Conversation Café, Essay Example
Planning, Topic & Marketing
After our team was established, we met after the class for a brief discussion. It was decided each team member would go over the Conversation Café (Conversaton Cafe) website to educate himself before coming to the scheduled meeting at Starbucks coffee shop the following day. This strategy yielded several benefits. First of all, each member already knew how the conversation café works, thus, we got straight to topic discussion at the Starbucks meeting. Second, the knowledge helped each member contribute higher quality suggestions to the meeting.
After each member offered his topic suggestions, the group noted its pros and cons on a paper. Once all suggestions had been considered, we realized many topics had equal number of pros and cons. We decided to try an alternative approach which involved writing down topic criteria before deciding upon the topic. It was decided that the two most important criteria for a topic should be that it’s highly controversial and secondly, it is of significant national interest. The topic we eventually agreed upon was “should tax rates be raised on the rich in America?”
As far as marketing is concerned, we sought guidance from the website which offered suggestions such as email, flyers, and posters. One of the members suggested we utilize lessons from the marketing class which means we have to understand the characteristics of the targeted groups and utilize marketing channels that reach a significant proportion of such groups. The team members almost unanimously agreed that the most effective marketing medium would not be flyers, posters, or even email but social media such as Facebook. First of all, almost everyone in our class and college is on social media. Secondly, it is convenient, quick, and cheap to expand message exposure, especially when our respective Facebook contacts also share our post and/or link.
We created an event page on Facebook and send invites to our respective contacts we thought may be interested in. Before sending the invite, the group decided to target roughly half of the students who may be democrats and half who may be republicans. Most of the team members hypothesized from personal experience that students leaning towards the republican party are more likely to oppose higher taxes on the rich as opposed to those supporting the democratic party. Our goal was to have maximum six guests besides team members, thus, we particularly asked our respective contacts to reserve one of the six available slots through a private message to one of the team members. Fortunately, we received quick responses and within a day, we had a list of six confirmed guests. Before confirming the seats, we did make sure that the discussion participants had positions on both sides of the tax issue.
Overall, our marketing effort was a success and if we have to do it again, we would not change much. Our marketing success was not merely accidental but due to the fact that we carefully analyzed everything and concluded that Facebook was a better marketing channel than all those recommended by the Conversation Café.
One of the greatest strengths of our team was its willingness to learn from experience. We initially approached topic brainstorming session without any plan and as a result, it turned out to be a time-consuming process. On the other hand, we approached marketing process in a systematic manner and the outcome exceeded our expectations. Thus, we decided to take the same approach towards the actual discussion. One day before the scheduled meet-up, we sent tip-sheet to all the participants through email. The tip-sheet contained suggestions regarding effective group discussions. We understand these soft skills take time to develop but even little knowledge does go a long way towards creating more effective discussion environment.
Fortunately, all the participants showed on time and after everyone introduced himself/herself, we introduced a moderator from the team who would lead the discussion. The moderator’s job was to remain neutral on the issue and primarily ensure that different opinions are expressed and everyone has an opportunity to speak. We chose the moderator on the basis of whom we felt had the best communication and social skills in the team.
The best thing about discussion was that except our team members, most people were meeting each other for the first time. This helped reduce the risk of group-thinking and increased the probability of more objective discussion because the participants didn’t have to worry about preserving their friendship with each other.
As expected, people who were extrovert led the charge in the beginning but the moderator realized the discussion was in the danger of being dominated by roughly half of the participants. Thus, he directly addressed those who were not at the forefront of the discussion and encouraged them through open-ended questions. The moderator did a good job and soon everyone knew each other’s opinions and point-of-views. As we expected, the participants political leanings did influence their views but few participants also discussed their personal experiences to support their arguments.
In order to make sure the participants took an objective view of the issue, the moderator challenged them to reflect upon the potential weaknesses of their respective positions on the issue. Some participants did hesitate at first because doing so would have weakened their position in the debate but once few produced the courage, others followed suit.
The conversation café was a success beyond my expectations but more than anything else, it taught me many valuable lessons. One of the things I learnt was that our thinking horizon is expanded once we are exposed to different point of views. I realized that we tend to search for arguments that usually support the positions we take and desire to avoid arguments that may contradict our beliefs. But it is only through exposure to opposing arguments that we are challenged to reflect upon the weak links in our argument and the personal biases that may be clouding our perspectives.
I also learn from the experience that good communication is not only expressing yourself but also listening to others. Effective communication is a two-way process and if we don’t listen to others or pay attention to others, they either won’t express themselves or won’t express openly. I also learnt that effective discussions focus on the content and not the speaker. When we focus on the arguments only, the discussion takes place in a cooperative argument where the objective of the participants is to learn from each other.
Dialogue is definitely an approach I will take in almost all aspects of my life whether personal or professional. First of all, our life experiences and the knowledge we gain shape our perspectives. Different people go through different experiences, thus, it is not unusual for different people to have different opinions which are also shaped by their personal biases. Dialogue helps us better understand the other people and view things from their perspective. Once we have identified the source of conflict, it is easier to find a mutually-acceptable solution or position.
I also believe in the power of dialogue because one person can only do so much. We often need the help of others in accomplishing certain goals. Even a leader is someone who can mobilize others towards mutual goals. Dialogue makes it easier to get others behind your goals. One may use his formal powers to ensure obedience from others but other people usually put in more efforts when they get behind you because they want to and not because they have to.
Conflicts are a fact of life and even the strongest of relationships are not usually conflict-free. But if we have strong communication skills, we can prevent small misunderstandings and differences from turning into huge conflicts that have long-lasting negative impact on our personal and professional relationships. The potential of conflicts is even more because our society is increasingly becoming more diverse. Different cultures have different norms, values, and prejudices. Thus, dialogue helps bridge gaps between individuals from different cultures because it helps them better understand each other. Thus, openness to dialogue will help us lead higher quality personal and professional lives and will also open doors to leadership opportunities.
Conversaton Cafe. Home Page. 28 November 2013 <http://www.conversationcafe.org/default.htm>.
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