issues
  • The dialogue is structured according to a progression of learning outcomes
  • Ideally, the dialogue is sustained over time for a period of at least 6 weeks so that conflict and issues that arise may be fully addressed.

Dialogue: An Alternative Communication Approach
Intergroup Dialogue is qualitatively different from a debate or even a discussion. In general, when our identities are threatened we tend to resort to debate modes of communication. When our identities are somewhat secure, but felt to be superior, we are willing to engage in discussion. Only when our identities are somewhat secure and we are open to understanding and valuing others can dialogue occur.

Dialogue seeks to create a safe environment in which we are encouraged to go outside of our comfort zones. In this space we are challenged with new information about ourselves, as well as about others. The greatest learning occurs on the edges and contested zones of our identity comfort areas. Engaging in dialogue means that participants will experience annoyance, anger, surprise, frustration, confusion and defensiveness. Conflict will occur, and it is welcomed as a natural outgrowth of challenging core values. Dialogue participants are informed to expect conflict, taught ways to respond to conflict, and are encouraged and supported to use conflict as an opportunity for leaning and growth.

Dialogue Skills

  • Listen
  • Learn your triggers
  • Ask questions
  • Focus on understanding
  • Address conflict
  • Express emotion
  • Maintain multipartiality
  • Challenge dominant ideology
  • Unpack ‘identity’ issues
  • Explore mutual contribution to problems
  • Separate intent and impact of offences
  • Validate others’ feelings and stories
  • Speak to third-story: step outside issue
  • Speak for self, not others
  • Reframe, reframe, reframe
  • Explore others’ stories
  • Learn to be an ally for social justice
Debate Defined by position Not considered One right answer Argumentative Degree of logic and forcefulness Evaluate pros and cons
Discussion Underlying tension with little exploration Defined by who shares similarities Acknowledge existence of different perspectives Forced politeness Range of cognitive inquiry Weigh opinions
Dialogue Conflict normalized Recognized as diverse with both similarities and differences Seek to understand (in-depth) basis for different perspectives Empathy Level of self- and other-inquiry Increase intergroup communication, understanding and collaborative action

Adapted from Maxwell, Nagda, Thompson (2010), Table 1.1, pg. 4

Outcomes of Intergroup Dialogue
Research studies have demonstrated significant effects of Intergroup Dialogue on participants’ intergroup understanding, intergroup relations, and intergroup collaboration.* Specifically, research on college and university Intergroup Dialogue courses show significant differences in student outcomes, compared to student enrollment in other diversity-related social science courses, on measures of:

  • Awareness of structural understanding of inequality
  • Identity engagement
  • Empathy
  • Motivation to bridge differences
  • Anticipated post-college involvement in addressing inequality
  • Confidence and frequency of taking action for social justice

*Source: Diversity & Democracy Vol. 12, No. 1. Association of American Colleges & Universities

Intergroup Dialogue Courses
Intergroup Dialogue: Modules in courses across disciplines (contact us for current offerings)
Intergroup Dialogue (4 credits): Comm 395, Fall Semester
Intergroup Dialogue Practicum: Facilitator Training (4 credits): Comm 395 Spring Semester (Prerequisite: IGD fall semester)

Facilitating Intergroup Dialogues: Bridging Differences, Catalyzing Change, Maxwell, et al., Stylus, 2011.

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 2e, Adams, et al., Routledge, 2007.

Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, 2e, Adams, et al., Routledge, 2010

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Stone, et al., Penguin, 2010.

The Program on Intergroup Relations, University of Michigan: http://www.igr.umich.edu/

For more information on the Intergroup Dialogue Program at Hope College contact:

Dr. Deirdre D. Johnston
Professor of Communication
Martha Miller Center for Global Communication
Hope College
P.O. Box 9000
Holland, MI 49422-9000