Nuts and Bolts of Good Dialogue

Check out this latest show from the folks at Life Report. It’s a very helpful discussion of how we can integrate our concern for the unborn with our genuine concern for the pro-choice advocate we want to reach. Life Report is regular food for thought on my mental table. I highly recommended you make it the same for you.

Part 1 (~15 min):

Part 2 (~15 min):

Kyle made a comment in this episode that might be misunderstood by some. He said “I want to leave them with a thought from me and not from them” (4:50, part 2). He went on to clarify that he sees the dynamic as “Where I’ve balanced it and just tilted it my direction.” (5:05)

I think Kyle is not saying (Kyle, feel free to clarify in the comments section) that there is never a value in letting the person you’re talking with have the last word, or that there is never value in listening to a person’s perspective without challenging that person. I believe it is good for us to be open to sometimes just listening. It depends on the person and the conversation, of course. I agree with Kyle’s point here as a general rule, that I want to leave a person with a question that truly gets him or her thinking. But I also sometimes will say, “We’ve had a long discussion here. I’d like you to tell me what question you’d like me to be thinking about.” I’m genuinely interested in hearing and pondering. That’s because this isn’t just about changing a mind. It’s about partnering with the person to find truth together. That means that I have things to learn too.

It’s almost like reverse psychology. I have the best chance at changing a mind if I don’t make it my primary agenda. I make seeking-truth-in-the-context-of-relationship my primary agenda and let the truth stand on its own two feet. And I leave the results to God.

I want to say, “Good work!” to my friends at Life Report. It was really encouraging to watch this show this past week. I find that one of the most helpful things about your show is seeing all of you in the process of working out how to really create dialogue on abortion. It provides me a sense of community (other people on the same path) that encourages me to keep challenging myself to grow as an ambassador.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Steve. I'm pretty sure you nailed what Kyle meant very well. (although I'll let him speak for himself.) I remember having a similar concern while we were recording, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it, and time was running out so I let it go.

    But I agree. I've had quite a few conversations with pro-choice people where I just listened, and pointed out common ground when it showed up. These were typically very angry pro-choice people who were upset and just wanted to vent, not interested in any dialogue. I think it's much better to politely listen and say very little than just to ignore them and find someone else that fits our personal “agenda.”

  2. Josh,
    I agree that letting an angry person vent is one situation in which we might let them have the last word. I guess I think “I don't always have to have the last word” is a good rule of thumb in general, though. Sure, I hope to leave every person I talk to with something to think about, but I also hope they will do the same for me. That's why I'm not troubled if we have a 30-minute conversation and *I* am the one who's left thinking.


  3. Steve, you're exactly right, I believe there is tremendous value (even a necessary requirement) “in listening to a person's perspective without challenging that person.”

    Thank you for calling this ambiguity to light. For our listeners/readers, my comment on the show is referring to how a conversation may 'naturally die'. If there is a natural end to a conversation (possibly irrecoverable, i.e. you just can't keep talking because of classes, etc.), there are several ways that the pro-life ambassador may close the discussion with the other person.

    During the conversation the pro-life ambassador may have been almost entirely silent. But when it comes to an end, what do we do?

    It could be a simple, “well I guess we agree to disagree” ** which is NOT my recommended ending **

    Or you could take my approach, and, just before they start to walk away, make the short, gentle, yet crucial comment that leaves them with something to chew on as they go about the rest of the day. Such as:
    Well, thanks for sharing with me, I appreciate your thoughts as I learn. Like most people, I really want to understand when we become who we are as humans, and why people are valuable. Have a great day.”

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