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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 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM