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Practicing Generosity of Interpretation

Submitted by Shannon Wheatley Hartman

This activity helps participants develop a practice of patience and generous interpretation during discussions. By crafting and practicing specific “mind tricks,” participants can learn to listen and engage in discussions with a more generous mindset.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
White heart shaped wooden keychain with open written on it

Learning Goals

  • Improve patience and decrease negative, reactionary impulses in a discussion.

  • Practice generous interpretation by ritualizing mental tricks.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Create Patience Principles (10 min)

As a full group, invite participants to generate a list of statements that are designed to encourage patience and generous interpretation in a discussion.

Share some of the following examples to spark ideas.

  • Language is imperfect and we are all imperfect speakers.

  • What is said and what is heard are not always aligned.

  • None of us are perfect listeners.

  • Focus on the idea, not the person.

  • Being inarticulate means to struggle with big ideas.

  • Innovative ideas are often misunderstood at first.

  • Look for the “nuggets of truth” in all statements.

  • Never aim to embarrass or humiliate.

Step Two: Identify Common Annoyances in Discussions (5 min)

In small groups, ask participants to quickly identify 5 - 10 common discussion annoyances that tend to incite a harsh or impatient reaction from them. For example,

  • When someone shares inaccurate information with a lot of confidence

  • When someone says something that is culturally insensitive

  • When someone speaks from a place of anger

  • Instruct each group to select their top three annoyances.

Step Three: Craft Mental Tricks for Generous Interpretation (20 min)

Invite participants to craft three specific mental tricks they can use in a discussion to help them practice patience and even generous interpretation in response to each of the annoyances their group identified. Prompt:

For example, when someone makes a statement that you think is completely wrong or even bizarre, what sort of mental trick can you employ that would force you to pause and practice generosity?

  • Maybe you could try to reimagine the person who made this comment as your most respected professor or colleague.

  • If this person made the comment, how would you respond? Maybe you would still be confused and even disagree, but how would you express yourself to this person?

  • Would you ask clarifying questions? Would you speak respectfully? Would you put yourself through mental gymnastics to try to understand their perspective?

  • The “mental trick” is to now extend these generous responses to a person who you do not know.

Step Four: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)

  • Let’s start with annoyances! What are our top and favorite discussion annoyances?

  • What are some of the strategies or mental tricks that you created to address these annoyances?

  • What are some common themes or strategies in our mental tricks?

  • When is this approach a bad idea? When should we not seek out the most generous interpretation of what someone is saying?





Critical Collaboration

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average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

average rating is 4 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:18:02 AM


average rating is 5 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:17:25 AM

very good

average rating is 4 out of 5

September 16, 2023 at 2:25:09 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

September 11, 2023 at 9:02:29 AM

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