Discussing controversial issues like Marcellus Shale development can lead to disagreement and conflict. Yet we need to talk about these issues or we can’t move toward solutions that will be supported and carried out. We can use some basic tools to create productive, constructive discussions that will help us identify the areas in which we agree, those in which we disagree, and what kinds of actions we can accept. When involved in these conversations, we have to pay attention to how we communicate with others. Communication skills – both verbal and non-verbal (body language) – are critical skills for being part of good conversations and helping others have good conversations.
Active Listening is one of the most important communication skills. We think faster than we speak, so our minds tend to wander when someone else is speaking, and we start to construct our own response as we wait for them to finish, potentially missing important information. Active listening requires us to concentrate on the speaker, listen for ideas, and control our own internal voice that is crafting what we will say next. As someone else is speaking, ask yourself these questions: What is the speaker's main point? What are they trying to tell me?
Mediation is also an important component because it provides a neutral party to help people come to a place of understanding and agreement. Mediating is helping other people listen to and learn from each other.
Reframing helps to move from positions to interests. It is a technique that restates or paraphrases a speaker’s statement and makes it more easily heard by the listener(s). Reframing helps to move the conversation beyond debate, away from questions with yes/no answers, by getting to the feelings and bottom line interests of the speaker. It can start a discussion about multiple options that can meet common needs, and the advantages/disadvantages of each option (for example, for or against Marcellus Shale), to articulate what their interests are (underlying needs, desires, concerns, fears).