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How to Have Difficult, but Peaceful, Conversations

March 29, 2024 7:34 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

Photo of two women in a compassionate conversationby Karen Morian, U.S. Servas Peace Secretary, with G. Scott Brown

Our society is currently in a disconnected and divisive period. Many of us have lost the desire to engage in difficult conversations because they are hurtful and seem to lead nowhere. U.S. Servas is committed to supporting our members, both travelers and hosts in re-entering that conversational space where we can learn the most from each other and move forward together. This guide is a tool to help us be more engaged with others. It IS worth the effort to connect with others and to build new relationships as we recommit to Servas core mission of building a more peaceful world.

When approaching difficult conversations bring your curiosity, humility, and empathy. Leave your desires to debate, critique, or judge outside. Check these regularly. Set your intentions to have a peaceful conversation. 

Keep Context in Mind: The times we live in are insane. The root meaning of the word insane is “not whole.” Disconnection, insecurity, and fear are pervasive. Even just the intention of wanting to connect and have authentic conversations counts for a lot! Insanity is only part of the story, and not the largest part. This earth we share is filled with beauty and wonder, mystery, and love. Paradox is everywhere: the light and dark, health and hurt, creation and destruction. Keeping the Big Picture in mind can help you keep your seat when the going gets rough! What is the Big Picture for you and what are your intentions? Get very clear about this. The following “Rs” can be very useful as intentions.

Responsibility: The real challenge of connecting conversations is to always look at ourselves and the necessity to continue our personal evolution toward greater self-awareness, understanding, and love. This is the territory of personal responsibility and it’s the foundation not just for healthy conversations and relationships but empowered and fulfilling lives.

It’s all too easy to say to ourselves: “don’t take it personally” or “don’t judge others.” But we will take it personally and we will judge others unless we make a real practice out of taking personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean being perfect or shaming ourselves when we fall short. It means staying awake, staying with our intentions.

Resources:  We all have things we do that help us relax and come back to center: taking a walk, listening to music, talking things out with a friend... Bringing more consciousness and intention to the ways we “resource” ourselves builds our capacity to stay grounded.

Relationship: Prioritize relationships! Since so many of our deepest needs and longings are only met through relationships, developing relationships themselves is primary, and more important than any issue you might want to discuss. When your ego is wounded, you say the wrong thing, or are misunderstood, come back to your intentions, to personal responsibility, to your resources, and prioritize relationships.

Respect and Repair: All the above lay the foundation for respect and the ability to repair a damaged relationship. An easily overlooked aspect of respect is self-respect. When we’ve caused harm, it’s often easy to fall into feelings of shame. This is when we need to come back to the center, back into our adult selves. By doing this, we show respect for ourselves, for others, and for the relationship.

A commitment to responsibility, resources, relationship, and respect makes it possible to repair harm when it occurs — which it will! We are sensitive beings with nervous systems designed for connection. It’s time we normalize the hurt and disconnection that is an unavoidable aspect of relationships and strive to be authentic. By framing harm as unmet human needs, we humanize it, and avoid the blame game.

Without ongoing repair—as a natural and basic aspect of a healthy relationship—it is practically inevitable that relationships (and conversations) will run aground on the shores of resentment and disconnection.

The Practice: Knowing we can never know the full experience of another can bring a helpful humility and sincere curiosity.

  • Be curious and listen to understand. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. You might enjoy exploring how others’ experiences have shaped their values and perspectives.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. People are tribal and tend to judge one another because they are different. Setting judgement aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated. Try to truly listen, without interruption or crosstalk.
  • Seek common ground as well as clarifying any differences. Look for areas of agreement or shared values that may exist and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.
  • Be authentic and welcome that in others. Share what’s important to you. Speak from your experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.
  • Be purposeful and to the point. Do your best to keep your comments concise and relevant to the questions to which you are responding. Be conscious of sharing airtime with other participants.
  • Own and guide the conversation. Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed. Use an agreed upon signal like the “time out” sign if you feel the agreements are not being honored.


Thanks to G. Scott Brown of for his work on this guide and his ongoing work to build a more peaceful world.

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