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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 2 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

August 5, 2023 at 10:59:36 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5


November 29, 2022 at 6:24:44 AM

Activity 3.7 provides useful mind tricks to help practice patience and giving people the benefit of the doubt, thus creating the sense of psychological safety required in collaborative efforts.

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