The Art of Moderation: Achieving productive dialogue through moderation. 

The Dodd Center for Human Rights is located on the south side of the Homer Babbidge Library on the UConn Storrs campus. The building houses the Human Rights Institute as well as the UConn Library’s Archives and Special Collections. File Photo/The Daily Campus.

As our population continues to expand, new branches of opinions and perspectives intertwine within the ever-growing societal tree. Engaging in discussions on sensitive topics can be challenging, as these subjects often trigger anxiety, arguments and tension. However, it is essential to have open conversations. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the Dodd Center for Human Rights hosted an event to address  “The Art of Moderation.” This event aimed to equip students and faculty with the skills necessary to facilitate successful dialogue. 

UConn Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Brendan Kane, alongside graduate assistant Saah Agyemang-Badu and Senior Educational Program Administrator Nenana Amos, delivered a captivating conference in which they shared valuable insights for navigating discussions effectively. Kane emphasized that many people are eager to engage in meaningful discussions on complex issues or even initiate them. However, various fears and uncertainties often hinder these conversations, highlighting the importance of events like this. 

Understanding techniques for monitoring conversations is crucial because it helps us achieve the goal of productive dialogue while preventing conversations from becoming overwhelming or unproductive. Here are some ways to effectively moderate a conversation: 

There is no dialogue without a moderator. 

Without a moderator, discussions often lack direction and fail to engage participants effectively. Likewise, the role of the moderator becomes vital when sensitive topics enter the conversation. In these instances, the moderator’s responsibility is to set the stage, as stated by Kane, “Setting the stage is creating a space where we can be honest.” This stage should foster a safe and secure environment where individuals are not subject to personal attacks and where the conversation is carefully monitored to maintain a respectful and constructive atmosphere. 

You are not the participant, you are the moderator.  

It’s crucial to maintain a gentle and neutral stance. Participants should not feel like they are being steered towards a specific opinion; instead, the aim is to facilitate a conversation, not an argument. Kane added, “Your approach is in service of the conversation,” if you can’t stay neutral, you are adding “one more problem in the problem of polarization.” 

Be flexible. 

Similarly, If you are overly preoccupied with the event’s structure or other aspects, it can divert attention from how the structure can benefit participants. Kane pointed out, “If you are more committed to the structure versus how the structure can help people, people are going to sniff that out.” Additionally, in any discussion, there will be a variety of personalities, some individuals might enter with what Kane described as a “political ax to grind,” while others may attempt humor at the expense of the crowd. It’s vital to be prepared for the possibility of resistance from participants. When faced with such situations, maintaining a composed and friendly demeanor is essential. 

Successful conversations often follow a structured arch. 

One should begin with a warm and welcoming introduction, creating an atmosphere where participants feel acknowledged and appreciated. This is followed by structured discussions that follow time points and topics, ensuring that the conversation remains organized and on track. Finally, as the conversation concludes, expressing gratitude and reminding participants of the purpose of their participation helps reinforce the value of their involvement. 

By employing these techniques you can foster more meaningful and productive conversations on sensitive topics, ultimately promoting understanding and bringing about positive change in our society. 

The Dodd Center for Human Rights will be hosting another conference on Wednesday, Nov. 1 and Friday, Nov. 3. 

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